Tuesday, October 24, 2006

From Hell: Resolution

The dissection of Mary Kelly, and Gull's subsequent vision of the present, are the clear high point of From Hell's narrative, and the chapters that follow, with the exception of Gull's Ascent, are somewhat anticlimactic. However, there is some good stuff here.

The most interesting part is the further development of Abberline. Gull is the focus of the book, and the man around whom most of the important themes revolve. However, Abberline is a more relatable, human character. I can understand why the writers of the From Hell film chose to focus the story on him, though their Abberline has virtually nothing in common with the resigned middle aged guy we see here. Abberline's time with Mary Kelly reignited in him a passion he hadn't experienced for years, and it hurts him to find out that she left. Abberline had reached the point where he was ready to pursue a relationship with her, but he feels like she used him, took his money and ran. I don't think he's so much mad about losing the money, it's more that she represented the possibility of escape, from a loveless, boring marriage. For him, she was life, and now that she's gone, he knows that he'll be living the same life for the rest of his days.

It's fitting that he views Mary Kelly as an escape, because she's the only one who's able to leave all this business behind and actually build a new life for herself. I love the moment where Gull sees her, old and happy, surrounded by her children. In their names, we can see that she hasn't forgotten her roots, but she's not constrained by them. Gull's strike provided the impetus for her to finally change her life. So, she lives while her friends die, nursing dreams that would never come to fruition even if they'd lived for a hundred years.

The end of the book is about compromise and concession, people who now that their part on the stage of history is over. Gull turns himself over the Masons, content that his work is done. The vision from Jahbuhlon gave him purpose, he has fulfilled it and now he can go away. Similarly, Abberline, who once fought for honest, comprehensive police work, chooses not to expose the answer to the greatest crime in Britain's history. I love the sequence where he and Lees expose Gull, as well as Abberline's epiphany when he goes into the candy shop. He pieces everything together, but decides that he'd rather save himself than expose Gull. It's not a heroic choice, but I think it's the one most of us would make. I love the air of slight regret that hangs over the epilogue, neither one proud of what they did, but cognizant of its necessity.

I've talked a lot about the magic symbolism of From Hell, the right brain/left brain and female/male dichotomies. I think that's the thematic key to understanding the themes of the work, and also its place in Moore's canon. I haven't read A Small Killing, but from what I know, From Hell continues ASK's examination of the source of violence. However, in his later work, both comics and philosophy, this idea of the loss of wonder to reason becomes critical. Promethea is all about rediscovering the magic that's present all around us, breaking down the blinders that separate us from the magic in the world. Chapter 4 was clearly a major influence on Promethea, establishing the magical lecture that would also crop up in Snaks and Ladders, Moore's stage performance.

Looking at Moore's work as a whole, From Hell marks a critical transition. Much like The Invisibles for Morrison, From Hell announces a new worldview, one that the creator will explore and attempt to articulate through the comic. Watchmen explored some similar issues as this, the simultaneity of events through time, but never in the context of magical understanding that would go on to underlie Moore's most recent significant work, Promethea.

Moore's done a lot of books, almost all good. Among his output, I would count five masterpieces: Miracleman, V For Vendetta, Watchmen, From Hell and Promethea. It's difficult to rank them, but From Hell certainly stands as one of the most challenging, thematically engulfing works ever attempted in the medium. I love fiction that makes you work, inviting you to explore a world between its pages. Most books you read, you enjoy and then you put away. But the best fiction, like this book, buries into your subconscious, begging to be thought about. Through this work, Moore casts a counterspell, bringing back some of the wonder that left the world when Gull struck. By seeing through Gull's eyes, we are able to understand what's missing in our world, and I'm glad that people like Moore and Grant Morrison are fighting to restore some wonder to our lives.


jenn. said...

I can't remember just now how I stumbled across your blog, but I am simply blown away by your analyses and poignant observations. I have yet to read, "From Hell," although it is now my top priority. I shall head to the bookstore post haste. It's all completely surreal, isn't it? At first, one has so many ideas and details being thrown at them. There are few who could ingest such information, much less digest it. But it is in this 'digestion' that the ideas and details take shape, breathe in life and become a 'reality' in themselves. It is much like finding a peephole into the past and being given the gift of sight. The reality of then becomes reality once again. And what, today, could be construed as pure mental illness, or at the very least, a fatalistic point of view, was then a genuine and prolific insight that ushered in a new age that no one would have believed could be if they had known about it. It's funny how these things work, isn't it?
By the way, I was reading your pieces on David Lynch, "Twin Peaks", etc., and I am so glad to know of someone, especially someone who would have been so young at the time of original broadcast, to not only be interested in them, but to take such notice and keep them alive. I wonder what 'reality' we can make from that? Ahh...a very happy thought. Keep up your great work and make your realities become part of ours, too.

Patrick said...

Thanks so much, it's really gratifying to see that what I'm writing about it has as much meaning to other people as it does to me. Works like From Hell, and Lynch's stuff, is notable because the enjoyment comes as much from unpacking the symbolic coding and authorial intention as it does from the initial experience. I love a work that leaves room to imagine in it, a work that allows you to get lost in dissecting it.

And I would definitely reccomend From Hell, as you can probably guess from all the writing on it, I'm a huge fan. I seriously doubt that you'll be disappointed.