There have been a lot of interesting links this last two weeks that are related to Lovecraftian concepts without being in themselves Lovecraftian. But the old gentleman’s notions about time and space and creepy things seems to be validated by modern science. Here are my favorites:
This is older, but one of the best. A new kind of photography can take pictures of a photon packet bouncing around inside a coke bottle and see around corners. And they have film to prove it.
This next week I’ll have another Occult Detectives entry, taking a look at Semi-Dual.
Have a good weekend.
The covers of the 1904 Aldine series, especially that of issue number 2, are the most common on the net. In fact, they are usually coupled with information on either the earlier versions or with rehashes of the urban legend.
In a way, it’s fitting that this is the best known image of Spring-Heeled Jack, because it’s far and away the best story of the lot. As mentioned last week, the 1878, 1885 and this 1904 version were ostensibly the work of one man, Alfred Sherrington Burrage. John Adcock at Yesterday’s Papers disputes this. And though I wouldn’t have known any of the history John narrates, I have to agree simply on the evidence of the writing style. Although going into a stylistic analysis is not the intent of this series, it seems really clear to me that at least the story in The Boys’ Standard and the one in the Aldine series were written by two different people, the first being an inferior writer.
The Spring Heeled Jack Library is advanced in style even over its American contemporaries, almost but not quite reaching the level of decent pulp writing. Coincidence is still prevalent, but the manner in which the story unfolds is far more sophisticated than one would expect from 1904 popular fiction.
It also has a more modern pace. The whole conflict is set up in the first two pages. Bertram Wraydon has recently come into his father’s estate; he is leaving to return to his post during the Napoleonic Wars*. His cousin, Henry Sedgefield, stands to inherit the estate should Bertram be killed. At that same moment, Col. Manfred arrives with a squad of policeman. He has found evidence that Bertram has been spying for the French. Despite his protestations, Bertram is taken to jail and sentenced to hang. Only the intervention of his lawyer, Philbrick, allows Bertram to escape.
Sedgefield settles in comfortably at the Wraydon estate. All believe Bertram dead, but rumors soon start to circulate that he has been seen in the villages nearby. And in the forests, travelers are beset by a mysterious phantom who leaps from the shadows then disappears again.
Here’s where the author really distinguishes himself from the preceding authors. The dark figure is never seen directly, only in shadow and mist, or caught moving away from a window. He doesn’t make a clear physical appearance until halfway through the first issue. This oblique approach builds tension and anticipation for what is to come.
As his laughter rings out through the night:
“Laughter! I call it a howl. It’s some animal as has got out of it’s cage.”
As he is glimpsed in the fog:
A form, dark and shadowy, coming from where no one could tell, just topped a wheel and flew over the coach, alighting with a curious spring sound on the other side.
A military man, Tench, who is an associate of Col. Manfred, is on one such coach.Jack’s appearance startles the horses and as they run away, Tench loses his valise.
The runaway coach horses are stopped by a mysterious gentleman in black, who joins the party. Later, when Tench returns to the scene to look for the valise, the stranger accompanies him. As Tench’s back is turned, the gentleman whirls around, and Tench turns to see someone…else:
His eyes were no longer soft and kind but gleaming with a fierce light. His face had become fiendish with painted eyebrows and stiff bristling mustache. His hands had grown larger and the nails of his fingers were long and hooked.
He also has bat-like wings. Rather than kill Tench, he carves the letter ‘S’ into the soldier’s forehead.
Within pages, the whole vista comes into view. Bertram Wraydon has indeed returned, along with his friend, Denis Stocks, whom he rescued on the battlefield. David is the inventor of the two and has developed a bullet proof vest as well as the spring heeled shoes. They make their headquarters in a crumbling churchyard, from which they sally forth not only to avenge the wrong done to Wraydon and restore his fortune, but to fight against the French espionage ring that headed my Manfred and Sedgefield.
More so than any previous version, this Spring Heeled Jack is clearly an early prototype for a thousand heroes to follow. A great personal wrong, a strong sens of justice, a costume, a secret identity, a secret headquarters, a calling card, unique gadgets (including a flaming gas grenade)… and he strikes fear into the hearts of evil doers (and everybody else.) What more could you ask for in Batman or the Spider or the Shadow?
The author doesn’t stop there. He introduces subplots and new characters deftly, building a larger world. Soon Townsend, the top detective of his day, is on Jack’s trail, and closing in. Manfred’s loyalty to the French cause comes under suspicion and Sedgefield seeks to do away with him. An old friend of Wraydon’s is blackmailed into carrying papers to the French, and in saving him, Wraydon is forced to undertake the journey himself. New allies are made, new enemies are discovered.
Spring-Heeled Jack is not above killing people, giving him a little glimmer of Richard Wentworth. Astonishingly, in issue 10, he actually kills his nemesis, Sedgefield, in cold blood, cutting the man’s throat with a knife. By this time, though, there are new villains in the guise of Beau Brummel (!) and Sir Whitaker Wedge. It’s clear that Aldine intended this to be a long running series, not a serial. They couldn’t continue to tread water in the same story forever.
The author doesn’t shortchange the atmosphere, either.
Night had fallen over London….In those days the safety of London was left principally to the decrepit old men who went wheezing and coughing, swinging a lantern in one hand and thumping a staff with the other.
A strange, lopsided looking man entered the room, crab-like, with his arms hanging straight at his sides.
