I enjoy a good horror story, and there’s something genuinely chilling about a mummy story. The idea of a being that has survived for hundreds, if nothing thousands of years, that does not require food or rest, and has been dreaming of revenge (or passion) for centuries is terrifying. The titles on my list today all have something to do with mummies. Ancient, terrifying, and powerful mummies. Of course, they’re not all evil, but they’re all incredibly old and powerful. And I think you’ll have a lot of fun with the titles on this list!
The Jewel of Seven Stars (Bram Stoker)
A famous Egyptologist steals the famous Jewel of Seven Stars from the mummified hand of Princess Tera. And like many of the mummies on this list, Tera is not going to allow a handful of centuries in her grave to keep her from seeking her revenge and taking back what is rightfully hers. When the professor is left alone in his study with a few of his most prized Egyptian artifacts, he’s knocked unconscious and awakens to learn that Tera has possessed the body of his daughter. The only way to save her from Tera’s powerful spell is to resurrect the mummy’s true body, so that her soul can return to the proper vessel. Of course, as with any good monster story, nothing could possibly go wrong here…right?
As a fun aside, this novel has two endings. I won’t go into details, since I would hate to ruin the experience for the reader, but the original publication from 1903 has a much darker ending, while the rewritten 1912 ending is a bit more hopeful.
Some Words with a Mummy (Edgar Allan Poe)
While the name Edgar Allan Poe tends to conjure up terrifying visions of consumptive ghosts and people bricked up into walls, the short story “Some Words with a Mummy” is actually a good deviation from what you would come to expect from this author. While not exactly a-laugh-a-minute, it’s an engaging and amusing tale of a group of scientists who decide to resurrect a mummy (you know, for fun). After our unnamed narrator eats too much Welsh rabbit (a dish that is often associated with vivid dreams) and goes to bed, he’s awakened in the middle of the night by his friend Dr. Ponnonner, who wants him to join him and a group of colleagues in unwrapping a mummy. But, when the group apply an electrical current to the corpse, it not only comes back to life, but sits up, starts talking, and chastises them for their rough treatment. What follows is a fascinating story as the now-living mummy, named Allamistakeo, provides the startled assembly with a impromptu lesson on ancient Egypt and the true nature of mummies.
The Ring of Thoth (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)
“The Ring of Thoth” is a fascinating little short story about Mr. John Vansittart Smith, a student of Egyptology who visits the Louvre in Paris in order to study some of the papyrus pieces they have on display. There, he has a strange encounter with one of the museum staff members, a man of singular appearance. And when Smith dozes off in a shadowy corner of the exhibit hall while taking notes, he awakens to find that the museum has closed down with him still inside! The plot thickens when Smith realizes that the odd-looking staffer, who he encountered earlier, is still inside the building long after he should have gone home, and is performing some sort of strange ritual with the mummy that was on display.
I won’t say much more for fear of ruining your reading experience, but I can say that this was an enjoyable and really creative story.
The Mummy’s Foot (Theophile Gautier)
In this fantastical story, a man goes to a small Parisian curiosity shop and purchases the mummified foot of an ancient Egyptian princess named Hermonthis. He plans, of course, to use the foot as a paperweight (as any of us would). But, Hermonthis herself visits him that night, eager to get her missing appendage back. But, unlike some of the more dangerous mummies on this list, Hermonthis is not out for blood, just her foot, and she takes the hapless narrator on an adventure of a lifetime in thanks for his help. This is a fairly short story (the ebook is only 20 pages long!) so I can’t say too much more without completely spoiling the story for you. But, I can say that it’s a fun adventure through ancient Egypt!
The Mummy! (Jane Webb)
Cheops, a giant Pharaoh ruled his reign of terror thousands of years ago. Amongst his more odious acts, he attempted to seduce his own sister, and had his father murdered. (Sounds like a great guy!). 4,700 years later, in the year 2126, scientists excavating a pyramid discover Cheops’ burial chamber, open his tomb, and retrieve the body. Now, this is not one of those stories where an ancient curse brings the mummy back to life. Rather, the scientists do, reasoning that if enough electricity is applied to his body (much like in “Some Words with a Mummy”) they can literally shock him back to life. So, they do. And the mummy, fierce and somewhat disoriented, stumbles out of his tomb, steals their airship, and makes his way to England. When the queen is assassinated soon after his arrival, Cheops takes advantage of the chaos and starts manipulating the new queen’s councilors from the shadows. If you like steampunk or older futuristic interpretations (think R.U.R.) then you should check out this book!
Adventure of the Egyptian Tomb (Agatha Christie)
In this short story adventure, Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot goes on an adventure to Egypt, right around the time that King Men-her-Ra’s tomb is being unearthed. The reason for their visit, of course, is due to a rumor that a series of deaths were caused by an ancient curse, as the widow of archeologist Sir John Willard reaches out the famous detective to discover what really killed her husband. The question of course on everyone’s mind (from Poirot and his companion Hastings to the readers themselves) is if the curse of Men-her-Ra is real (and killing Sir John and his cohorts) or if there is another, very human, and very sinister force at work here. Poirot newbies and veteran fans alike will find much to enjoy in this quick and thrilling short story.
