From Hell

From Academic Kids

From Hell is a graphic novel by writer Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell speculating upon the identity and motives of Jack the Ripper. The title is taken from the first words of the "From Hell" letter, which some authorities believe was an authentic message sent from the killer in 1888. The work is dense, multilayered and immensely detailed; the collected edition is about 572 pages long.

From Hell was first published in 12 black and white issues by Tundra Publishing/Kitchen Sink Press, then reissued in paperback by Eddie Campbell Comics.

From Hell takes as its premise Stephen Knight's theory—widely criticised as inaccurate and nonsensical by experts—that the murders were part of a conspiracy to conceal the birth of an illegitimate royal baby fathered by Prince Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence. See the article on Jack the Ripper royal conspiracy theories.

In an appendix added to the collected From Hell, Moore writes that he did not accept Knight's theory at face value, but considered it an interesting starting point for his own fictional examination of the Ripper murders, their era and impact.

While From Hell is admittedly fiction, Moore and Campbell conducted significant research to ensure plausibility and verisimilitude. The collected From Hell features over forty pages of page-by-page notes and references, indicating which scenes are based wholly on Moore's own imagination and which are based upon specific named sources. Moore's opinions on the reliability of those references are also listed, which often disagree quite dramatically with experts on the Ripper case and history.

The Hughes Brothers adapted From Hell into a motion picture, released in 2001 and starring Johnny Depp, Heather Graham and Ian Holm.


Plot overview

The Duke of Clarence fathers a child with Annie Crook, a shop worker from the East End of London. Queen Victoria employs royal physician Sir William Withey Gull to kill those with knowledge of the child. The victims are Crook's friends, prostitutes who've attempted blackmail to obtain money to pay a thug's demanded extortion.

In justifying the brutal murders, Gull claims that his crimes are a Masonic warning to what he sees as an Illuminati threat to the throne (Historically, the Illuminati were blamed, in some quarters, for the French Revolution). In truth, the killings are part of an elaborate mystical ritual (see "Interpretations" below).

The story also serves as an in-depth (though largely fictional, and admittedly speculative) character study of William Withey Gull; exploring his personal philosophy and motivation, and making sense of his dual role as royal assassin and serial killer.

The real-life Gull suffered a stroke; Moore fictionalizes this event as a theophany of sorts, when Gull sees "Jahbulon," a mystical Freemasonic figure. This event fundamentally alters Gull's world view.

Gull takes John Netley, his coachman and reluctant aide, on a tour of London landmarks (such as Cleopatra's Needle and Nicholas Hawksmoor's churches), expounding about their hidden mystical significance, which is lost to the modern world. (Moore credits Iain Sinclair with inspiring much of this portion of From Hell.)

Gull has a number of transcendent, mystical experiences in the course of the murders, culminating with a vivid vision of what London will be a century after he kills Mary Jane Kelly.

Gull is tried by a secret Freemasonic council, which determines he is insane. A phony funeral is staged, and Gull is imprisoned under a pseudonym. Moments before his death, Gull has an extended mystical experience, where his spirit travels through time, instigating or inspiring a number of other killers (Peter Sutcliffe, Ian Brady), and serves as the model for William Blake's "The Ghost of a Flea." (These accounts are all based on fact; Blake had many visions, and both Sutcliffe and Brady reported odd, ghostly events.)

Inspector Frederick Abberline investigates the Ripper crimes, but resigns from the Metropolitan Police, protesting the official coverup of the murders. One critic noted that From Hell might be seen as a "police procedural as it follows Scotland Yard's Inspector Abberline through the case".[1] (

Cameo appearances are made by such luminaries as Oscar Wilde, Aleister Crowley, William Butler Yeats, James Hinton, Joseph Merrick (known as "The Elephant Man"), and members of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show.


Although, as mentioned above, Moore does not subscribe to the whole "Royal/Masonic Conspiracy" theory of Jack the Ripper's identity and motives, this fictional approach did allow him to pursue his own societal critique of London at the time of the murders.

