Monthly Archives: May 2016

Classics You’ve Never Read: Mummy Mia

Classic: a book that people praise and do not read.

-Mark Twain

In this series I have always endeavored to do several things:

  • Bring in a capsule-review of a piece of timeless fantasy literature, one you must read but have probably only seen
  • Analyze a theme I can detect in its greatness, something a fellow author or discerning reader would appreciate in their own work
  • Compare the written version of the tale to the mangling that Hollywood committed subsequently, and in so doing perhaps help to repair a great wrong done to a past master

Today, I can do none of those things. But a promise is a promise.

Last year I discovered to my shock that there was, in fact, no original tale of “The” Werewolf, which I always intended to read as part of this series. At that time I promised you, I would get around of course to the Mummy, and as part of that I bought and set aside this version for later reading. I have now completed that task– I might go so far as to say I survived it. And so I have an obligation to you now, to summarize, analyze and compare.

Hahn_critic_1Here, in a nutshell, it is.

The only one way I could recommend you read The Mummy! is if you are a person fascinated by train wrecks. If instead your goal is to identify a classic theme or thread of something to carry over into your own writing or future reading, you would be substantially better served by watching one of the movie-versions of the tale. You heard me, better off with the movie. But having uttered such blasphemy, I must admit I found the experience fascinating, though for all the wrong reasons. It could just be that, marooned with the enormous task of reading a 10-hour book, I fell into the literary equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.

But there is something here after all. It’s just not a very good thing.

Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up?

-1 Samuel 28:15

An early edition cover

In the history of this series I have never felt such an enormous divergence between what I expected, and the actual book. The weirdness commences without delay, at the sub-title:  A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century. Thus I started out punch-drunk, going into a classic horror tale but now alert for signs of the future.

I found precious few of either in the early pages, and started to make mental notes about what I had gotten myself into. Mystery, well sort of; intrigue definitely a better word. All the main characters– several of whom wither away into cameos or just disappear, and others who appear like shooting stars only to fade, yet once or twice come back near the end– but everyone shares the trait of ambition. Two daughters (whoops, three, comes in later) in line to be the next queen of England. Two brothers set to marry them, though neither couple is happy in the arrangement; the wheels start to turn. Fathers, father-figures and no less than three priests (each of course called Father), two doctors, various pompous lords, and naturally the requisite Greek princess and King of Ireland all have a role to play. All ambitious, all circling in conflict like carrion-birds, searching for the first scrap of a coherent plot they could pounce on.

Bottom Line for Busy Readers: If you’ve read Frankenstein and The Count of Monte Cristo, you have already seen every major element and plot theme you could drag kicking and screaming out of The Mummy! And they would come to you from stories where they belong and make sense. Some men go too far in the service of learning or fame; and it takes a powerful mind and spirit to persevere through trials and make all the deserving folks happy by the end. Whew.

The Mummy Cheops is raised purely in the service of the younger brother’s rankling impatience with life. His tutor, who turns out to be a complete clown, stokes him up, and one dirigible flight later they’re in Egypt, plunging into the depths of the Great Pyramid in complete ignorance of how little is left inside there by now (much less by the 22nd c.), as well as certain irrefutable facets of the mummification process itself, that authors in the Rosetta Stone generation weren’t yet aware of. Like the whole deal with the organs being across the room in jars. Never mind that, just hook up the galvanic battery (like every Hollywood movie used for Frankie), touch the corpse and zoop! Up hops Cheops, who without a word runs out of the pyramid, hijacks our heroes’ balloon and flies straight back to England where he crashes into a royal procession to honor the other brother, wrecking multiple balloons, killing scads of people, mortally wounding the queen, and then running into the shadows to become Public Enemy Number One.

I have so far made up nothing, stretched not a single fact nor misrepresented anyone’s character. I WISH I had this much imagination.

But the bizarreness is barely past the first turn. What part, you might ask, does the risen Pharoah play in the rest of our tale? Does he seek his lost love from ages past? Ooh, wisps and glimpses of that theme- Cheops mentions Arsinoe who was taken from him a couple times, and once comments that one of the princesses reminds him of “someone”. But no,

The Mummy makes no untoward advances, kidnaps no damsels. Does he then try to wreck England and rebuild his beloved Egypt? Not a whit of it– in fact, he never so much as tears a curtain or breaks a window despite lurking about and inspiring constant revulsion. Invoke a plague? Summon an undead army? No, and again no.

He talks.

