Recently I read three short stories. Although written by two different authors more than twenty years apart, they shared one common theme: Jack the Ripper. Unlike David Berkowitz, Eileen Wuornos, and Gary Ridgeway, Jack the Ripper was never caught and so he did not lose his infamous moniker like the others. Which is probably why the man who brutally murdered women in London over a century ago remains so fascinating for us. Gary Ridgeway’s crimes were more horrific, at least in numbers of victims, but does anyone believe that 120 years from now, he will be the subject of a horror fiction story? Jack the Ripper’s anonymity allows writers a canvas upon which to paint suspense, fear, and nauseating horror.
And that’s exactly what writers Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison have done with their trio of stories, “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper”, “A Toy for Juliette”, and “The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World.” Bloch wrote the first story for Weird Tales in 1943 and adapted it for the TV series Thriller and Star Trek. He wrote the second for Ellison’s 1967 anthology Dangerous Visions.
At the time, Dangerous Visions was heralded as revolutionary and in retrospect, it was. Written at the height of the “new wave” movement in speculative fiction that sought to move the genre from space opera and the stigma of second rate offal to mainstream literary art, Dangerous Visions contained stories from established masters like Bloch and Philip K. Dick to then-beginners Roger Zelanzy and Samuel R. Delaney. In fact, Ellison encouraged his contributors to break their own rules and submit stories that could not be printed in the science fiction magazines of the day. As for the stories themselves, Bloch’s are the first two acts in this three-act play. They are well written and original and the basis for Ellison’s which is the best. But be warned, “Prowler” is NOT for the faint of heart. There are passages that can literally be stomach-churning although they are probably tame to a generation raised on CSI.
You can find “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper” in The Dark Descent edited by David G. Hartwell. Dangerous Visions can usually be found for a reasonable price on eBay or in a good used bookstore. The last two stories can also be found in the July, 1968 issue of Adam magazine. One other note: Ellison recommends reading “Toy” and “Prowler” as one continuous bloc with their introductions and afterwards. Elias recommends reading all three stories seriatim sans intros and afterwards. Read them first, then go back and read them per Ellison and you’ll see why.