Sadly, just as the new story arc was getting underway, the magazine ceased publication. Although four more issues were announced, number 12 was the last one that made it to the stands. Why is anybody’s guess, but what intrigues me is that if they got as far as announcing the next four issues, it’s likely that one or two of those stories were actually written. Where are they? Finding them would not only be an amazing piece of popular fiction history, but might actually solve the riddle of who wrote the series.
I stuck my head in the sand, only to find that the sand was a sentient creature and had no intention of ever letting me g. Even now it is slowly decaying my head with various acidic excretions. There is no hope.
That’s at least how it feels sometimes. I know there has to be more going on out there in the world to blog about, but if I can just get my comic page up, I’m happy (more or less.)
Next week, the final part of the Spring Heeled Jack series. I have to tell you, the confusion about these various versions have bugged me for thirty years, so I’m glad to get this out there on the internet.Although none of the stories are particularly rewarding, the character obviously has a lot of appeal. Maybe someone will do something with him one of these days that is truly memorable.
Have a good weekend.
The original real-life Jack was considered by his contemporaries to be nothing more than a prankster, though a particularly irritating one. His description, culled from various period newspapers, seems to change with every report, indicating either a high degree of invention or the possibility that Jack used multiple costumes. He was dressed as a gentleman, or in a close-fitting oilskin suit; he wore helmet, or a mask, or both; his eyes glowed a fiery red and/or he breathed blue flames. And he had metal claws. Sometimes. Even the jumping is not as precisely indicated as you might think. Oh, he jumps and bounds and runs very fast, but the idea of spring-powered leaps seems more of an invention of the media. (Even in 1838 you couldn’t believe what you read in the papers.)
Last week, we saw that the unknown author of the first Spring-Heeled Jack penny dreadful (1863) worked most of those elements into his story, with about the same consistency as we find in the newspaper reports.
In the early 1870s, according to newspaper reports, the urban myth Spring-Heeled Jack made a re-appearance, or several of them, all around England, though north and west of London. There were intermittent sightings (of, may I add, dubious nature) through 1877.
We have to suppose that Charles Fox, successful publisher of The Boys’ Standard storypaper among other things, recognized a sales gimmick when he saw one. Thus, in April, 1878, he commissioned a new, original Spring Heeled Jack story as a short serial for said paper. Also titled Spring-Heeled Jack, the Terror of London, this was a completely different story than the earlier version, and the first(of three!) to be written by Alfred Burrage. Appearing in four parts in the back of the paper, lacking
illustrations, one wonders if there was much enthusiasm for the story, or whether it was filler.
As in the 1863 series, the new story starts out with a summary of the historical Jack’s exploits. Burrage directly addresses the notion that the Marquis of Waterford –the only real contender for the prankster of 1838–and concludes that he could not possibly have been the real Spring-Heeled Jack. His proof is a long anecdote detailing a drunken lark of the Marquis’, in which he was booked on an assault charge, on a date that the “apparition” reportedly appeared to many witnesses.
Additionally, Burrage uses what must have been a trope even at this early date: this story is based on Jack’s “Journal” or “Confessions,” supplied by his descendants under the promise of not revealing their true names.
And just to add that air of casual confidence, Burrage pauses to wonder what might ensue if all the readers of the Boy’s Standard were able to purchase boots like Jack’s. (The. Greatest. Premium. Ever.)
Jack’s appearance is tied down in this section of the story:
His dress was most striking.
It consisted of a tight-fitting garment, which covered him from his neck to his feet.
The garment was of a blood red color.
One foot was encased in a high-heeled,pointed shoe, while the other was hidden in a peculiar affair, something like a cow’s hoof, in imitation, no doubt, of the “cloven-hoof” of Satan. It was generally supposed that the “springing” mechanism was contained in that hoof.
He wore a very small black cap on his head in which was fastened one bright crimson feather.
The upper part of his face was covered with black domino. (sic)
When not in action the whole was concealed by an enormous black cloak, with one hood, and which literally covered him from head to foot.
He did not always confine himself to this dress though, for sometimes he would place the head of an animal, constructed out of paper and plaster, over his own, and make changes in his attire.
Aside from the boot mechanism, the costume tallies well with descriptions in the records and the 1863 series.
Whereas the earlier serial was aimed at a broad audience, the new story is clearly aimed at juveniles; this Jack, Jack Dacre, is barely fifteen when he is cheated out of his inheritance by an evil cousin, Michael. Instead of the rambling narrative and unfocused characterization of the 1863 story, Burrage firmly commits to the heir-cheated-out-of-his-inheritance plot, often said to be THE dominant plot of gothic and/or Victorian fiction.
The story gets quickly underway after this summation, recapping Sidney Dacre making his fortune in India, his secretive marriage (oh, if he only knew how much trouble that was going to cause!) and the birth of his son, Jack. Some years later, upon the death of his father and brothers, Sydney books passage back to England.
A terrible storm upsets that plan, as the ship sinks and Sidney and his wife perish. Only the efforts of Ned Chump, a “jolly sailor,” saves young Jack Dacre from a like fate. Once upon shore, they make for Dacre Hall to claim Jack’s inheritance.
(Let me pause to tell you that these events happen almost as fast in the story as I’m relating them here; there is much to tell, but dawdling is not acceptable in pulp literature. And this is a far shorter story than the previous one.)
Surprise! Wily cousin Michael has usurped Jack’s place. Jack has no proof of his identity, but is sure he can send to India for it. Only, unknown to him, the sole witness to Sydney’s marriage is Alfred Morgan, the agent for the Dacre holdings in India. And he and Michael have formed an alliance to deprive Jack of his inheritance by way of a few falsified documents and a lie (and a bit of an assist from a hired ruffian named Black Ralph.)
