Murder With Southern Hospitality:
An Exhibition of Mississippi Mysteries

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Thomas Harris

 
Weird Tales

What is a modern “weird tale”? The traditional definition includes what cult writer H.P. Lovecraft described as “a suspension of natural law” where the scientific method and order of society is inverted by the inexplicable. S.T. Joshi, author of The Modern Weird Tale, describes the possibility of a modern weird tale, one devoid of the supernatural elements so prevalent in the earlier genre. Joshi writes that “recently coined terms such as ‘dark suspense’ and ‘dark mystery’ suggest the fusion of the horror tale with the mystery or suspense tale as an entirely new type of writing.” In a vain attempt to place distinctions between the subtle categories of mystery, suspense, detective novels, and horror, this seems to be the closest approximation of the work of Thomas Harris. His novels combine all of these categories and fuse them into a masterful tour de force of terror, sex, intellect, beauty, and extreme ugliness.

Born in Tennessee, as a young child Harris and his family moved to the small Delta town of Rich, Mississippi. The state of Mississippi, according to Harris, directly affected at least one of his works, Red Dragon. During its composition, Harris had to travel home to Rich and spent hours working on the manuscript in a shotgun house in the middle of a cotton field. In his introduction to The Hannibal Lecter Omnibus, Harris recounted:

I want to tell you the circumstances in which I first encountered Hannibal Lecter, M.D. In the fall of 1979, owing to an illness in my family, I returned home to the Mississippi Delta and remained there eighteen months, I was working on Red Dragon. My neighbor in the village of Rich kindly gave me the use of a shotgun house in the center of a vast cotton field, and there I worked, often at night... Sometimes at night I would leave the lights on in my little house and walk across the flat fields. When I looked back from a distance, the house looked like a boat at sea, and all around me the vast Delta night.

“The vast Delta night” served as the conduit for Harris’ first meeting with Dr. Hannibal Lecter and the creation of one of the best known characters in modern fiction. Author Tony Magistrale captured the essence of Lecter’s appeal when he described the doctor as an “angel with horns...both a paragon of civilized man and a connoisseur of human flesh.”

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