The Mummy can’t shut up, in fact. No matter where the heroes are, Cheops appears, preceded by a “fiendish laugh”. I’m completely serious here: Cheops laughs whenever he is discovered, and at least half the time when he exits the scene. And his laughter is invariably described as fiendish. But for all the menace I should be feeling at this Fifty Shades level of repetition, the King of Upper and Lower Egypt only shows up to– I can hardly believe I’m writing this– offer advice.

And everyone hates him, and after a few sentences everyone agrees to follow his advice.

Karloff, 1932
Karloff, 1932

One sister, then the other, becomes queen of England; marriages are called on and off again, the people rise and fall, all at the hand of this jack-in-the-box in rags who pops up every twenty pages or so to shake his head at what fools these mortals be, tell them what to do next and then exit. Laughing fiendishly.

It doesn’t matter where you are. Milady’s boudoir, a cramped alleyway, a closely guarded jail cell, a crowded corridor in the royal palace. There’s a character who doesn’t know what will become of him or her, and the chuckle of ages precedes the appearance of Cheops. He doesn’t know the land, he’s never seen these wondrous mechanical marvels, he doesn’t speak the language (a blazing-fast reference to how “educated” folk speak Egyptian, thank goodness for rational explanations). He don’t know jack, frankly, but he understands human nature. And he plays the ruling class of Europe like Harpo Marx.

{Just one of a thousand unanswered questions– why, in hundreds of pages where everyone agrees that Cheops is a menace and a regicide, does not one person attempt to hunt him, or place him under arrest? The subject never even comes up.}

Stayyy asleeeep...
Staay asleeep…

All ends tolerably well, after the usual tropes of prince-in-disguise, non-princess discovers she’s an orphan (and actually a royal after all), the scorned nurse who swapped the babies, the priest who forswore his vows to watch over his daughter (now THERE’s a father-figure), and more. Cheops returns to Egypt, pontificates, lays down in his sarcophagus and goes back to… whatever state he was in before. At least he doesn’t laugh.

 A Writing Life

I’ve sounded harsh on the book so far, but I must rise to the defence of this author. Sarah

Has to make a living
Had to make a living

Loudon, turns out, needed to write a book when her father died and she was left with no income. I think we can all sympathize. She persevered to complete a huge novel, and wonder of wonders, it apparently led her future husband to meet her. Yeah, this book. Which did pretty well in its day, and led her to write several more tomes, weirdly again, about gardening.

And while I’ve had my fun romping along the overall theme and how different it is from expectations, I want to point out that on the tactical level, the lady can pen it. Each sentence, taken on its own, is just fine, her prose is flowing and quite descriptive. The paragraphs are often a bit superfluous, but that’s just one’s taste, how much you want to hear about the queen’s agonized state of mind or the general’s philosophy of fighting. Ms. Loudon adopted some amusing ideas, such as that virtually all the servants speak with the most loquacious vocabulary imaginable, and are able to respond to complaints and demands in language that would make Shakespeare reach for his dictionary, if he’d had one. This is evidently the offshoot of our future, that even the lowest classes have time to get a Master’s Degree in Long Words or something.

They Made a Movie (actually several)

Some CONFLICT, please

So it’s only the big picture that makes no sense. I came in expecting more menace, a true victory over evil, and something about what men should or should not do. It’s hardly Ms. Loudon’s job to live up to the formula created on film a hundred years and more after she wrote the book. Frankenstein was one of the only such works in existence in the 1820s; Carter was ten decades into the future, to give anyone a peek at an intact mummy’s tomb (and the first wisp of a curse around opening it). The whole Egypt-thing was popular in her day, so she ran with it; but the tale she was trying to tell was really about how much England would change (and ways in which it would be just the same) in 200 years.

Still… wouldn’t anyone find the idea of raising the dead after centuries to carry more consequence than this? My mind just can’t wrap around the strangeness of Cheops as he was first introduced to us in this tale. Give me Christopher Lee, in fact give me Brendan Fraser and Arnold Vosloo, with themes like “leave Egypt alone” and fighting to the death (and beyond) to save your true love (and civilization as a bonus).

So I come to you today a humbled man. The people who wrote a long time ago didn’t always do better than the movie-makers who came along later to add explosions, and cultural conflict, and a monster who’s warm for the form of the heroine. The book is a long strange trip and I cannot honestly recommend it to you, though I’m glad I read it, in the same way I imagine folks claim they were happy they climbed a mountain on a rainy day when there was no view from the top. And by that I mean, lying.

But it was a kick, and for me that’s all. You know what I mean… that’s a wrap.