A struggle ensues and young Jack leaps wildly from a balcony; his cousin dubs him Spring-Heeled Jack. This is something he will regret.
Shorn of his inheritance, Jack and Ned fall back to make plans. Jack, being wise (and strong and quick-witted beyond his years) has one in mind.
“Some year or two ago I had for a tutor and old Moonshee, who had formerly been connected with a troop of conjurors–and you must have heard how clever the Indian conjurors are.”
“Well, this Moonshee taught me the mechanism of a boot which one member of his band had constructed and which boot enabled him to spring fifteen or twenty feet up in the air, and from thirty to forty feet in a horizontal direction.”
“I’ll make the boot, and then startle the world with a novel highwayman. My cousin twitted me about my spring into the moat and my nimble heels. I’ll hunt him down and keep him in a perpetual state of deadly torment under the style and title of Spring-Heeled Jack.”
“I shall not call myself a thief,” Jack said proudly. “The world may dub me so if it likes. I shall take little but what belongs to me. I shall confine my depredations as much as possible to assisting my cousin in collecting my rents.”
Securing the boot, Jack and Ned head to Dorking, to collect the rent from one Farmer Brown, but collecting rents turns out not to be as simple as one might think.
It was said that his (Farmer Brown’s) niece, Selina Brown, who was the rightful owner of the farm, was kept a prisoner somewhere with the walls of the solitary farmhouse.
Rumour also added that she was a maniac.
Say it ain’t so!
Jack’s sense of justice will not let him overlook this affront to decency; needless to say, the girl is restored as rightful owner. Interestingly, this “side-mission” echoes one from the 1863 series, moving the setting to the countryside from town, but otherwise similar in detail.
It’s only a matter of time before Sir Michael Dacre gets it in his head to go collect his rents himself. Young Jack lays in wait for the returning coach, and leaps out in front of it with a cry of, “Hand out all your money and your jewelry–I am SPRING-HEELED JACK!”
–but then he lets everyone but Sir Michael and the unfaithful agent Morgan pick up their valuables and leave.
Pointing a long, claw-like finger at the would be baronet, Jack said, in the most sepulchral tone he could assume–
“Beware, Michael Dacre; your cousin’s last words to you shall be brought home to you with full force. From this day forth until you render up possession of the title and estates you have usurped, you shall not know one hour’s peace of mind by reason of the dread you will feel at the appearance of Spring-Heeled Jack!”
Sir Michael makes his claim for World’s Stupidest Villain as he declares–
“It is..certain that this stalwart man who can spring over the top of a mail coach, horses, passengers and all, cannot be that puny lad who laid claim to the Dacre title and lands.”
The rest of the story–we’re about halfway through at this point, adds a love interest for young Jack (his wife, once he had regained his place, of course.)
To bring matters to a head, Spring-Heeled Jack steals proof of his heritage from Morgan, who kills himself to escape shame and the gallows. Upon receiving this news, Sir Michael proves a paper tiger, and gives up without a fight.
Thus ends the “authentic story of Spring-Heeled Jack”, although “many scamps and ruffians played the part of Spring-Heeled Jack in various garbs in and around London.”
Short, sweet, and to the point, The Boys’ Standard serial is, unfortunately, a stock boy’s adventure tale. It reads more smoothly than the earlier tale, but this may have as much to do with its short length and the fact that the author would know just how many pages he had to fill from the beginning. Though many of the same incidents occur, this version doesn’t quite have that proto-costumed hero air that makes the original so interesting.
Despite its weaknesses, the story must have had some success, at least when it was reprinted eight years later. Something had to persuade Fox that there were possibilities in yet another version of the story. So, with the same author, using the same title, London was thrilled for 48 weeks (more or less) by the presence of the spring-heeled one.
I was not able to get a copy of this story, though I did find detail enough (courtesy Mr. Justin Gilbert) to compare it with the other two stories. It’s a shame because all indications point to this being the best Jack yet. The prose is tighter, there is a real story, and then there are those covers…
It’s the covers I am most interested in. Here we have the most unusual visualization of Spring-Heeled Jack, and in this guise I can readily believe he might be the terror of London. I’ve scrounged up as many covers as I could find on the internet (some of them are at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum, for which thanks.) This is definitely a different Jack: Demon head, tail, bat-wings, not to mention no sight of anything that could even metaphorically called “spring-heeled.”
The story is again the heir-cheated-out-of-his-inheritance plot, this time pitting the betrayed Ralph Ashton against the usurper, Roland Ashton. Their final confrontation gives us a vivid picture of Jack as an avenger to be feared:
Spring-Heeled Jack’s peculiar dress had sometimes been red, and at others white, but now it assumed a dull black hue, as if some other garb were worn under it.
His frame had a more bulky appearance, and Sir Roland noticed that he did not seem to be so tall by several inches.
Again, Spring-Heeled Jack smiled as he beheld Sir Roland’s discomfiture, but there was more of sadness than of mirth in the expression. —————
“Halt!” cried Spring-Heeled Jack. “It is here that you must atone for the past, Sir Roland.”
“Atone to whom?”
“To outraged Heaven and to me!”
“Ralph Ashton tod me I had to answer to him.”
At that moment came a metallic sound.
Spring-Heeled Jack’s appearance began to alter..
