Ancient Egypt has given us many things, not least of which the idea of mummies resurrected to fulfil some terrible curse or to pursue the sinister ambitions of those who raised them. Nevermind that such a concept was far from the mythology of the Ancient Egyptians themselves, the mummy is as iconic a figure of horror as Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster. But unlike those stars of cinematic terror, the mummy lacks a single literary root. There is no novel called ‘The Mummy’ that was the single inspiration for the slew of movies featuring bandaged terrors resurrected from their tombs. But then, there is this novel from the pen of Jane C. Loudon (born Jane Webb) which is the first real story to feature a reanimated mummy, albeit in a futuristic setting with a plot dominated by ideological philosophizing and political intrigue than horror.
English born author Jane Webb published her story in 1827 to financially support herself after her father died penniless. It’s a fantastically bizarre story of the future, showing the world as it may appear in 2126, a world that has made great leaps in technology but is morally bankrupt. Women wear trousers and headdresses made of flames. Airships prowl the skies, letters are sent via cannonball and steam-powered automatons serve as surgeons and lawyers. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Steampunk. Egypt was all the rage at the time of writing thanks to Napoleon’s looting of the country during his invasion and the discovery and translation of the Rosetta Stone. Mummies were being unwrapped before audiences in Piccadilly. And another novel by a female author had been published in 1818 which had thrilled and disgusted the public with the idea of reanimating the dead.
Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein is an obvious influence on Webb’s The Mummy!. Much like Victor Frankenstein, the main character, Edric, becomes obsessed with the God-like power he would receive should he be able to reanimate the dead. Instead of sewing together corpses, Edric is more interested in returning the soul to its mortal vessel and sets out for Egypt with his professor, Dr. Entwerfen, with the aim of reviving Cheops (Khufu) in his Great Pyramid at Giza with a portable galvanic battery. Immediately regretting his actions once the mummy is up on his feet, Edric and his companions soon find their airship stolen by the renegade pharaoh who promptly sails to London and lands on Queen Claudia, killing her. Spread over three volumes published anonymously, the story goes on to include political intrigue, murderous rivalry and conspiracy, with Cheops playing his role in all, dispensing political and moral advice along the way.
I wasn’t sure whether to include this book in my ‘Vintage Reads’ series or my ‘Inventions and Discoveries of the 19th Century’ series. I opted for the former because it is, after all, a book, but it would fit well in the latter due to the effect its publication had on the wave of ‘Egyptomania’ that hit Britain and the US in the late nineteenth century. Egyptology was in its infancy in the 1870s. Interest and tourism in Egypt had boomed since the publication of Napoleon’s Description de l’Égypte and the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone. But the ancient monuments and tombs that had weathered so many centuries soon came under threat by waves of tourists trampling all over them, digging for treasure and casting aside anything that did not have material value despite the contributions they might make to our understanding of Ancient Egyptian culture.
English writer Amelia Edwards arrived in Egypt in the winter of 1873 almost by accident. It was poor weather that deterred Edwards and her companion from their sketching holiday in Europe. They went to Egypt instead and rented a ‘dahabeeyah’ (a riverboat) and crew to take them up the Nile. Edwards had always been fascinated by Egypt but she was appalled by the casual pilfering and vandalism going on and felt compelled to do what she could to preserve Egypt’s heritage. No only does Edwards thoroughly describe each and every site in painstaking detail, she also gives us a fascinating look into the lives of the nineteenth century Egyptians. What is most striking is the abject poverty of the people who dwell among these ruins that attract so many wealthy Europeans. The state of the villages is practically medieval including children with horrendous eye infections, wild superstition and lives of toil and privation that ensure few reach the age of forty.
The book is also an invaluable insight into the mindset of Victorian travel, exploration and attitudes towards other nationalities. While Amelia Edwards was certainly a woman ahead of her time, the same can’t be said of her peers who display attitudes and behaviours which are at times uncomfortable for the modern reader. The British lord it over the natives who will do anything for ‘baksheesh’ (charity). The men on the trip are of course ‘sportsmen’ which means they shoot at anything in sight and even the author remarks on the tragedy of crocodiles being shot nearly into extinction. One stomach-churning episode details the near killing of an Egyptian child by the carelessness of one of these gunmen. When the relatives of the child assail the blundering ass, they are arrested and threatened with brutality by the police who claim that the whole village will be bastinadoed (caning of the soles of the feet) should the ‘Ingleezeh’ wish it.
