Category Archives: Thought-Poke Thursday

The Compendium: New Pages, Old Reflections

To celebrate the release of The Eye of Kog, I scribed a few new pages for the online Compendium here on the site. Looking at the Compendium always makes me thoughtful. I confess I started it as something between a lark and a joke: “why not pretend you’re already famous?” But I look over the entries now and think, so much more I could be adding here and there. Tales or more of this, I wonder. All opinions welcome!

Herein you can now find references for:

Despair’s Makine: explaining the penchant for technology displayed by evil races long ago. Those who have read Judgement’s Tale will recall some of the conversations around these dread devices, and they continue in the discussion through the sequel.

The Twin Moons Aral and Unal: In case you’ve been watching these stories so intently you never looked up. Yeah, there are two moons up there. And they’re going the wrong way!

Magic and Miracles: a brief discussion of the different forms of supernatural energy wielded by the Children of Hope, including Linya the Mage, Mhoral a Pious Warrior and of course Solemn Judgement himself.

The City of Oncario: this major scene of the action comes into play during The Eye of Kog; it’s where you meet several new important characters and it’s one focus of the action when the tale comes to its climactic conclusion.

Composing entries for an encyclopedia like this is different from the tales of course. There’s plenty of description, less demand to characterize or filter everything through a particular PoV. The Compendium, more than anything else I’ve done, gives the lie to that whole absurd notion I had for years– that the Lands of Hope were something I could have made up. Simply there, I understand that now. And plenty more to describe as the years of chronicling roll by.

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.