I recently read a short story by Shirley Jackson from collection of her short stories entitled Dark Tales. There is a movie out now, recently released, on Jackson’s life – but I don’t recommend it. It may not be that factual anyway. On the other hand, a movie version of her novel “We Have Always Lived in this Castle” is definitely worth watching – but not for kids.
Anyway, one very short story she wrote is called Jack the Ripper. It describes a man who appears to be a champion of mercy and empathy. He comes upon a young woman lying on the sidewalk in the rain and dark, drunk and passed out. He goes into the pub nearby and attempts to garner some support to help her but ends up only being mocked. Eventually he carries her home (finding her address in her purse) and goes to great lengths to carry her up 6 flights of stairs to her appartment. He settles her in, puts her to bed, and then you expect him to leave.
He doesn’t. This in fact is how the story ends:
…then, just before blowing out the candle, he took out his knife. It had a polished bone handle, and a long and incredibly sharp blade.
He took a taxi home, kissed his wife who was in bed, and then told her he was going to take a bath. He had put a small picture of the girl that he had “helped” in the corner of the frame of a picture of his wife there in the bedroom.
Shirley Jackson understood evil. Many of her writings emphasize that evil is amazingly adept at disguising itself in beauty. Here in this story we have this man who, more than any other characters in the story, appears to be sacrificially helping a poor girl in need. What nobility! What kindness! If he were a church member he would be beatified by the rest of the congregation – a true saint of a man, you know.
But he was Jack the Ripper.
THIS is evil in action. It appears so often as the serpent in the garden who was more crafty and perhaps even more beautiful than any other creature. People who refuse to know this fact (as most professing Christians do) are necessarily going to be not only victims, but allies of evil. Because Jack the Ripper can appear as an angel of light, just as his father the devil does.
Beware. Beware of that most eminent saint in your church who seems too good to be true. Because…he probably isn’t. Want a new year’s resolution? This is a pretty good one. Wise up to evil. Stop living in denial. Fantasylands are dangerous places.