Where to start talking about From Hell? Perhaps a hint is given in one of the quotes that open this almost 600-page tome. As Charles Fort said, “One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.” And that’s what writer Alan Moore seeks to create, a work that circles on itself, using a proposed solution for the mystery of the Jack the Ripper murders to portray, as Warren Ellis put it, “the birth of the 20th century”.
Like so many Alan Moore books, the plot description — Jack the Ripper butchers prostitutes in Victorian London to cover up a royal indiscretion — is the least part of the book. Moore’s really exploring the mind of a serial killer (the world’s best-known, at that) and what brings about a violent change in society. The key line of the prologue, as two gentlemen talk about fake visions, is, “I made it all up, and it all came true anyway.” That seems to be something of a credo for Moore, and it’s emphasized by the way the speaker stares out of the panel at us.
Speaking of which, Eddie Campbell‘s art is scratchy and mysterious, just like the subject matter. Everything looks grimy, as lower-class London would have. Sometimes what you’re seeing is a bit unclear, until with more attention it resolves itself, mimicking the thought process needed for the book as a whole, but the storytelling is always top-notch. The inky black areas suggest the mystery of the unknown and what might be lurking out there in the dark.
Pages of annotations demonstrate the depth of the research that went into this work. It tells of forbidden sex, royal bastards, family secrets, religion, history, occult sacrifice, Freemasonry, class distinction, London architecture, the few choices available to women, and madness. As might be expected from that list, it’s dense and multi-layered, rewarding those who are willing to enter into it looking for connections. It’s a disturbing, haunting book, and an astounding achievement.