Lost in a Pyramid, or The Mummy’s Curse (Louisa May Alcott)
While best known for her Little Women series, Louisa May Alcott wrote about a variety of other topics, too, including a ghost story and this story set in Egypt. Paul Forsyth has recently returned from a trip to Egypt with his colleague, Professor Niles. And upon his return, Paul brings a mysterious box full of scarlet seeds to show his fiancée, Evelyn, but warns her that the story behind the seeds is too terrible to recount. Evelyn is curious and with a little pushing, Paul reluctantly tells her their mysterious history, starting with the investigation of the pyramid of Cheops (if that name sounds familiar, consult #5 on this list–“The Mummy!” by Jane Webb). Paul is tired and wants to go back, but his companion, Niles is driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge and wants to press forward. The group decides to rest for the night (and to send out a messenger to arrange a trip back for Paul), but when Paul wakes, he’s completely alone with no other options than to venture deeper into the pyramid to find them.
Lot no. 249 (Arthur Conan Doyle)
Abercrombie Smith, an Oxford athlete, becomes increasingly suspicious of his classmate, Edward Bellingham, an Egyptology student who has assembled a vast collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, including an actual mummy. When Abercrombie notices the mummy “disappear” from its place in Bellingham’s rooms, only to reappear again, and when he notices that each disappearance coincides with injury done to one of Bellingham’s enemies, Abercrombie comes to the conclusion that Bellingham must be using some mysterious means of bringing the mummy back to life and using it to carry out his dark tasks.
Whether the mummy is actually behind the attacks or not will not be shared in this blog post, so you’ll have to read the original tale to find out. And if you enjoyed reading this story, don’t forget that we have another Conan Doyle title on this list: #3 “The Ring of Thoth”.
Under the Pyramids (H.P. Lovecraft)
As if we could expect Lovecraft to produce anything ordinary! This tale was written in collaboration with Harry Houdini–yes, the escape artist Harry Houdini! The story is a fictionlized account of a vacation gone wrong, as Houdini finds himself the victim of a kidnapping attempt. After breaking up an arguement between his guide, Abdul Reis el Drogman and Bedouin leader Ali Ziz, the two men ask Houdini to help them settle the score in the traditional methods of the region–fisticuffs atop the pyramid of Giza. But, when Houdini agrees and joins them for the fight, he learns that the whole thing was a setup to get him alone in the desert at night. He’s overpowered, tied up, taken to an unknown location, and thrown into a deep pit. Bruised, disoriented, and temporarily unconscious, there is only one thing for the newly revived Houdini to do, and that is to prove once again that he’s the world’s greatest escape artist.
While the story might be told by Houdini, the Lovecraftian influence can certainly be felt. I won’t go into much detail about the sights Houdini sees, but you can be sure that they will unsettle you at best and leave you sleeping with the lights on at worst.
Smith and the Pharaohs (H. Rider Haggard)
Perhaps most well-known for his classic adventure stories such as King Solomon’s Mines and She, H. Rider Haggard tackles ancient Egypt in a most peculiar way in this short story. Smith is a budding Egyptologist who is accidentally locked in at the museum overnight (if this sounds familiar, you might be thinking of “The Ring of Thoth,” which is third on this list). While Smith is asleep, he dreams that he is being put on trial by the mummies that inhabit the museum. What is his crime? Grave robbing. But, was it really a dream? You’ll have to read the story to find out!
This collection also contiains a handful of other short stories by Haggard, so if you enjoy “Smith the Pharaohs,” you’ll have plenty to keep you occupied!
Colonel Stonesteel’s Genuine Home-made Truly Egyptian Mummy (Ray Bradbury)
Ray Bradbury has a very magical quality to his writing. And this story, the last on our list, is a magical little tale. Charlie is twelve, almost thirteen, and bored out of his mind. There’s absolutely nothing to do, school is starting up soon, and he’s got a bad case of ennui. So, he goes to see his neighbor, Colonel Stonesteel for some ideas of how to make life interesting again. And Stonesteel decides that Charlie is not the only one who needs something to shake the doldrums out of his life. The whole town is in desperate need of something extraordinary. So, the two of them sneak off to the colonel’s attic and create their very own, genuine home-made truly Egyptian mummy– “Osiris Bubastis Rameses Amon-Ra-Tut” out of old newspapers and bandages and other assorted scraps, and leave him in the middle of a farmer’s field for the townsfolk to find. I can’t express how much I love this story, the magic of childhood, the mystery of the mummy, and the sweet nostalgia of the end of summer and start of autumn. While the rest of these stories have some element of the supernatural, Stonesteel’s mummy is completely man-made, but the story is nevertheless quite magical.