Amelia Edwards fell so in love with Egypt and its history that she joined forces with Reginald Stuart Poole in 1882 and set up the Egypt Exploration Fund (now known as the Egypt Exploration Society) dedicated to raising awareness and enthusiasm for Egypt’s past and to help preserve what is left of it. Edward’s depiction of nineteenth-century Egypt with its fellahs, dahabeeyahs and rural villages has been an indispensable resource for so many people, not least Elizabeth Peters who wrote the Amelia Peabody series of historical mystery novels whose protagonist has a lot more in common with Edwards than her first name. In the writing of Silver Tomb, I found myself dipping into A Thousand Miles up the Nile many times over since having read it cover to cover before I began writing the novel.
The mysteries of Ancient Egypt were more or less unknown to Europeans at the start of the 19th century. It was understood that this backward province of the Ottoman Empire had once been a fabulously wealthy kingdom with a rich mythology, outstanding architecture and bizarre burial customs, but because nobody could understand the written hieroglyphic language of the ancient Egyptians, knowledge of their culture more or less ended there. Then the Rosetta Stone was discovered.
Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798 with the aim of disrupting Britain’s trade with India. The coastal city of Rashid came to be called ‘Rosette’ by the occupying French and it was during the rebuilding of the nearby Fort Julien that some of Napoleon’s soldiers found a chunk of the rubble marked with mysterious script. This shattered block of granodiorite appeared to have the same passage of text copied in three languages later identified as ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, a later form of Egyptian called Demotic and ancient Greek. As ancient Greek could be read it became possible for the first time in history to decipher the hieroglyphs of the ancient Egyptians.
Napoleon’s forces were pushed out of Egypt by the British in 1802 and the French army signed over their collection of Egyptian antiquities (including the Rosetta Stone) to the British. Prints and casts had already been made of the stone and now scholars all over Europe took part in the competition to decipher the text. It was the French Orientalist Silvestre de Sacy who suggested that, as in Chinese, some of the hieroglyphs might be written phonetically especially those encircled by ‘cartouches’ (ovals) which could contain Greek names (as the stone dated from the Ptolemaic Period). Thomas Young, foreign secretary of the Royal Society of London used this idea to list eighty similarities in the three texts. It was another Frenchman – Jean-François Champollion – who compiled an alphabet of phonetic hieroglyphs and published the first translation of the Rosetta Stone in 1822.
So what is written on the stone? It seems to be part of a stele (a standing stone erected for commemorative purposes) during the reign of King Ptolemy V (204 – 181 BC). The third in a series of decrees issued at Memphis by the Hellenistic rulers of the Ptolemaic Period, it records the king issuing a tax exemption to the priesthood as well as a gift of silver and grain to the temples. The priests who issued the decree thank the king by promising to celebrate his birthday and coronation days annually and to worship him alongside the other gods across the land. Wikipedia has an illustration of how the stele may have looked in its complete form.
The Rosetta Stone still resides in the British Museum in London. The term ‘Rosetta Stone’ has come to mean a key to unlocking, usually in a linguistic context, secrets inaccessible in any other way.
I’m pleased to announce the release of Golden Heart, the first novel in the Lazarus Longman Chronicles; a Steampunk adventure series set in an alternate 19th century. It’s available from Amazon, Amazon UK, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords. Sequels are on the way.
Steampunk and the lost world genre collide as a thrilling adventure is set in motion that will decide the fate of America.
The North American continent has been torn apart by civil war. Steam-powered behemoths stalk the landscape, dirigibles prowl the skies and society stands on the back of a new class of slaves known as ‘mechanicals’. The conflict between the Union and the Confederacy has dragged on for twenty-five years with neither side coming close to victory. Something is needed to tip the balance…
Lazarus Longman – antiquarian, explorer and treasure hunter for the British Empire – had heard of the Seven Golden Cities of Cibola, but he never believed they really existed. So when he was ordered to track down the only two men rumored to have seen the fabled land he was skeptical to say the least. His skepticism turned to desperation when he found out that his quarry was Gerard Vasquez; a degenerate gambler, drinker and pistoleer and his companion, Hok’ee; a towering Navajo with a ferocious temper and a mechanical gun-arm.
The British want these men delivered into the hands of the Confederacy so that the war can be brought to a swift resolution. But not everybody wants the Confederacy to win. Especially not Tsar Alexander III who has dispatched his own deadly assassin to ensure the Confederates never get their hands on America’s golden heart.
