For someone who was – and perhaps still is – not familiar with serial killer Jack the Ripper and the legend which has followed, Alan Moore’s “From Hell” does not provide a comprehensive or definitive account of what transpired (which in any case seems impossible, given the plethora of studies and theories floated by ripperologists), but that may not be the intent of the graphic novel. Largely premised upon journalist Stephen Knight’s “Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution”, Moore expands Knight’s conspiracy that royal physician Sir William Gull was the perpetrator. Yet Moore adds in the appendix:
“As with much of the evidence surrounding these murders, the data is ambiguous, a shifting cloud of facts and factoids onto which we project the fictions that seem most appropriate to our times and our inclinations“.
This projection of fictions “that seem most appropriate to our times and our inclinations” appears to be guiding principle for “From Hell”, although in the same appendix Moore clarifies the scenes or dialogues crafted from his imagination. In fact, the notes in the appendix were necessary reading for me – which meant that I had to toggle back and forth – especially for chapters packed with more historical or symbolic references. Chapters such as chapter four, when Dr. Gull and assistant Netley take a tour through London. Moore in his annotations makes it clear that accuracy was important, and that he and artist Eddie Campbell had gone through the same route.
As with many of these graphic novels, I think a deeper understanding or knowledge – of London’s pagan roots, for instance, and the fraternal organisations of the Freemasonry – is necessary for better appreciation of “From Hell”. There are further allusions of metaphysics and even concluding criticisms of ripperologists in general, and even if I missed many of them the book remains an enjoyable read. Read as a piece of detective fiction the plot may be slow in the beginning, but once it picks up it was hard to put the book down.