Thursday, October 05, 2006

From Hell - 'What Doth the Lord Require of Thee' (Chapter 4)

This chapter announces a new era in Moore's writing, prefiguring much of Promethea, in both content and storytelling style. It's also the moment when you know that From Hell is something really special, a work of astounding scope. In telling the story of Jack the Ripper, Moore is actually chronicling the entirety of western history.

The critical concept in this chapter, and the work as a whole, is the conflict between the male essence and the female essence, between the rational brain and the creative brain. According to Moore, humanity began in a matriarchal society, full of wonder and creativity. This is a world where hard rules don't apply, with rules come limits, and as time passes, we become more locked into a specific way of viewing the world. This worldview becomes a prison, narrowing our range of thought.

So, the passage of human history is the record of this narrowing. I think the bit that most perfectly sums this up is when Gull talks about how men who saw visions used to be saints, now they're lunatics. I've always thought about the fact that people would outright dismiss most feats of wonder performed today, but they'll believe it if it's written in the bible. That demonstrates Moore's point, which is that that was an age of wonder, but we live in an age of reason, where science constructs a frame to view the world. This can be good, but viewing the world through this one frame means we don't bother to think about what's outside of the accepted notions of what's possible.

This is all wrapped up in sun/phallic symbolism. The obelisks around London become monuments to the progress of rationality. And yet, in creating these monuments, their architects invoke an older power, drawing back to the gods of the past. So, St. Paul's Cathedral, built on the site of the death of Boadecia features heavy Pagan influences and serves as the center of the magic circle in London.

This paradox also applies to Gull himself. By carrying out the Queen's request, he is killing Diana's prositutes, and yet, more than any around him, he's aware of the past he is destroying. He has seen God and knows the hidden magic in the world around him. This is one of the most difficult things to reconcile about the book, Gull simultaneously functions as the last magician and the first man of a new age. He is a scientist, but still believes thoroughly in right brain principles. Gull is a man caught between the two ages, and he ultimately decides that his purpose is to complete the journey of humanity towards its new left brain world.

I think part of this split consciousness is due to Moore's decision to use Gull as a mouthpiece for his beliefs on magic. This chapter is thematically connected to the story of From Hell, but it's equally about Moore expounding on concepts that he finds interesting. This is a format he'll use again in the brilliant journey through kaballah section of Promethea. I find the concepts Moore explores fascinating, so I don't mind that narrative momentum is put on hold for a bit. In this work in particular, the story stuff is not what interests me, it's the exploration of these concepts.

One of the coolest things here is the idea that all gods are manifestations of one essence. That comes back in the gold issue of Promethea's kaballah arc, where she encounters Jesus and sees that he is just the latest incarnation of the same mythological character. I hadn't read Promethea when I first read From Hell, and I wasn't really aware how many of the concepts he explores later were first presented here. I love that idea of the god essence. Here, it's significant that humanity began with many gods, finding magic in all aspects of life, but we've gradually refined our belief to one all powerful being, and in the future, religion could vanish entirely.

For Moore religion isn't about dogma, it's about the power of belief in something greater than ourselves. If we no longer have gods, what can we aspire to be? As a creator of fiction, Moore has seen the way that chance and coincidence shape the world, and the things that he experienced made him believe that there's a higher order to the universe.

Reading this issue made me want to go to London and take the tour that Gull and Netley do. Yet, the wonder of the issue is the way it really makes you feel like you're a passenger with them. The whole work is astonishing in the way it immerses you in its world, but this issue in particular is notable in drawing you in.

This issue lays out the basis for understanding the rest of the work. The age of wonder is ending, and reason is taking over. Gull will be the one to usher in that new age, with the ritualistic sacrifice of women, the ultimate male figure creating fear in all females. Those murders, the murders of Diana's handmaidens, will give birth to a new age where magic is all but extinct.

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