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Frost, Brian J. The Essential Guide to Mummy Literature.

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

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. Rameses (1887) and Iras: A Mystery by Theo Douglas (Mrs. H. D. Everett, 1896). Frost demonstrates the range of this study by also discussing at length Australian-born Guy Boothby's Pharos the Egyptian, which was the lead serial in Windsor Magazine (July to December 1898) as well as his "A Professor of Egyptology" (1894). Frost follows these longer works with the identification and examination of the era's best short stories, most notably Doyle's "The Ring of Thoth" (1890) and "Lot No. 249" (1892), which he compares favorably to the earlier fiction of Theophile Gautier (e.g., "The Mummy's Foot," 1840).

Frost leads his survey of the early twentieth century with a solid discussion of the history, origins, and various editions of Bram Stoker's The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903), which is arguably his best or second best novel in comparison to Dracula. Frost later admires its first movie adaptation, Hammer Films' Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1972), and remarks that it is far superior to the big budget The Awakening (1980). In the early twentieth century, he recognizes Algernon Blackwood's "The Nemesis of Fire" (1908) as the period's unsurpassed novelette while also admiring C. J. Sutcliff Hyne's "The Mummy of Thompson-Pratt" (1904) and Haggard's "Smith and the Pharaohs" (1912-13). A nice touch in this section is Frost's identification of various "rip-off" stories, such as Clive Pemberton's "The Bulls" (1906), which is directly derived from Alcott's "Lost in the Pyramid; or The Mummy Curse" (1869). Further, Frost identifies American J. L. Schoolcraft's "Death's Secret" (1917) as an obscure and unusual variation on the mummy's curse that deserves to be reprinted among the best of mummy stories. The rise of films during this era began with Georges Melies's Cleopdtre (1899). However, mummy films don't appear with any frequency until the 1910s as "historical fantasies or slapstick comedies--the latter usually revolving around someone masquerading as a mummy" (13). Frost identifies the first of any significance as the ten-minute La Momie du Roi (The Mummy of the King of Ramses, 1909). Among the most notable films during this period are The Vengeance of Egypt (1912); The Dust of Egypt (1915, based on a play by Alan Campbell); and Die Augen der Mumie Ma (The Eyes of the Mummy Ma, 1918).

At this point in the introduction, Frost departs somewhat from the march of time to celebrate the works of Sax Rohmer (who is usually associated with Fu Manchu), especially his "The Mysterious Mummy" (1903) among others. He continues with examinations of H. Rider Haggard's The Yellow God: An Idol of Africa (1908) and its perpetually reincarnated Queen Asika, who also appears in The Wanderer's Necklace (1914) and Morning Star (1910). Pierre Benoit's L'Atlantide (1919) is also featured, and Frost includes a description of the sensational court case involving an article accusing Benoit of plagiarizing the novel from Haggard's She: A History of Adventure (1886-87), which Frost compounds by reporting that Haggard scholars have pointed out a greater similarity to Haggard's The Yellow God: An Idol of Africa (1908). He concludes this section with brief, if enlightening, remarks about the first film to capitalize on the Tutankhamen craze, King Tut-Ankh-Amen's Eighth Wife (1923).

Frost goes on to explore the history of mummy stories in the pulps and their rise in the 1920s (especially in Weird Tales). He points out the early stories of Tennessee Williams, Agatha Christie, and Robert Spencer Carr who obviously went on to greater things. He then explores the contributions of H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Seabury Quinn, Robert Bloch, Arlton Eadie, and Frank Belknap Long. He praises Victor Rousseau's "The Curse of Amen-Ra" in Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror (October 1932) as one of the best mummy stories ever written (25). He points out that some mummy stories appeared in the "Hero Pulps" (25). He points to Lester Dent (usually writing as Kenneth Robeson) and his Doc Savage whose most memorable confrontation with a mummy is in "Resurrection Day" (1936). Along with this "golden age for American horror fiction" (25), The Mummy with Boris Karloff as the striking Im-ho-tep appeared in 1932. Frost reports that the film "was allegedly based on an unpublished short story by Nina Wilcox Putnam titled 'Cagliostro'" (25), which was revised by Universal's Richard Schayer and developed into the final screenplay by John L. Balderson, who had adapted Frankenstein and Dracula for the cinema.

Frost reports a decline (if not a dearth) of mummy stories in the 1940s and 1950s. Only a handful of quality appeared. He identifies Seabury Quinn's "The Man in the Crescent Terrace" (1946) as, perhaps, the best and goes on to identify a number of familiar (and unfamiliar) authors, such as Donald A. Wollheim, L. Sprague de Camp, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. He further recounts that Bill Pronzini, in his anthology Mummy! A Chrestomathy of Crypt-ology (1980), called the final paragraph of Wollheim's "Bones" perhaps "the most vivid and gruesome in all of macabre fiction" (27). During this time, Frost says that the only films recalled with any fondness are Universal's Kharis series along with the critically acclaimed and financially successful The Mummy (1959) with Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee and Hammer's The Curse of the Mummy (1964). Frost identifies the latter as the best of the 1960s.

