Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sherlock Holmes beats Jack the Ripper every time.

Every Sherlockian knows that Sherlock Holmes could have taken down Jack the Ripper, and probably quietly did, outside of the pages of The Strand Magazine. But a recent development in the Ripper case shows one more thing about the classic Holmes-versus-Ripper match-up: the Ripper's weak spot.

The Daily Mail has come out with an article claiming that Jack the Ripper has been identified conclusively as Polish hairdresser Aaron Kosminski by DNA evidence. The findings don't seem that far fetched. Kosminski has been a suspect in the Ripper murders since 1894. He spent the next twenty-five years in an asylum, where he died in 1919. One has to wonder if Ripper fans will accept this latest bit of evidence, or are hoping it will get quickly discredited, because the fame of Jack the Ripper, unlike that of Sherlock Holmes, depends completely and utterly upon us not knowing anything about him.

There have been murderers since the Ripper who murdered more people. There have been murderers since Jack the Ripper who did the deed more gruesomely. There have been murderers since Jack who have been much more "successful" at the trade, however one measures success. But Jack the Ripper's entire legend hinges on him remaining a boogeyman, a nearly supernatural creature of darkness. And like all boogeymen, once you shine a light on him, he's nothing special.

Sherlock Holmes on the other hand, is a shiner of lights. Even when he explains his tricks, we admire him all the more. He looks as good in daylight as he does in darkness, and the more a Holmes fan can find out about him, the more they like him. With Holmes being a being of light and truth, and the Ripper being a creature of darkness and ignorance, it's natural that writers and fans have been wanting them to square off, almost since day one.  It's a natural, right?

The problem is that when you put Sherlock Holmes up against Jack the Ripper, Jack inevitably ceases to be a boogeyman by the story's end and loses all his power . . . which always makes for a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. Jack the Ripper cannot stay Jack the Ripper once he meets Sherlock Holmes, just as darkness can't exist once the lights are turned on.

Of course, part of Jack the Polish Hairdresser's problem is that he was born of ignorance and failure . . .  he wasn't the best at what he did, just the luckiest, stumbling into reknown. To truly match Sherlock Holmes, a legend who was created to be exactly what he was, one would have to pull in the likes of a Hannibal Lechter, a legendary serial killer created to be at the top of his game. Now there's a match-up that would be worth watching!

So are we done with Jack the Ripper now? Do we need his out-dated legend to scare anyone any more? Is he getting two TV series and a major motion picture franchise like good old Sherlock, the man who cleaned the Ripper's clock more than anyone else?

We shall see.  Night always comes again sometime after the sun comes up, but it's always a different night, a different darkness. The sun remains the same. So it is with Sherlock Holmes.


  1. I am not a 'Ripperologist', but whenever the subject came up I've always said that Mr. Kosminski was the most likely villain. I am almost certain that the official 'Ripperologists' will soon dispute this - as you say - the Ripper must remain a mystery.

  2. Oh, the world will be such a dull place if every mystery gets solved. I would much prefer a mysterious Jack the Ripper than Polish-immigrant-complete-with-DNA. Even if all this might give Finland something to boast about for a little while.