His dress, as it were, crumpled up, and fell loosely ipon the floor, and Ralph Ashton stood face to face with his deadly foe. ————————————————–
(Sir Roland) gazed in wonder at the skin-like dress, which though now harmless and inactive, had something demoniac (sic) in its appearance.
The ghastly headpiece still seemed to mock and gibe, and its huge mouth gaped even wider than of yore.
There is some real drama here, and though the climactic swordfight that puts Sir Roland out of our misery is brief, it feels satisfying. Later, on the same page, more detail about the costume is given.
The hideous dresses in which Ralph Ashton personated so extraordinary a character were marvels of mechanism.
They had been the labour of many months and he had worked at them in secret through many a long night.
The dressed were two in number, and composed of chamois leather–one dyed a blood red color, and the other bleached snow-white.
From the hips to the ankles ran steel bars, so joined as to work freely with the limbs, and these were attached to a number of springs forming the soles and toes of the false feet, upon which Ralph’s own rested.
When stooping for a leap, the steel bars gave a tremendous force to the springs, pressing them down and sending him forward with a bound.
Free to return to his proper place, Ralph marries his lady love (whose husband Spring-Heeled Jack had evidently taken care of earlier), adopts her two children and settles down for a nice long life of leisure. In a move reminiscent of so many serials, the identity of Spring-Heeled Jack is put away forever..or perhaps, until he is needed again.
And it all ends with Christmas greetings!
We’re clearly back to the proto-costumed hero motif. Ralph is wronged, he spends a great deal of time working out his costume, he rights wrongs even as he fights to regain his birthright. And when there is no more need for the avenger, he quietly retires. The details of the costume, while still a little vague, shows that a lot more thought was put into making the outfit credible than in previous outings.
A word about the publication itself. There are 48 parts BUT, several were double numbers, meaning that some issues carried twice the page count AND had both numbers on the cover. You can see this for yourself in the gallery. I haven’t been able to establish just how many of these double numbers there were, but let’s say there were four. That would mean forty-eight parts BUT only forty-four actual issues. I hope to settle this confusion soon.
We’re still not done with Spring-Heeled Jack, though. Nor is Alfred Burrage. Next week we’ll look at the 1904 Aldine series, probably the best known of the stories, at least as far as the covers go.
Don’t have anything really relevant today except to flog next week’s Spring Heeled Jack post. I’ll be looking at the circa 1880s versions –well, the two main ones; there are other, lesser lights. And the following week I’ll finish the series up with a look at the 1904 version. One of the odd things about these three stories is that they are all completely different from one another, but apparently written by the same man.
Here’s a little oddity that some of you may have seen on the LIM Facbook page. For my own portfolio I do 3D models. This one is of Frank Reade’s Steam Man. I grabbed the background image off the internet, so my apologies (or thanks?) to whomever I ripped off (don’t worry, I’m not selling prints; I was just experimenting.) The model and lighting were done in Maya, the steam effects and compositing in Photoshop.
Have a good weekend.
SPRING-HEEL’D JACK: THE TERROR OF LONDON
News Agents Publishing Company 1863/1869, 40 issues
When I first saw that ad for Spring-Heel’d Jack: the Terror of London, back in 1967 (curiously enough, 100 years after its last publication) I wanted a copy so bad I would have traded all my Marvel comics of the time for one. But penny dreadfuls weren’t so common in Oklahoma back in those days. That’s still true, actually, but now I can include the whole world. As I mentioned last week, there is only one “complete” copy of this entire serial, and even it is missing issue 14. It’s held in the British Museum. I never dreamed the day would come when I would get a complete .pdf of the entire thing. To say I was excited is like saying Moby Dick is about a whale.
Over the years, one of the most confusing elements regarding the spring-heeled one was that there were so many different illustrations of him, but none tied securely to any specific publication. John Adock, whose website, Yesterday’s Papers, is a must-read, and Justin Gilbert, plus the .pdf, solved a big part of that when I saw clearly that Jack had several different faces in the Newsagent Publishing Co. version. You can follow his visual evolution in the gallery of covers, all 39 of those available, that accompany this post. In the story, Jack is possessed of several masks for differing purposes: one is “hideous and repulsive,” one is a “demon,” and the last, a skull. The hideous and repulsive one is sometimes interchangeable with the demon,who is usually identified as the devil but sometimes isn’t. Consistency has never been a hallmark of pulp fiction, regardless of age.
I think it’s a given that anything you anticipate for 45 years is going to be a disappointment, and Spring Heel’d Jack, The Terror of London admirably supports my thesis. If you’ll just scan through the covers, you’ll note how his costume evolves from a proto-Snidely whiplash, to Mephistopheles, to a goofy, leering clown in a devil mask and a top-hat. It’s hard to put one’s mind in the place of a reader of 1863. Did they really find this terrifying? It sure looks like Punch & Judy to me.
The story, I’m afraid, isn’t any better. I read a lot of pulp fiction and a lot of 19th century pulp fiction, so I can make allowances for the fact that this is not a contemporary novel, and that it was written on the cheap. But given the reputation of the penny dreadfuls, aka, the penny bloods, I was expecting….more blood, more dread. Old King Brady regularly deals with cut-up bodies, sadistic torturers, and murderous criminals. Nick Carter’s arch enemy is Dr. Quartz whose sole pleasure in life is vivisection on young women. Live ones.