What’s Been Going On

I thought I’d write a quick note to let you know what’s transpired in my writing life these days. Let me rephrase- my publisher thought it would be a good idea to write a quick note, etc. And naturally I’m delighted to do so, because I couldn’t be happier with my career since I signed that contract. It’s open-ended regarding duration, and that makes me happy too.

 The Eye of Kog

Created with Nokia Refocus

Most of my writing time is spent chipping away at the crucial last fifth or so of the long-awaited sequel to Judgement’s Tale. And I say “long-awaited” with confidence, because I’ve been here every day, waiting. The thought-flow with this tale has covered my entire chronicling career, and I’m sure this slow progress has something to do with this incredulous feeling I have that it might soon all be on paper. What remains ahead of me is the climax of both books, where the time-line accordions back in, so that characters are doing things at the same hour, and where many of the main heroes finally meet. Those would normally be interesting scenes on their own– add the fact that a liche and Earth Demon are also present, with the fate of the northern kingdoms at stake, and you’ve got a rather complex interaction of events to sort out.

One additional problem I’m starting to have is the Point of View; characters who have been off on their own for hundreds of pages are now meeting others who have served to narrate the action for their own threads. Judgement meets Gareth, Treaman meets Pol. Who wins? Which “side” do I take? It’s harvest time for all the work that’s gone into chronicling their deeds and these are happy choices. Still tough ones.

I plan to finish The Eye of Kog by July 4th. Yes of 2016, wiseass. The idea is to bring it out as I did Judgement’s Tale in a set of novellas (three this time), followed by the full novel, then paper. The tale I originally saw as a single book, if stacked up, would trip a rhino. I flatter myself that many authors might not know what to do with themselves then. For me, not a problem.

Perilous Embraces

My much-maligned “other WiP” is the third installment of the Shards of Light series, following The Ring and the Flag and Fencing Reputation. W’starrah Altieri is the protagonist and third member of the unwitting band of heroes who may be able to save Cryssigens, and perhaps the entire Southern Empire, from falling back into civil war and ruin. Just as the first two books told us about Captain Justin and the Stealthic Feldspar, Perilous Embraces follows the Lavender Lady in a tale of political intrigue with more than a little romantic heat.

So, in a nutshell I’m trying to chronicle the deeds and feelings, in second person voice no less, of a beautiful woman with tons of suitors, who is clever, ambitious and can see the future. In my personal dictionary that’s the definition of the term “away game”. The draft is about 60% complete and I’ll post the ticker on my website once I’m done with EK.

Chronicler Trivia: I never have a detailed outline of my tales, since I’m working from long-standing memories of what I witnessed. But I have had a curious ability to predict how long the stories will be, ever since I realized that “Judgement’s Tale” had to be two novels rather than one. I lob a word count out there, and I usually come quite close to hitting that number when the smoke clears. A bit spooky, but fun.

 I’m less sure about how long it will take but based on length I’m going to go with Labor Day 2016.

And by then, I’ll have been to several more places in the Alleged Real World where I can continue preaching the Lands of Hope to unsuspecting customers.

  • May 7th at the Hockessin Book Shelf, signing books and meeting folks
  • The biggest news I almost forgot since someone else is doing all the work- by the end of May, Fencing Reputation— the second installment of the Shards of Light series– will be out in paperback. I’m very excited that readers will get to see both Justin (The Ring and the Flag) and now Feldspar begin to unravel the conspiracy surrounding the city of Cryssigens
  • Early June, I will continue my author-dungeon interview series and I’m taking volunteers, so if you have something coming out this summer I’d be happy to torture the details out of you.
  • Near Father’s Day- if I’m good, new paints and brushes and then some progress on figurines!
  • August 6th at Dover ComicCon (my first con!), I’ll be setting up as a vendor and perhaps giving a presentation
  • October 12th at Appoquinimink Library, giving my presentation on “Hook ‘Em from the Start”
  • October 22nd, the Hockessin Book Fair where I had such a blast last year, and now coming the week before Halloween
  • If I can just get my act together enough to do another signing, and then find a radio interview gig, I’d be a very happy chronicler

sisyphusNone of that excuses a lack of writing! I’m back on it, now I promise. This is my favorite image to stand for my writing process– and I know about Sisyphus and all but to me this is a very Hopeful image. Forget the backslides, those happen (and usually caused by hubris anyway). No, man– that rock is MOVING! Unbelievable, but happening and all the time.

Just a bit slowly is all. But hey. Big rock.