According to Frost, the 1970s were the beginning of a mummy revival "after decades of neglect" (29). Elizabeth Peters's Crocodile on the Sandbank (1975) was the first sign, and her fiction is heralded throughout this volume. A major reason for the mimetic content of her fiction is that Peters is a pseudonym for American Egyptologist Barbara Mertz. Another example of special expertise lending credibility is the medical knowledge displayed in SUM VII (1979) by T. W. Hand, which involves replenishing the blood of an uneviscerated mummy and using cardiac revival techniques to bring it back to life. The 1970s also saw a vogue of screenplays turned into novels. One example is the novelization (1977) of the original Karloff film by Carl Dreadstone, a pseudonym of Ramsey Campbell, who admits to using the name but denies any involvement with this particular novel. This tidbit is only one of a number of fascinating ones that Frost has scattered throughout the introduction. The other notable events of this period were the first anthology, The Mummy Walks among Us (1971), edited by Vic Ghidalia, and Hammer's outstanding film Blood from the Mommy's Tomb (1972), a loose adaption of Stoker's The Jewel of Seven Stars.

Elizabeth Peters continued her excellent series featuring Amelia Peabody into the 1980s with The Mummy Case (1985). Charles L. Grant, of Oxrun Station fame, added The Long Night of the Grave (1986) with great effect. Frost is not as complimentary of Anne Rice's blockbuster The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned (1989). He calls it an "overblown paranormal romance" (31) that, after a good beginning, deteriorates "into a cheesy romance" (32). Another mummy novel that receives mixed reviews from Frost because of its "rampant and graphic scenes of homoeroticism and incest" is Norman Mailer's Ancient Evenings (1983). Frost concludes the 1980s by recognizing stories by Joe R. Lansdale, Ray Bradbury, Barry M. Malsberg, and Talmage Powell and by noting the significant number of novels aimed at juveniles by Franklin W. Dixon, John Bellairs, Carolyn Keene, and R. L. Stine, among others, with special note of the avalanche of Goosebumps' mummies.

Tom Holland's The Sleeper in the Sands (1998) is identified as the most literate novel of the 1990s and Daniel Easterman's The Name of the Beast (1992) as the most politically focused. While Frost discusses such authors as Pauline Gedge, Tany Huff, and Linda S. Robinson, he reserves a special paragraph for Lansdale's black comedy "Bubba Ho-Tep" (1994), in which a geriatric Elvis Presley battles a "soul-sucking mummy" (35) feeding off the residents of a retirement home. The short story was later the source of a low-budget film under the same title that was promoted as "The King of Rock vs. The King of the Dead" (35). This film version lies well below the horizon created by the 1999 release of The Mummy and its sequel The Mummy Returns (2001), both of which were written by Max Allen Collins. In regard to Bubba Ho-Tep, which starred Bruce Campbell, Frost makes the only significant omission in his fine introduction. Like Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy (1955) and The Curse of the Mummy's Boy (1998), such films and literature serve as phobia therapy that uses the burlesque to desensitize audiences to their fears. The most recent example of this is J. K. Rowling's "Riddikulus" spell in the Harry Potter series.

Frost carries the introduction to approximately 2002 and identifies James Rollins's Excavation (2000) as the best novel of the new millennium and Alexander C. Irvine's A Scattering of Jade (2002) as the most blood chilling. Michael Slade's Death's Door (2000) combines the World Wide Web, mummies, and gangsters. Frost observes that children's books about mummies continue "to pour off the presses" (38). He concludes the introduction with praise for Jane Lindskold's "Beneath the Eye of the Hawk," Brendan DuBois's "A Lion Let Loose upon the World," and Alan Dean Foster's "Basted"--all of which were included in Pharaoh Fantastic (2002), edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Brittany A. Koren--and John Richard Stephens's anthology Into the Mummy Tomb (2001), which reprints Alcott's "Lost into the Pyramid, or The Mummy's Curse," which has "been out of print for over one hundred years" (39). Frost laments that Stephens's effort unfortunately omits Doyle's "The Ring of Thoth" due to length restrictions. Frost would have retained it and omitted Tennessee Williams's "The Vengeance of Nitocris" and Agatha Christie's "The Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb."

After Frost's excellent introductions, the remaining, larger bulk of The Essential Guide to Mummy Literature seems almost anticlimactic, but it is invaluable. The 158-page bibliography is divided into novels, short stories and novelettes, poems, anthologies, children's reference books, literature and film guides. Within each section, the entries include full publishing histories and (usually) brief, descriptive annotations. If Frost errs at all in these sections, it is, by his own admission, that he includes very peripheral items like K. K. Beck's (pseud. of Katherine Morris) Murder in the Mummy Case (1986) in which the mummy is only used as a hiding place for a fresh corpse (43). The chronologically arranged, twelve-page filmography includes alternate titles, studios' and actors' names, release dates, and brief annotations. The volume concludes with a thorough index.

Every library of any value should have this volume. The tedious work of such thematic and/or genre bibliographies are the stuff that critics and scholars feed on. Everyone should be indebted to Frost's thoroughness and attention to detail. The Essential Guide to Mummy Literature is the reason why one day the essay "Reincarnation in Alcott, Mailer, and Williams" will appear in the contents of a learned journal or academic conference.
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Author:Schlobin, Roger C.
Publication:Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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