When we write, our text often references everyday items: a razor, an alarm clock, a shoe or, in the example below, an iron skillet. There isn’t much plainer than a frying pan of cast iron. Nonetheless, master wordsmith Thomas Harris uses the humble kitchen implement as a focal point in a brief passage. Observe what happens to an ordinary skillet when the writer finds the magic in it. From the novel Hannibal by Thomas Harris:
Do you have a black iron skillet? You are a southern mountain girl, I can’t imagine you would not. Put it on the kitchen table. Turn on the overhead lights.
Look into the skillet, Clarice. Lean over it and look down. If this were your mother’s skillet, and it well may be, it would hold among its molecules the vibrations of all the conversations ever held in its presence. All the exchanges, the petty irritations, the deadly revelations, the flat announcements of disaster, the grunts and poetry of love.
Sit down at the table, Clarice. Look into the skillet. If it is well cured, it’s a black pool, isn’t it? It’s like looking down a well. Your detailed reflection is not at the bottom, but you loom there, don’t you? The light behind you, there you are in a blackface, with a corona like your hair on fire.
We are elaborations of carbon, Clarice. You and the skillet and Daddy dead in the ground, cold as the skillet. It’s all still there. Listen.
- — Hannibal Lector in a letter to Clarice Starling