So I think I’m on fair ground in finding the action in this 300+ page soap opera a bit tepid. And soap opera is largely what it is. There are two main storylines, both of which deal with lecherous libertines seeking to bed particular innocent young women through manipulation and deceit. A third follows the story of another young woman forced into poverty, struggling to stay out of prostitution by doing piece work for a stereotypical Jewish merchant. Many pages are devoted to playing out these conflicts in the most repetitious possible manner. I mean repetitious on the same page, and often in the same paragraph, rather than the expected repetition that is part of any serial. This is a rough paraphrase, but I believe a true representation of the numerous confrontations:
“I have you now.”
“I do! You must see that.”
“I do not see it!”
“Nevertheless, I have you. And you will do my bidding.”
“Yes. You cannot get out of it, you must admit.”
“It is impossible. I have you and you will do my bidding.”
“Oh, yes, you will.”
“Perhaps you are right, then.”
“I am indeed.”
“Have mercy on me!”
“Mercy! Ha! Ha! Ha!”
At other times, the author’s struggle to drag the story out (and to earn his penny a line for the week) becomes so obvious that I would have expected readers to revolt, en masse. After all, Dickens wrote his novels the same way, in penny parts, so it’s not like there was no choice in reading matter.
(Let me remind you all that penny dreadfuls were spun out as long as they were selling; when sales dipped, plots would be wound up in a hurry. An author might well have an end in mind, but he had to dollop his plot out carefully and tread water so as to be able to keep it going or bring his story to a conclusion on short notice.)
The story opens with a reference to the 1837-1838 sightings:
It is now a little over a quarter of a century since the inhabitants of London were kept in a continual state of terror by a man who, under various disguises, and in different shapes and forms, would suddenly appear before the unsuspecting pedestrian and, after having nearly frightened the traveler out of his or her senses,, would as suddenly disappear, with terrific bounds, from his side, leaving for a time the impression upon hos affrighted victim that his Satanic Majesty had paid a visit to the earth and especially favored them with his presence.
Evening was generally the time chosen by this eccentric character for his strange conduct; and doubtless there were many living who can recollect–but not without a shudder–the pang of fear which shot through their hearts when, leaping from some dark corner, out of a doorway, or over thickset hedge, he stood before them.
What his true object could be none have able to conjecture. Certain it is that robbery was not the cause, for he was never known to take a single coin from his victims even when fright had rendered them almost insensible; nor did he ever practice any other degree of cruelty beyond affrighting them.
But this was bad enough–so bad that in some cases the victims of his eccentricities never thoroughly recovered the shock their nerves sustained; and indeed, in one or two instances, death was ultimately the result.
This sets up the unintentional (probably) dichotomy that weighs the story down. ‘Terror’ might well have had a different definition at the time; if not, then it is hard to reconcile the description with Jack’s “crimes,” even though he himself references his vague bad behavior.
Jack wanders in and out of these stories, always to aid of the young women n the nick of time, though he is fairly ineffectual. He stops one dastardly deed, first by scaring the perpetrator, and when that fades, by issuing threats of punishment at his hands. He believes these threats to be sufficient , but he is repeatedly wrong, completely underestimating the driving lust of the villains.Ultimately, he is really only a means to thread these stories together. He has no real story arc, nothing at stake other than being caught.
Jack also has various, smaller “side missions” that occupy his time, some of which are petty, others of which are just mean spirited. Our Jack is the hero of the tale, no doubt, but he has some Borderline Personality issues. He is introduced as more of a prankster than anything else. In fact, his first adventure is to trick two louts into a field, get the drop on them and then make them disrobe down to their presumably long tailed undershirts and sending them back onto the main road to suffer the embarrassment. When he accidentally kills a man while defending the honor of a young woman–Jack knocks him down and the fellow hits his head on the pavement– Jack is distraught and flees, seeking some good deed to redeem himself. Coincidence being what it is, he finds a young woman about to commit suicide. She actually does leap into the cold river, but Jack, mask, cloak and all, dives in after her, and after a battle with the current, gets her safely home.
As a character, the spring-heel’d one is a bit of a conundrum. As I said last week, he is definitely a proto-costumed hero. He is a wealthy man, addicted to adventure. He is, for the most part, highly moral, and seeks to help the afflicted, whether by gifts of cash or fisticuffs with a ruffian. He wears a mask –actuay, one of several: a demon, the Devil and a skeleton– and a cape, though why is a bit vague since so many people, including at least one of the villains, are perfectly clear as to who he is, even though he still wears his mask in front of them.
The cloak is evidently changeable, white when confronting someone as Spring-Heel’d Jack, black when wandering around London in pursuit of adventure. And it must be of some special material, as he wears it leaping into the Thames; fully soaked, the cloak still doesn’t hamper his movements with its weight. He has some sort of vague, claw-like gloves and, onone occasion, appears with phosphorous for a glow effect. The claws and glow are part of the original description of the urban legend.
Oddly, he gets some of his best effects not simply from his mask(s) but by putting on his mask in front of other people; people react as if he has supernaturally changed in front of them. Despite the obvious danger it entails, Jack doesn’t seem to particularly mind this, though he always shushes them before they can say his name aloud. That name is always, “the mar—.” At the very start of the story, reference is made to the incidents of 1837 and though not stated so explicitly, these are meant to be the adventures of that individual. One of the primary suspects of those original peccadilloes was the Marquess of Waterford, a well-known carouser and practical joker.
