Penny Dreadful & Alan Moore

“Logan’s conceit is to create a 'demi-monde’, poised between the real and supernatural in 1891 London, and to juxtapose the fictional people he has created with what he calls 'literary monsters’ – including Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway) and his creature (Rory Kinnear), Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray and characters from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Meanwhile, Jack the Ripper’s brutal real-life murders are terrorising London.” – Today’s Daily Telegraph on John Logan’s upcoming Showtime series Penny Dreadful.

It’s hard to read this without immediately thinking of two recent Alan Moore comics projects. From Hell had the Victorian London demi-monde, the supernatural elements and Jack the Ripper. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen had the characters from Victorian fantasy fiction. Not only that, but Moore’s original League included Mina Harker from Dracula and the movie adaption added Dorian Gray.

I’m sure all this is an innocent co-incidence, and that Penny Dreadful will turn out to have a unique tone all of its own. God knows, enough writers have used Jack the Ripper over the years, and for all I know Logan’s never even heard of League. Even so, the combination of Victorian fantasy characters and a supernatural take on the Ripper killings will seem striking to many Moore fans. I imagine we might hear Alan himself make that same point fairly shortly.

You can read the full Telegraph piece here: Penny Dreadful: a journey into the Victorian supernatural from the writer of Bond.

<shrug>From Hell came out in 1989. Tim Powers’s The Anubis Gates, which had supernatural monsters in 19th Century London, came out in 1983. James Blaylock’s Homounculus – which was set in Victorian times – came out in 1986. K.W. Jeter’s Infernal Devices was published in 1987. All included historical figures in their work.

Moore, for all his talent, generally bases his work on existing characters and trends. From Hell was just a variation on the other steampunk novels of the late 1980s.

Philip Jose Farmer did variations of this throughout his whole career. The Other Log of Phileus Fogg mashes up Verne’s characters with Conan Doyle’s and came out in 1973. It was part of his Wold Newton family world, which took dozens of characters from fiction and assumed they were all part of a single universe.

Nobody owns an idea. And “Moore calls the Wold Newton stories ‘a seminal influence upon the League’.”

I think everyone’s pretty well aware that there’s plenty of fantasy and sci-fi set in a particular historical situation, that features real people from that era. That’s not what the OP is talking about. He’s talking about fantasy/sci-fi set in a particular historical era that features characters from multiple different works of fiction, existing together. You may have noted that none of the characters in the OP from Penny Dreadful (apart from Jack) are historical characters.

I don’t know From Hell has anything to do with Steam Punk, the remise is apparently based a “non fiction” book. Wikipedia says it based on the book “Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution” which suggested that the Ripper murders were part of a conspiracy between Freemasons and the British Royal Family, a claim which is not accepted by historians.

The occult stuff in From Hell is very understated, is it similarly understated in those books you mention? If not I’d say there’s little similarity. League is a very different book than From Hell.

Anno Dracula was published seven years before League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and used fictional characters in a supernatural Victorian story.

If Moore has a problem with Penny Dreadful, it’s just more proof of what a blowhard he is.

There are also many Sherlock Holmes pastiches that blend the occult, futuristic elements, proto-steampunk and more going back to the late 1960s

(My favorite was the one where Holmes and Moriarty were clones who had time-traveled back to Victorian London - Moriarty-clone to wreak havoc, Holmes-clone to stop him -and ended up inspiring HG Wells to tell the story fictionally…)

I’m not remembering any true Holmes pastiches of that type from the 1960s. Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven-Percent Solution is from 1974 and is usually cited as the first to get the Holmes’ estate imprimatur.

There’s an endless number of parodies and pastiches of Holmes under other names but that undercuts the use of “real” fictional characters as characters.

Seems a little silly to complain about ripping off the idea of ripping off a bunch of characters from Victorian authors.

To paraphrase Lewis Black talking about Fox News stealing the idea of a fake news show from the Daily Show, which had stolen it from SNL:

Anyhoo, the pilot for Penny Dreadful is on Hulu if anyone is interested. Its pretty terrible.

FWIW the show is already available On Demand and it is pretty good. It feels more Horror than Steampunk. Different enough from LoEG.

As **Exapno ** pointed out, Philip Jose Farmer was doing it in the 70s.

In comic books, the Justice Society of America – starting in 1940 – featured adventures of characters that had appeared in other comic books previously. The Justice League of America did it 20 years later, as did the Avengers. Moore’s “innovation” was to use characters from multiple sources, not just from one company’s comic book heroes.

Going further back, Alice Through the Looking Glass used existing fictional characters – Humpty Dumpty and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum – as characters in the narrative.

…one of whom was riffing on an Elizabethan author

Penny Dreadful sounds really interesting, though I don’t get Showtime. I don’t remember ever seeing SO much PR for a show, its amazing everywhere I look they are flogging this show. Why is there only ONE woman in this whole show? One token woman?

I have no doubt that whoever pitched Penny Dreadful had the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen in mind. Mostly I feel that when choosing the characters for the TV show the writers avoided using characters already used by Moore.

Also, Once Upon a Time takes heavily from Fables, the first chapters of Lost borrow from Stephen King (specifically The Langoliers) and so on.

At least one character over laps but in a different way. In both cases Mina Murray is the impetus for the story. As a hero who forms the team in LoEG and as a McGuffin in PD.

His second post and mine simulposted. In his first post, he seemed to miss the point of the OP.

Moore’s entire conceit was pretty transparently, “Justice League, but with Victorian literature instead of comic books.” Hell, “Justice League, but with _____” is practically a subgenre of its own.

It’s a pretty common thing in most folk lore and legend, too. Pretty much every popular knight in Medieval fiction ended up sitting on the Round Table at one point or another. You could argue that pantheic religions absorbing the god of a neighboring tribe represents essentially the same thing.

If the point of the OP wasn’t that “Penny Dreadful is ripping off Alan Moore” then you need to explain to me in one syllable words what the point was.

Is anyone watching this. I’ve finished the first two episodes and am really liking it so far!

Well, it’s tricky. The “Solar Pons” stories use different names – and even allude to Holmes, making it clear that Pons isn’t “really” Holmes – but the similarities are so overwhelming, the deniability seems a bit strained.

Would Derleth et al have used “Holmes” by name for their stories if not prohibited by law? We can’t know.

(Very, very good stories, by the way. Anyone jonesing for some new Holmes stories could certainly do a lot worse than these.)

We’ve been watching and definitely enjoying it.