Jack the Ripper and Time Travel
Although it might be pedestrian, perverse, lowbrow, misguided, or a slew of other not-so-positive things, I admit I have a morbid interest in stories about serial killers. And I'm not alone.
Mainstream TV channels such as History, Discovery, A&E, truTV are full of such dark tales. Along with general forensic-oriented books, the serial killer topic seems to take up the most space on the shelves of the true crime section at the bookstore.
What's the ghastly appeal? It's a pretty easy superficial diagnosis, I think. The Serial Killer has become, or is in the process of becoming, a modern Destroyer archetype. The popular fascination in such figures, along with other dark, evil attractions such as horror films, are said to act as a kind of release valve for the collective Shadow self.
In considering it, I've realized that there is a fine line sometimes between the Destroyer and Trickster archetypes. The serial killer seems to fall neatly into the Destroyer category, with one possible exception—Jack the Ripper. Interestingly, his Trickster qualities seem to have been largely fictionally placed.
That could perhaps be argued of all real-life Trickster-like personas, in some sense. Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Aleister Crowley, etc., have all seen their personalities, appearance, and shenanigans capitalized upon, inflated, exaggerated, exploited, and tailored to form their respective legend-like narratives of character.
In the case of Jack the Ripper, the lack of anything real is the very essence of the created persona, which may feed his Trickster status exponentially. His identity could be anyone, and the list of suspects (over 100) confirms that. Suspects range from a prince, barber, bootmaker, con men, physicians, a sailor, an escaped mental patient, occultists, and even a couple women.
Jack the Ripper is perhaps destined forever to float between the poles of rich and poor, brilliant and stupid, male and female. Jack the Ripper is at once no one, and everyone. There's something especially so threatening, powerful, and impossible about it all.
There are some other elements in the Jack the Ripper story that make it ripe for intrigue, like the time period, and place—England in the late 19th century, the very beginning of modernity itself, the Ripper case is now (arguably, perhaps) viewed as the first modern criminal investigation.
As a result, and as some kind of strange homage perhaps, it is probably the most fictionalized true crime ever. There are countless novels, films, television episodes devoted to the story.
In the novel Jack Knife I mentioned, an opposite dynamic is used, in that a modern man travels back in time, and it is discovered by those who follow and chase after him, that he has become the Ripper himself.
Remembering a Star Trek and Outer Limits episode, and trying to find more general information on Jack the Ripper/time travel dynamics, I came across the blog io9. In an entry entitled Science Fiction Solves the Mystery of Jack the Ripper, there are several different stories mentioned, based in comic books, tv shows, novels, and films.
Most do include time travel in some form. Accompanying ideas play on the Trickster idea of liminal identity—he's really an alien, a missing link between apes and humans, or an entity-hopping parasite. There are portals, serums, all manner of transformatives.
What other real person is so associated with time travel in fiction? I think Jack the Ripper takes the cake. There is a time travel oriented Twilight Zone in which a guy tries to stop the murder of Abraham Lincoln, and I'm sure I've seen Abraham Lincoln in time traveling themes elsewhere.
Sources and further reading:
Time after Time (streaming on Netflix)