The Fate of the Sun in From Hell

From Hell by Alan Moore (writer) and Eddie Campbell (artist) is a graphic novel account of the Jack the Ripper murders based upon extensive research along with fictionalized elements such as the identity of Jack of the Ripper.

While William Gull, royal physician and freemason who is depicted as the murderer, shows carriage driver, John Netley, London’s landmarks to expose their mystical significance, Gull notes, “…when this world and its sisters shall at last be swallowed by a Father Sun grown red and bloated as a leech” (Moore, 4, 25).

When Gull places the murder of the women in terms of a necessity to maintain a world system of patriarchal order, the murders take on a sacrificial, divine power. This scene in From Hell is taking place in 1888. Would they have known about red giants at this time? With the wealth of information available, you’d think it’d be easy to find the history of red giants, but there’s surprisingly little. We know a lot about what red giants are and current research being done on them, but not the history of the term “red giant.” David Fabricius discovered the first variable star in 1596, which we understand to be the first documentation of a red giant. However, I do not think the term “red giant” existed in the sixteenth century.

The Hertzsprung Russell diagram was created around 1910 to classify stars according to magnitude, luminosity, and temperature. I believe the terms for classifying stars as dwarfs and giants came about around the same time as the HR diagram. Even though the term “red giant” did not exist in 1888, the concept may have. As Gull was a doctor, an educated man, it is plausible that he would have had access to scientific information.

I bring in this science history to show, even if Gull did not know about red giants, that Moore placing this connection displays the danger in people, like Gull, attaching facts about nature to the ideologies they create. That the sun will become a red giant is used by Gull as a natural justification for the patriarchal system he wants to maintain. The sisters would be Mercury and Venus, which are closest to the sun, and so would be enveloped by the sun’s expansion first. Venus is also known as Earth’s twin, because it is similar in size and distance from the sun. In Roman mythology, Venus is the goddess of love. The physical destruction of Venus by the sun symbolizes men’s destruction of women. Gull compares the red giant sun to a leech and I thought it was interesting he made this comparison through blood. It seems like the sun is sucking the life force out of the planets in order to grow larger. This comparison can also symbolize the blood of the women Gull murders and so Gull grows in power, and insanity, as he metaphorically feeds off the blood of these women.

A Student’s Prespective on Knowledge

This winter quarter at UCLA, I’ve been surprised by some of the little things my fellow classmates don’t know, such as that you can’t see Venus at night or that you can be a lawyer even with a criminal record. Maybe these sort of things aren’t common knowledge. But I’d think if you were going to bring up these topics, you’d at least know what you’re talking about.

The truth is we don’t need to know anything. We have smart phones in the palms of our hands and with a few taps we can find out anything. With the workings of a Google search interface for the mind, soon we may not even have to tap a touchscreen. Even a few professors at UCLA are saying, it’s not about what you know, but what you know how to do. Education should be about learning how to critically think and the application of skills rather than memorizing information. However, you need to have some foundational knowledge before you can apply it. Such as knowing basic math (like addition and multiplication) in order to use derivatives for a real world application, like finding the volume of a pool.

Patrick Deneen is heading for a similar distinction in his article “How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture.” Instead of math, Deneen is interested in history and culture. From reading Paradise Lost to knowing about Guy Fawkes, while these are easily googled, Deneen is concerned with students’ ignorance on these topics. How can you google these works and people if you haven’t heard of them?

There are two issues. One, we do not have the knowledge or what knowledge we do have is inaccurate yet we hold it to be true. Two, what knowledge we are applying is for practical purposes (knowing how much water is in the pool to apply the correct amount of chlorine), instead of greater implications (whether or not a pool should be built there, what the impact of the pool will be on the environment, how much water is being diverted from ecosystems for the maintenance of a pool).

For the second issue, one reason why people do not ask about the greater implications is that they simply don’t care. They’re building a pool in their back yard simply for their own enjoyment. Why should they care about anything else? While the specific practice may not be harmful in itself, the principle of being indifferent to others is.

It seems like a minor clarification that you can only see Venus in the few hours of morning and evening, but understanding this fact and why it is true gives you a spatial awareness of yourself on the planet you live on in relation to the greater universe.