Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Frost, Brian J. the Essential Guide to Mummy Literature. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2008. 232 Pp. Cloth. 978-0-8108-6039-1. $60.50

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Frost, Brian J. the Essential Guide to Mummy Literature. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2008. 232 Pp. Cloth. 978-0-8108-6039-1. $60.50

Article excerpt

The Essential Guide to Mummy Literature begins with a historical introduction and an evaluative history of the mummy in fiction and film. These are followed by the heart of the book, an annotated bibliography of novels, young adult novels and children's storybooks, short stories and novelettes, poems, anthologies, nonfiction books, children's reference books, and literature and film guides. It ends with an extensive, chronological filmography and an index. As its contents indicate, this excellent example of seminal, pick-and-shovel scholarship would have been more appropriately titled The Essential Guide to Mummy Literature, and Film, and Everything Else. This is also a wonderful example of what thorough theme research can produce. Many may be surprised that it enables mentioning Louisa May Alcott, Norman Mailer, and Anne Rice in the same breath.

The introduction is an explication of the purpose of mummification and a chronological survey of tomb discovery that begins in 1820 and ends in 1922 with the excavation of Tutankhamen's resting place, its attendant mysteries including the cause of his death, and the rumors and media attention surrounding the curse and the studies of it up to Gerald O'Farrell's The Tutankhamen Deception: The True Story of the Mummy's Curse (2001), which suggests that Howard Carter and Lord Carnarvan made up the curse to cover their tomb robbing and their theft of many of the tomb's most valuable artifacts. What Frost doesn't mention is the current practice of airing out tombs to avoid the dangers of airborne spores and fungi. On the surface, this history might seem superfluous, but Frost explains the Egyptomania that gripped Europe following Napoleon's military expedition in 1798. The scholars and scientists who accompanied him produced the twenty-two-volume Description de l'Egypte (1809-28), which had a major impact on architecture, furnishings, and literature.

"The Mummy in Fiction and Films" begins by demonstrating that the mummy theme is a subset of the living dead (or, perhaps, the resurrected dead) as monsters while also illuminating the fascination with beautiful female mummies, which is linked to the Sleeping Beauty theme, as well as to fantasies of necrophilia and suspended animation. As Frost proceeds chronologically, beginning in late 300 BCE, he identifies the motifs of revenge, other curses, reincarnation, fetishism, and non-standard sexualities as they connect to mummies. Frost discusses examples of mummy fiction from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Beginning with the twentieth century, this history highlights and describes important publications and the quality of each decade's films and fiction. The distinction Frost draws between the creative and derivative is one of the particularly valuable contributions of the volume since quality can only be appreciated within the context of the entire canon, "the good, the bad, and the ugly."

As Frost details, the first example in European literature of mummy fiction is an untitled story in Louis Penicher's Traite des Embaumements selon les Anciens et les Modernes in 1699, and the first novel is the anonymous, three-volume The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century in 1827 (rpt. 1994). The first American example is an anonymous letter, "Letter from a Revived Mummy," in the New York Evening Mirror (1832), which Frost suggests is probably the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe's spoof "Some Words with a Mummy" (1845), both of which use galvanism as their mode of resurrection. Louisa May Alcott's "Lost in a Pyramid; or, The Mummy's Curse" is recognized as one of the earliest examples of the mummy's curse (1832). Frost joins the mummy with lost-race literature through H. Rider Haggard's She: A History of Adventure (1886); Cleopatra: Being an Account of the Fall and Vengeance of Harmachis (1889); and King Solomon's Mines (1885).

The most bizarre late Victorian examples focus on love stories. Of note during this period are Charles Mackay's The Twin Soul: The Strange Experiments of Dr. …

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