Jack the Ripper.
I am re-reading Dangerous Visions. Last night I read Robert Bloch’s “A Toy for Juliette” and it’s sequel, Harlan Ellison’s “The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World” and their wonderful introductions and afterwords. These stories place that horrific bad guy Jack the Ripper in the year 3077 (actually Ellison adds the date to this narrative) in a sterile city w/ a sadistic teenager named after de Sade’s nymphomaniac herione Juliette, and her equally sadistic grandfather, in a more sadistic detachable (hive) corporeal existential present. (The existential stuff is more an Ellison embellishment as well.) I am calling Jack bad but he isn’t really the (only) bad guy in this story, he is one of those Not Bad Bad Guys.
Jack (a clergyman) in Ellison’s story reminds me a little of another not bad bad guy, The (much less gory) Ancient Mariner, as in all its supernatural nihilism, Ellison’s story is moralistic, just as the mariner’s tale is didactic:
I pass, like night, from land to land,
I have strange power of speech;
The moment that his face I see
I know the man that must hear me –
To him my tale I teach.
(The Rime of the Ancyent Marinere 619-623)
The mariner’s penance is to “teach” his tale, but not so that the wedding guest may avoid his mistake; rather, he tells his tale, hoping the wedding guest will be able to decipher the mariner’s nature (good or bad), which the mariner himself does not understand. This is what Jack in Ellison’s story does as well (penance), and what I think Ellison felt Ripper was doing in his letters (& murders): searching for / claiming / shouting an identity. Like so many modern literary figures, jack the Ripper is alienated. “MY NAME ISN’T JACK, AND I’VE BEEN BAD VERY BAD, I’M AN EVIL PERSON, BUT MY NAME ISN’T JACK.”
In his Afterword to “Prowler” Ellison tells us we’re all bad guys: “You are the monsters.”