So we have our basic costumed hero set-up. One might even argue that the nastier sides of Jack’s character are the harbingers of the Marvel style, wherein our heroes have real life issues. When a coachman falls asleep while waiting for Jack, Jack is put off by the man’s lack of attention to his (the coachman’s) business. Jack leaps into the driver’s box and sets the horse galloping along the roads, driving crazily so as to make the real driver think he is in a runaway coach. To make things worse, and to avenge another slight, Jack has attached a rope from the coach to the shabby wooden stall of a coffee seller. The runaway coach pulls the stall away after it, making an enormous racket as the sticks bounce along behind the cab. When Jack thinks the driver has had enough, he pulls the coach into a pond and tricks the driver into stepping out, and falling face first into the water. The driver flails around for a bit until he realizes the water is shallow. When he gets up, he sees Jack sitting on the driver’s box, smoking a cigar. Jack promptly chastises him for putting his passengers in danger, and admonishment the coachman accepts, totally befuddled by what has just happened. He doesn’t even recognize what part of town he’s in. Jack chooses this time to bound away, but all is well, at least in his mind, because he left ample payment for his fare and any damage in the coachman’s pocket. He had also tossed a packet of coins to the coffee seller to help him move up in the world. Has Marvel done a benevolent sociopath yet?
Oddly, given the way the dreadfuls were reportedly written, the story seems to tighten up in the last third, as a fourth story arc is introduced. (I imagine that the writer had some idea of his plot in advance, and perhaps even wrote some of the last issues earlier on, knowing that the story would end someday.) A young impoverished wretch, Thomas, is struggling to get back to London to see his dying mother one last time.
But mother is not what she seems, and she is agony, hoping to unburden her conscience before she dies by revealing that Thomas is a changeling. As is Robert Clavering, the wealthy, debauched playboy who has sought to trick a young ballet dancer (who is nonetheless virginal) into a fake marriage, solely because he has a jones for her. Mom, in her younger days, was the nurse for the real Clavering heir…and the elder Clavering’s mistress. She switched her baby for the real thing, as much out of spite as for the good of her illegitimate child. Thus, Robert grew up in the luxury that was rightfully Richard’s (Thomas.)
If you’ve read much nineteenth century popular fiction, you’ll know that this is the quintessential Victorian plot. We’ll see more of it in the Spring Heeled Jacks Yet to Come.
The impact of this revelation leads inexorably to the conclusion, not so much in terms of writing but in terms of cliché.
The second story arc has spun around James Slater’s unfortunate forging of a check on his employer’s account. He kept this from his beloved and innocent wife, Jane, up to the moment that his boss, Grasper, discovered the forgery. Grasper tried to use this leverage to coerce Jane into a night or two of that fate-worse-than-death stuff. She swings wildly, wanting to keep her husband out of jail, yet bound by her virtue and morals. Grasper kept the pressure up, despite several stern admonishments from Jack, until James couldn’t take it any longer. He killed himself. By the graveside–at a crossroads, suicides not being allowed in holy ground– Jane went insane, and at first turnsed to Grasper as a friend,ultimately believing that Grasper WAS James. Grasper seized the moment, took her to a rotting apartment and left her in the care of the alcoholic occupant there, to keep her safe until Grasper could return at midnight to have his way.
By coincidence, Jack, wandering around, seeking adventure, finds out about this. Need I tell you, he saves Jane.
Through come convoluted events, including the death of Robert Clavering, Richard Clavering and the widowed Jane Slater fall in love, and all is resolved in a happy and just manner. All because of the Terror of London.
However, Jack’s unspecified “crimes” have drawn desperate measures from the Crown, and he decides the wise choice is to leave for Spain on the first boat available.
At waterside, he sends a man out in a rowboat to the vessel in the bay, to see if the captain will grant him passage. While awaiting a reply,
“..Jack leisurely strolled up on to the rocks that rose in weird and picturesque masses on all sides.
In the beuaty of the scene before him–for the moon had risen and was tinting the waves with silver–he did not observe the approach of three men, who were stealing cautiously over the rocks toward him; nor was it till one of them exclaimed in a loud tone, “On, lads! ’tis Spring-heeled Jack!” did he know of their presence.
Jack started round at the mention of hi name, and that one look assured him they were officers.
“Spring-heeled Jack, we arrest you in the name of the sovereign!” cried the man who had before spoken.
Jack cast an anxious look towards the sea and saw the boat returning quickly to the beach.
“In the name of the law we call on you to surrender! You have taken your last leap, Jack!” cried the man, springing towards him.
In England, for some time I have, my friend,” said Jack. “Good bye! Give my respects to all I leave behind.
And as the man was about to lay his hand on his shoulder, Jack sprang out over the rock into the glistening sea.
Whether Jack died or not is open to question, as the last few paragraphs indicate that Richard Clavering and his soon-to-be bride, Jane Slater look to a time when they might welcome back the man who had done so much for them. But this ending of Jack’s career has a poignancy satisfying but all out of proportion to the rest of the book.
We never do find out Jacks true identity. Just paragraphs before the quoted passage, there is one last repetition of someone who starts to exclaim, “The Mar—” but Jacks knocks him out.
It’s not a story I would read again, but, in the end, I can’t say I’m sorry I read it. There is an appeal in the character that transcends the clumsy writing, and moments of charm and humor from the high melodrama of the action, dialogue and motivations of the characters. When you take into account that this character and his urban legend background were still quite well-known at the time, it’s easy to see the appeal.
Oh how the new year does roll on!
Be sure to check out the four part blog series on Spring Heeled Jack in the Penny Dreadfuls, the first of which went up this last Wednesday. Loads of illustrations, plus pithy banter from someone who has actually read the stories! (That would be me:-))
I am now certain that when Book 5 finally wraps up, I am going to go back through and see if I can’t smooth it out a little. No storypoints will change, but the dialogue and some of the art will. And some panels may move around. I’ll let everyone know when I start posting new pieces.
