LOST IN A PYRAMID & OTHER CLASSIC MUMMY STORIES Selected by Andrew Smith. Book review

LOST IN A PYRAMID & OTHER CLASSIC MUMMY STORIES Selected by Andrew Smith, British Library, p/b

Reviewed by Sandra Scholes

A reader of Nineteenth Century English Literature, Editor Andrew Smith has collected these stories that start from 1869 and end at 1910. The reason for this is that this was considered the heyday of the mummy story. Two main pointers to how the mummy story got its popularity was due firstly to the Suez Canal being built which had Egypt under British control and the excavation of sites in the Valley of the Kings that had sparked an interest in all things Egyptian, leading to arts and crafts being made in a new Egyptian style.

Over a hundred tales were written at this time and came under two categories, the curse narrative and the romance story. As both were popular, the curse narrative served as more of a way of writers conveying what they thought of the military occupation of Egypt and the consequences of tomb excavation. Two such stories that illustrate this perfectly are Lost in a Pyramid or The Mummy’s Curse by Louise May Alcott and The Curse of Vasartas by Eva M. Henry; the thought that something as harmless as a single plant seed from an excavation and the finding of a royal mummy and bringing it to England fuelled such stories.

There are a few stories that stand out as being different and less old in their writing style. Sax Rohmer’s The Mysterious Mummy sheds light on the strange goings-on at the Great Portland Square Museum where a sergeant on duty learns of the unusual disappearance of one of its mummies. As most no doubt know, Rohmer is well-known for penning the successful Fu Manchu crime novels that totalled fifteen in all and caused a sensation at the time. What is little known is that he also wrote a number of mummy stories. This one shows how a mummy can deflect a crime being done in an ingenious way. The Dead Hand by Hester White could have been inspired by WW Jacobs’s story The Monkey’s Paw where an army adjutant tried to write to the village parson about a young man who wanted to be enrolled into the army. The parson, this time asked for a particular antique piece of a dead man’s hand. The intention is there, but instead of giving it to the parson; he keeps it thinking it a strange curio and what happens to him as a result of him keeping it causes him to believe in the supernatural. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s story Lot No. 249 originally appeared in Harper’s new Monthly Magazine in October of 1892, the story centers on the rivalry between Abercrombie and Edward, two students, one of which (Edward) had bought a mummy from an auction, the mummy attacks anyone he despises, making it the perfect murderer.

Lost in a Pyramid & Other Classic Mummy Stories has one of the finest stories in the vein of the curse and romantic narrative from the best authors around at the time. Each one, 12 in all start from the earliest date order showing how the style of writing has changed over the years. The majority of the stories are excellent lures into the unknown and strange world of Egyptian folklore; a mummy’s hand, a necklace from a female mummy; seeds from an archaeological dig are interesting in their own way. Collected by Andrew Smith, this one is a chronicle of what I consider to be one of a rarity of mummy compilations around ( I have only ever reviewed 2 in my life, this being the second) and thought that Smith’s Gothic Death should be also of interest for those who want further reading.