During the past couple of years I've gotten interested in the work of Colin Wilson. In the future I'll explain why that is so. I'm most interested in his fiction, and recently I've been going through his crime novels. Wilson often wrote about serial killers, both in his fiction as well as his non-fiction; therefore, I've been brushing up on my knowledge of serial killers. So, of course, that requires reading about Jack the Ripper at some point.
One of the best known books about the Ripper murders is Donald Rumbelow's The Complete Jack the Ripper. It has seen several editions since its initial publication in 1975, and I've photographed the cover of the 2013 edition. Rumbelow's book is an enjoyable work of popular history, although I have to admit that I would have preferred it to be more scholarly. I'm not a big fan of history books without citations. There are no notes of any sort, not even for the quotations, and the bibliography is less than a page. I'm not sure why publishers find this acceptable. I guess, perhaps, that scholarly apparatus puts off some readers, but the lack of proper citations undermines to some degree the intellectual seriousness of any historical book. Sadly, though, we just have to live with this sort of thing in true crime writing.
Some books on the Ripper murders contain a fair amount of social history. Rumbelow includes a bit of this, but it's mostly confined to the first chapter. He then constructs vivid accounts of the murder victims and the police investigation. Along the way he argues, somewhat plausibly, that Elizabeth Stride, who is traditionally considered one of the five canonical Ripper victims, was not killed by Jack the Ripper. Instead, Rumbelow claims, on the basis of the eyewitness testimony, that she was murdered by someone who was "clearly passionate" about her, and thus not someone who had merely picked her up on the street.
The heart of the book, containing almost half of its pages, is Rumbelow's discussion of Ripper suspects. One thing that I've noticed about Ripper books is the way in which the
detailed accounts of the murders provide no real clue as to the identity of the killer. When it comes to naming names, readers inevitably encounter discussions of Melville Macnaghten's papers, Robert Anderson's autobiography The Lighter Side of My Official Life (and Donald Swanson's marginalia in his copy of Anderson's book), asylum records, arrest records, and the like. That is, really nothing in the earlier chapters of a typical Ripper book gives us much help in determining the identity of the Ripper. Rumbelow's book is no different in this regard. He looks at many suspects, even the farfetched ones put forth over the years, but doesn't settle on one as the most likely. The book ends with chapters on the Ripper in popular culture and other Ripper-like killers.
Overall, I liked Rumbelow's book and am happy to recommend it. As I indicated above, I would have preferred more scholarly apparatus. Another defect, as far as I'm concerned, is the lack of maps. Maybe other readers have a map of the East End in their heads, but I don't. Even a simple street map would have been a great help. Many publishers pay little attention to this sort of thing. (Military history books routinely have atrociously inadequate maps. Why authors tolerate this sort of thing is beyond me.) But Rumbelow's book is soberly written and free of wild speculation. If you're interested in Jack the Ripper, Rumbelow's The Complete Jack the Ripper is well worth your time.
Years ago I read Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, his retelling of the short life of Chris McCandless. I missed this post when Krakauer first put it online, but it seems that he now has some new ideas about what caused McCandless's death.
You can hear Krakauer discuss his new theory in this interview with NPR.
In an earlier post I mentioned that I had started reading graphic novels, and that I had done so under the influence of I. N. J. Culbard. If you look at that earlier post, you'll see that most of his books, or at least most of the ones that I've read, were published by SelfMadeHero,
a British press that specializes in graphic novels. I browse their website from time to time, and so I've noticed that they publish, among other things, adaptations of classic works of literature.
What recently caught my eye was Rob Davis's graphic novel The Complete Don Quixote. I was already slightly familiar with Davis's work, since he adapted "The Dunwich Horror" in The Lovecraft Anthology, volume one, which was also published by SelfMadeHero. But his work as an illustrator was unknown to me. I figured that a graphic novel of Don Quixote would be a worthwhile read, and so I requested it through interlibrary loan at my local public library.
The book looks very nice, I think. Here are the cover and the title page:
Davis's visual style is simple and direct. Nothing fussy, nothing needlessly complicated.
Since almost everyone knows the story of Don Quixote and the windmills, I figured that I could include photos of it without spoiling anyone's fun. They'll give you a small taste of the book's visual delights.
Once again, simple and direct. Funny and charming too, in that sad way of so many of Don Quixote's adventures. The comic book sound effects help, don't they?
When I was in high school, I read an abridged edition of the original novel in my Spanish class; and when I was in college, I read an abridged English translation in a literature class. That means, unfortunately, that I've never read Cervantes' novel in its entirety in any language. My judgment of Davis's adaptation, based on what I have read and remember of the novel, is that it is a faithful one. He did a very fine job, I think, and so I highly recommend this book.
One mark of the success of any type of adaptation of a literary work is whether or not the adaptation leads us back to the original source material. After reading Davis's The Complete Don Quixote I find that I'd like read Don Quixote in its entirety.
So now I'm researching various English translations. (Is it my imagination, or are there dozens of them?) I'm even reviewing my Spanish for the first time in slightly over thirty years. I'll read the abridged Spanish edition published by Dover when my skill with the language is back up to speed, and I'll eventually read the entire novel in English. Since none of this was ever really an ambition of mine, I'd like to thank Mr. Davis for prompting me to take up Don Quixote again. I'm grateful for the inspiration.