Have a good weekend.
If you’ll do a search for “Spring -Heeled Jack” you’ll get, as of this writing, 461,000 hits. The vast majority will be about a series of incidents in late 1837-early 1838 wherein a grotesque character “terrorized” parts of London for a brief period. Descriptions vary: he could breathe blue flames, he wore a white body suit and a cloak, or not; he had glowing red eyes…or not. He had claws,talons, both or neither. He looked like devil, or a bear, or a gentleman in an opera cape. Sometimes, when caught in the act of accosting some young woman, he would walk away but mostly he would escape by jumping to great heights or long distances; the notion of spring-heeled boots seems to be a newspaper invention. Sightings continued up until 1904 or so.
Who or what this ‘creature’ was has been flogged to death by everyone from scholars to skeptics to the tinfoil hat crowd, and I don’t have anything else to add to it. If you want to believe he was an extraterrestrial, a vengeful spirit, or the Marquess of Waterford, be my guest. But in general, he was a bad guy. Not Jack the Ripper bad, but a nuisance of the first order.
Inevitably, there will be an aside that goes something like this: “Spring Heeled Jack became a popular staple of the penny dreadfuls in the 1840s.” Usually this will be accompanied by one of two color illustrations from what we will see is the 1904 version of the story. But it’s always clear that no one has actually sat down and read the stories.
I first came across the character way back in 1967, when collecting comic books was still for the fat, friendless or fearless. One of the few books to tackle the subject with any degree of scholarly intent was the Penguin Book of Comics by George Perry and Alan Aldridge. It favored the English comics, but traced comics origins back to cave paintings and hieroglyphics. And they had to mention penny dreadfuls. The ad here is the one they
chose for their illustration. It was the first I had ever heard of Spring Heel’d Jack. I loved that illustration (still do.) It is, for me, the perfect embodiment of Victorian melodrama. But in those pre-internet days, any more information than the blurb that accompanied the photo was out of reach. As was any chance that I would ever find that magazine for myself. But I just knew it had to be a fabulously lurid tale. After all, that’s what penny dreadfuls were all about. (And by the way, though it’s dated, the Penguin Book of Comics is still a fun read.)
So decades flew by. Jack becomes more popular, but always for the Fortean side of his persona. Based on what I read, I had to assume the Spring Heel’d Jack dreadful was of the 1840s. Apparently no one had ever read the story (or stories) as there was never a synopsis. As time went by, I discovered numerous other visual interpretation of ol’ Jack, at least one of which, the one I refer to as the Monster version, that was tied to a penny dreadful, and then later, a color illustration, which is the Batman version. But those covers were often tied to the reports of the 1840s penny bloods, and I knew that couldn’t be.
The more information I found, the less sense it made. Obviously, people were just cutting and pasting from each other, and not being very careful about it. I’d find other people trying to construct literary chronologies of Jack, ones that included the various stage plays, but inevitably they contradicted one another. And there was still that 1840s version, about which no details other than the general time span ever emerged.
Finally, I came to my Popeye moment: “I’ve had all I can stands, and I can’t stands no more.”
Now there are two ways to research a topic. The first is to bury yourself in primary documents and follow the threads like Mr. Holmes. This is called primary research. As I had no time open to pop by the British Library for the next few years, I had to opt for the second method, which is to track down someone who really knows their onions and repeat what they found out while doing their primary research. This is called plagiarism when it is not acknowledged, or mooching, if it is. I was very fortunate to find not one, but two incredibly knowledgeable onion-lovers, Justin Gilbert and John Adcock. Between them, all confusion and contradictions were vanquished, and Spring-Heeled Jack stepped out into the clear sunlight for me at last. Illustrations were sorted out, misinformation was hung by its scrawny neck and left to rot at a seldom traveled crossroads, and I now share all this with you as if I had done something other than write a few pointed emails to the right people.
To begin with, there was no 1840s appearance of Spring Heeled Jack in the penny dreadfuls. There was a stage play or two, but the only paper publications were three broadsheets released about the time of the original sightings, likely January/February 1838. These would be newspaper size pages, possibly folded up into quarto or octavo size (that’s four and eight
pages respectively for those of you whose Latin is a bit rusty.) There may or may not have been illustrations of some sort. These weren’t fiction, but highly sensationalized reports of the real deal. (If I’m honest, I’m not exactly sure what the difference is.) No one seems to know for sure. John Adcock says all three of these titles in the British Library were destroyed during the blitz, but their catalog still lists the first one in their online collection. Emails to the library for some confirmation or denial haven’t as yet been answered.
At any rate, the titles of these three publications were:
-Authentic particulars of the awful appearance of the London Monster, alias Spring–heeled Jack, together with his extraordinary life, wonderful adventures and secret amours. Also an account of his horrible appearance to Miss N— and his singular letter to the Lord Mayor of London
-The surprising exploits of Spring-Heel Jack in the vicinity of London, etc.,
-The Apprehension and Examination of Spring-Heel’d Jack, who has appeared as a Ghost, Demon, Bear, Baboon, etc.