The Swiss explorer, archaeologist and anthropologist Adolf F. Bandelier grew up in America and devoted his studies to the American Southwest, Mexico and South America. He was the leading authority on the pueblo peoples of the so-called ‘four corners’ (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado). His 1890 historical novel concerning the pre-Columbian peoples of this area (called ‘Anasazi people’ by their Navajo neighbors) is a gold mine of valuable information and I found it incredibly useful in constructing the ‘Cibolan’ civilization for Golden Heart.
The story is an intimate look at family life within the pueblos of the Anasazi. It opens with a young boy called Okoya who is destined to join the ranks of the Koshare; a class of medicine men and women who are the Delight Makers of the title. His faith in them is shaken by his mother, Say Koitza, who dislikes one in particular, a powerful Delight Maker called Tyope. But when Okoya falls in love with Tyope’s daughter, Mitsha, he begins to question his mother’s motives.
It’s not an easy read. Bandelier’s writing style at times seems more suited to a text book and he leaves many terms unexplained, assuming the reader already has some knowledge of this civilization. This isn’t helped by the dizzying array of characters with unfamiliar names which had me on the verge of making notes throughout. Plenty more is explained however and, although Bandelier is the first to admit that in the absence of hard evidence, one must infer a little, the level of detail and believe-ability of the civilization and customs of his characters is top notch. Using archaeology and observations of current pueblo peoples such as the Hopi and the Zuni, Bandelier has constructed a world that is totally immersive and utterly convincing.
Novels are fine and dandy. But the short story and novella have often been overlooked in recent years. Fortunately the ebook phenomenon has given a platform to the format and the short story is back in a big way. Sometimes they serve as an introduction to a series of novels. Sometimes they are spin-offs and sometimes they stand alone. Here are just four finds in the Steampunk genre available from Amazon and other ebook retailers. Click on them for links.
Adolph Francis Alphonse Bandelier, the late 19th century archaeologist and ethnologist was responsible for much of what we know about the prehistoric peoples of the American Southwest. Known as the ‘Pueblo’ peoples after their mud brick villages and cliff dwellings, the tribes of America’s ‘four corners’ (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado) comprise several different languages and cultures. Generally they fall into two groupings of matrilineal and patrilineal kinship systems and have a vast collection of beliefs and myths regarding kachinas – spirits representing ancestors, elements or natural phenomena. During the Spanish colonization many missions were set up within the pueblos and although many converted to Catholicism, the pueblo people retained much of their folklore and traditions. The pueblos revolted in 1680 and were able to hold the Spanish at bay for twelve years before being reconquered. Today pueblo culture survives in a handful of tribes like the Hopi and Zuni.
Born in Switzerland but raised in America, Bandelier met and befriended the famous American anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan who sparked his interest in the pueblo peoples of the Southwest. In 1880 he received a contract from the Archaeological Institute of America to conduct a field study of the pueblos of Santa Fe. It was the beginning of a career that would make him the leading authority on the previously unexplored culture of the native Southwest. Bandelier’s work is marked by his all-encompassing approach to culture. His interest was not just in archaeology but in the folklore, traditions, mythology and ethnology of the people he was studying.
In 1881 he extended his studies to ancient sites in Mexico like Teotihuacan and Cholula. For the next ten years Bandelier conducted extensive studies of the native peoples and sites of New Mexico, Arizona and Mexico as well as doing much archival work. In 1892 he and his wife moved farther afield by journeying to Lima, Peru. His wife died soon after the move and he married fellow Swiss immigrant Fanny Ritter. Fanny became his research assistant and together they spent ten years researching the ancient sites of Peru and Bolivia.
Bandelier died in Seville, Spain in 1914 while researching the Archivo de las Indias. Bandelier National Monument in Frijoles Canyon, New Mexico was named after him and includes many pueblo homes, kivas (subterranean ceremonial lodges as pictured) and rock paintings. In 1977 Bandelier’s remains were exhumed and in 1980 he was cremated and his ashes scattered in Frijoles Canyon. Today he is known as much for his research as for his 1890 novel The Delight Makers; a fictional work concerning the prehistoric Pueblo peoples (known to their Navajo neighbors as the ‘Anasazi’ peoples) which I’ll be taking a look at in another post. Its authenticity and care in constructing a civilization known to us only through archaeological remains and the culture of their descendants was a big influence on the writing of my own novel Golden Heart.