It is undeniable that Moore and Campbell use From Hell to severely criticize the Victorian Era and its inequalities. In one chapter, the lifestyles of the wealthy Dr. Gull and the poverty-stricken victim, Polly Nichols, are brutally contrasted and compared. During another murder, scenes from the killing are interspersed with scenes from a nearby meeting of a socialist club, addressed by William Morris, where a portrait of Karl Marx comes to dominate the scene. In his appendix, Moore sardonically expresses regret that England never had a bloody revolution as France did.

In the comic, Gull makes speculations on the subjugation of women as he prepares for the murders. Moore cites writers such as Marilyn French and Robert Graves, who argue (as the fictional Gull does) that women held both political and religious power prior to the rise of patriarchal religions such as Christianity. Such themes have become more prominent in recent years, as in the best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code. Nonetheless, Moore depicts Gull as a misogynist who opposes women's suffrage, along with other progressive movements of his time. In fact, in his visions, Gull believes himself to be performing an occult ritual to 'keep women in their place.'

In a brief appendix, "Dance of the Gull Catchers," Moore reports that he had been drawn into and even obsessed with the particulars of the Ripper crimes. The Ripperologists—or "Gull Catchers" as he refers to them—are depicted as slightly unhinged men running about with large butterfly nets, chasing details and connections, however tenuous. Initially, Moore observes them from a distance, but eventually—while researching and writing From Hell—he joins them.

Moore compares the multitude of increasingly outlandish Ripper theories to a Koch snowflake, where a finite, fixed location, event and era (London, in late 1888) can have an infinite number of nooks and crannies.

Perhaps the most elaborate theme in From Hell stems from Moore's appendix statement that "the 1880s embody the essence of the twentieth century." His meaning is unclear, though he notes that the 1880s saw the Mahdi uprisings, the first time the Western world had to face militant Islamic fundamentalism; physicists were beginning to make discoveries that would pave the way to the atomic bomb; and the growth of both Zionism and anti-Semitism. The period of the killings coincides with the conception of Adolf Hitler and the final scene alludes to the outbreak of the Second World War. This theme derives from the writings of C.H. Hinton (whose father James appears as a character) on the architecture of history.

In the comic, the theme is stated by Gull like this: "It is beginning...only just beginning. For better or worse, the twentieth century. I have delivered it." He says this after a vision of 1990s England.

In the film version of From Hell, this is shortened to the following quote, which is placed on screen as the movie begins: "Someday, men will look back and say I gave birth to the twentieth century." - Jack the Ripper. As the film omits much of Moore's historical interpretation, this line is confusing in context.

Much of the metaphysical speculation in From Hell can be attributed to Moore's embrace of gnosticism, which takes a more central role in his other work, most notably his comic series Promethea.

The film

Moore's and Campbell's book was filmed in 2001 by the Hughes Brothers. It was first released on September 8, 2001 at the Venice Film Festival.

This film has been criticised for altering many details of the source (such as changing Abberline from a hardworking, conflicted police officer into a psychic who induces visions via opium) and remaking the complex story into a whodunit. It received mixed reviews and performed rather poorly at the box office, earning only $31.6 million in domestic receipts for a budget of $35 million.

As usual with film adaptations of his works, Alan Moore refused to be involved with the script.

Another difference between the comic and movie involved a dispute between Moore and Campbell. In the appendix to the comics, Moore reveals that he and his co-author had strong disagreements about the personality of Queen Victoria - namely, Moore believed she was quite capable of ordering cold-blooded murders, while Campbell insisted she must have worked through an intermediary. Although Moore had his viewpoint presented in the comic, in the movie, Victoria uses an intermediary, Lord Salisbury. In this and other respects the film is closer to being a remake of the 1978 Jack the Ripper thriller Murder by Decree than an adaptation of the graphic novel.


External links

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