Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Let There Be Questions - Part II

Now that I'm home for a bit (at least until Saturday) I'm going to work on those Kennesaw State University student questions from September. Remember those?

Natalie E asks, "Can you tell us a bit more about your talk for the Whitechapel Society and the Once Upon a Dark Alley: A Tale of Ripper Fiction?"

Sure can. Lots of dedicated Ripperologists (as they're called) can quote chapter and verse from non-fictional accounts of the crimes. Not a lot of them read fictional works about Jack the Ripper. Why? Most of it is just so bad! A good number of authors don't do their homework, make assumptions about Jack, the Victorian Era, the investigation, or just figure they know everything anyway so why bother read up on the subject. The end result is something that grates on one's nerves if you are aware of the details of the crimes and the times. Why so picky? It's easy. If you're a mechanic and some author puts a blatant mistake in his/her book about how to fix a carburetor, you're going to notice. Make another mistake and now you've pulled the reader out of the story. At this point they might give up on you and put the book down (or toss it across the room if they're really steamed). You've trashed the "suspension of disbelief" that allows a reader to immerse themselves in your make-believe world. That's why most Ripperologists don't bother with Ripper fiction. They know too much about the subject to suspend disbelief.

I decided it would be interesting to see how other authors have treated Old Jack since 1888. A couple good examples fall in 1889 and 1899. From that point on Jack has been portrayed as the ultimate demon, a role model, a "victim" and a hero (!). I certainly couldn't read every bit of Ripper fiction out there, but I did enjoy the breadth of the stories that I sampled (at least most of them). Anno Dracula (Kim Newman) combines Jack and Vlad Dracula in a riveting tale. The Whitechapel Horrors (Edward Hanna) pairs Sherlock Holmes and Jack in a story that really gives you the atmosphere of 1888 London. The Lodger (Marie Belloc Lowndes) is the classic tale of a landlady who begins to believe that her lodger is the infamous killer. Bill Perring's excellent The Seduction of Mary Kelly depicts Jack (and Victorian England) from the point of view of one of his most famous victims.

What I learned is what I suspected: each author brings their own "view" of Jack to the story which, in many ways, mirrors the mindset of the time it was written. Time After Time (Karl Alexander) is a good example. The Ripper steals H.G. Well's time machine and journeys to 1979 San Francisco. Jack quickly realizes he's an amateur in the horror department, an authorial comment on our violent society.

So the talk revolves around some of the different offerings of Ripper fiction, how Jack is portrayed or "revealed" inside the story and how that differs from some of the other Ripper fiction one can read. The talk was well received at the Whitechapel Society (thank heavens) and I'll be presenting a PowerPoint version this Saturday at the Fayette Co. Public Library (Fayetteville, GA). Should be a lot of fun.

Over time, I hope to become an "expert" (I use that term very loosely) about Ripper fiction. Not many people have made a study of it. I figured -- why not? I always enjoy a good story as long as they get the details correct.

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