Monday, October 17, 2016

Lost In A Pyramid & Other Classic Mummy Stories - selected by Andrew Smith

I've been excited by the idea of this book ever since I first saw mention of it months ago. It did not disappoint, but then the British Library classics never do (they certainly haven't yet). What I was hoping for was a book that would have a bit of gung ho boys own style adventure, some humour, and something to think about - I got all of that and a Mummy story from Louisa May Alcott.

Before I saw the book I had assumed that the hay day of the Mummy story might have been in the 1920's when Howard Carter was excavating Tutankhamun's tomb (I may also have had 'Death on the Nile' at the back of my mind). I was wrong, the stories that make up this collection date from between 1869 and 1910. I knew about the Georgian craze for the Egyptian, but had not considered the impact the building of the Suez Canal had, or the presence of the British military for the proceeding decades.

On reflection though it makes sense, not just because of the historical events unfolding in Egypt, but because of the Victorian view of death and the mystical. Between Darwin's shocking new theories about evolution on the one hand and a growing interest in Psychical research on the other - never mind the official introduction of crematorium's in the middle of the 1880's it's hardly surprising that Mummies were so appealing, or that so many of these stories have a curse narrative.

There's also an interesting light thrown on contemporary views of colonialism. The racial stereotyping of native characters might be uncomfortable, but the Western traveller in Egypt doesn't appear in a particularly flattering light either and there's much implied criticism.

Meanwhile for all out bonkers, throw everything at it and see what sticks, fun there's the genius that is 'The Story of Baelbrow' by Kate and Hesketh Prichard. I'm including spoilers here because I can't resist sharing this. There is a remote and ancient country house, built on the sight of an ancient burial mound (of course) and (of course) it has a ghost. The ghost seems to have been getting a bit frisky, the ladies have been disturbed, and eventually a housemaid is found dead - but how. So (of course) Flaxman Low, detective and psychic (what else), is called in. He forms certain deductions and on a dark and stormy night (naturally) things come to a head when it turns out that (look away now if you don't want to know) the ghost was in fact not just a ghost, but also a vampire, and it's possessed the body of a Mummy. It is dispatched with extreme prejudice. I am so glad Andrew Smith unearthed this one.

Grant Allen's 'My New Year's Eve Among the Mummies' was another treat. I've thoroughly enjoyed everything I've read by Allen, and this one is delightfully tongue in cheek with a bit of a chill at the end. 'A Night With King Pharaoh' by Baron Schlippenback is the one that's particularly interesting for its unflattering portrayal of everyone, but basically it's a really strong collection with each story offering something interesting.

It's also, and most importantly, fun to read. I prefer tales of the supernatural that still let me sleep at night, these do, but they're also just creepy enough to satisfy the craving for something a little bit spooky that comes with the season. Highly recommended.


  1. Wow, I only just discovered this book at the weekend and thought it looked rather good, think I'll have to order one...

    1. Do, and not just for the crazy vampire/ghost/mummy combination!

  2. Great review! I have this but havent yet embarked on it. Thanks.

  3. You have treats ahead. There's some gripping yarns, but also plenty to think about in it. That, and who can resist a good Mummy story!

  4. Heh, that looks really good! I have a cherished copy of Cheiro's True Ghost Stories (which I believe bizarrely belonged to my grandmother, not an obvious reader of such a book) which has a fair few Egyptian stories in it and best of all a scary MOTH!!! No, actually, best of all are the testaments at the back from some quite famous people as to Cheiro's amazing powers. I am not sure that the stories are really all true though.

  5. I'm curious about the Moth story now. I prefer horror which is on the cheesy end of the scale. I have horrible memories of trying to sleep after reading Stephen King as a teenager, and an awful story in an anthology where someone has some wallpaper made up out of a sample they find - it has a hair like pattern and then one night they fall asleep in a chair, wake up and find they're touching something with long flowing hair. (That's the gist of it anyway) it was a lot more frightening than it might sound.