It wasn’t until 1863 that the Newsagent Publishing company issued the first Spring Heel’d Jack penny dreadful, in 40 weekly parts, entitled, Spring Heel’d Jack:the Terror of London. A Romance of the Nineteenth Century. Although uncredited, the author was Albert Coates. The serial was reprinted in 1867, implying it was reasonably popular, and it is cited in more than one complaint against the corrupting influence of the penny parts upon children. For all that, this is the rarest of the SHJ serials, and many collectors with gigantic penny blood collections have never seen a single issue. The only known “complete” copy is in the British Library, and even it is missing chapter 14.
In 1878, Charles Fox, one of the larger publishers of storypapers and bloods, ran a serial entitled, Spring-Heeled Jack, the Terror of London as a serial in the weekly storypaper, The Boy’s Standard, first series, vol. 5, April 1878. The serial was reprinted in The Boy’s Standard, new series, from July to August, 1885. Apparently it was also reprinted in The Boy’s Monster Weekly in 1899.
American publishers apparently tried only once to translate Jack’s success to these shores, in issue 332 of Beadle’s New York Dime Library, in 1885. Joe Rainone sent the accompanying cover scan, but says the story, Spring Heel Jack; or, the Masked Mystery of the Tower, by Colonel Thomas Monstery, has little to do with the English version.
Meanwhile, the reprinted serial in The Boy’s Standard must have been successful enough for Charles Fox to commission yet another version of the SHJ legend, for he issued a true penny dreadful, the 48 part Spring-Heeled Jack, The Terror of London, in 1886. This was a completely new story by Alfred Sherrington Burrage. Apparently a new title was not part of his contract. The 48 parts were reissued in 1889, and then collected together in a hardbound book.
Jack’s saga, as far as penny dreadfuls goes, comes to an end in the 1904 Aldine series, Spring-Heeled Jack, also known as the Spring-Heeled Jack Library. It was yet another new story, but also by Alfred Burrage, under the pen name Charlton Lea. The color covers were a treat, but the series only ran 12 issues.
When I say the end, of course, I am referring to the penny dreadfuls and dime novels. Jack remains popular today, appearing in any number of steampunk novels and horror stories. At least one comic book was devoted to a character of that name, but though the costume resembled the 1904 Aldine version, Jack was a Tibetan demon (!) These days, he is usually cast as a villain, and apparently that is how he was originally seen during the flurry of original sightings. But we’ll see as we make our way through the actual stories, that notion fell by the wayside. In fact, Jack is the first costumed adventurer. That’s not a new claim, others have made it, but to date the supporting evidence has largely consisted of those color Aldine covers. We’ll delve into the four major Spring-Heeled Jack stories and get the real goods.
Next Week: Tracking Jack, pt.2
Ok, we’re back. And this next week, the first of a four part blog about Spring Heeled Jack in the dime novels. It’s amazing how much confusion there is out there on the web about SHJ’s dime novel advetnures that I’ve decided to settle it once and for all by actually READING the stories, or as many as I was able to get ahold of. If you Google his name, you’ll mainly get sites dealing with the urban legend, most of which are just cut and paste jobs with a few new speculations tossed in. I personally don’t care if he was an alien or a demon or a nutball Royal. But there’s nothing worse than reading cut-and-paste info that is WRONG, and particularly about something I’m interested in. I’ll beat that drum more next week.
Below are two covers from a bizarre Spanish serial novel from the early 1910s called El Hijo del Contrabandista o el Abismo de Dos Razas. It doesn’t translate well, but comes out to something like The Smugglers Son, or the Abyss of (between?) Two Races. There are reportedly some fantasy elements in the series. I hope to do some posts this year on all the really cool fantasy/horror/weird stuff that was appearing in Europe during Lovecraft’s day. I can’t help but think he would like these covers.
…this weekend, the first “true” serial, The Adventures of Kathlyn, debuted at the theatres. By “true” serial, I mean one with cliffhangers, the Continued Next Week function that really defines serials. But the cliff hanger ending, though it seems the logical and obvious approach, didn’t really get set in stone for another year or two. Many of the early “serials” contained a single character in a continuing story, but just ended at a convenient place as in What Happened to Mary?, considered the first American serial. The Hazards of Helen, which ran for 119 chapters starting the year after The Adventures of Kathlyn, are just individual shorts featuring the same main character, which is usually considered a ‘series.’ And honestly, it’s just possible that the most famous serial of all time, The Perils of Pauline (1914), didn’t use cliff hangers for every episode.
The term has become even looser in recent years, as fans seem bent on expanding the number of serials. I consider Beatrice Fairfax a series, as it is twelve related but otherwise individualepisodes, but many people today count it as a serial, I’m assuming because there were 12 episodes. At the same time, I consider the 1913 Fantômas films, as well as Les Vampires (1914) and Judex (19116) serials, even though the European idea of a serial is really more like, say Star Wars than The Adventures of Capt. Marvel: a series of longer films –sometimes over an hour–that tell a single story, but minus cliff-hangers.
Fantômas could in fact be the poster child for this general vagueness about what constitutes a true serial. There are five discrete films within the series, all roughly an hour in length. The second of the five, however, does end with a true cliff-hanger, while the other four resolve like a TV episode. But within each of the five films, there are further subdivisions, from 3 to 5, each with titles that could indicate chapters. But….no cliff hangers.
And then today, we have the Super Serial format, seen on TV in series like Lost and 24. The series themselves are serials, meaning that, for instance, 24 can be seen as an eight episode Super Serial, each chapter of which is a 24 chapter serial in itself.
We won’t resolve this here. But let’s at list tip our hats to the people who did start it all. (In film anyway. Newspaper and magazine serials…well, another time, perhaps.)