One of the Golden Mummies. Creative Commons photo courtesy Roland Unger.
As I mentioned in my last post, I recently visited Bahariya Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. The oasis became famous in 1996 with the discovery of a series of tombs of the Greco-Roman Period (332 BC-395 AD). They were found accidentally when an Antiquities Guard was leading his donkey on a sandy stretch near the Temple of Alexander the Great when the animal’s hoof broke through the surface. Once he extricated the donkey, he peeked inside and saw an underground chamber.
Famed Egyptologist Zahi Hawass excavated the site and found several tombs, removing more than 250 mummies. Many had gilded masks like the one pictured above, and the site soon became known as The Valley of the Golden Mummies. Hawass believes that he has uncovered only a tiny fraction of the tombs. A few are on display in Bahariya, including the one above, but photography is forbidden, so I wasn’t able to take any shots for you. How Roland Unger got this shot I’ll leave as a riddle unsolved.
Bahariya was an important place in Greco-Roman times, having good agricultural land that could be cultivated year-round, instead of the Nile valley that flooded every year. Thus it was a good spot for growing grapes to make wine.
Mask of a boy named Heraklion, Roman Period 2nd century AD. This painted plaster mask covered the head and chest of the mummy. Heraklion offers a bunch of grapes to a small bird.
Visitors to Egypt tend to want to see the great sites of the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms. The pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, and the splendid temples around Luxor are all well worth a visit, but Egypt’s later periods are of interest as well. I just went on one of my semi-regular trips to Egypt with the specific intent to study the Greco-Roman period. It plays a role in the third book in my Masked Man of Cairo neo-pulp series and there’s no better inspiration than actually seeing the sites and artifacts themselves.
A new Mummy is in theaters this weekend from Universal. How is it? I’m not sure, since as of this writing I haven’t watched it yet, although I’ll attend a screening on the morning this posts. But one of my favorite movie critics, David Ehrlich, said of it: “It’s an irredeemable disaster from start to finish, an adventure that entertains only via glimpses of the adventure it should have been.” You know you’ve got problems when people start talking of their fond memories of the Brendan Fraser Mummy from the Summer of ‘99. (I have a genuine affection for that silly movie. The Jerry Goldsmith score is killer.)
If you want to know more about why plenty of folks who love the classic Universal Monsters are a bit, well, concerned about this new Tom Cruise-starring Mummy and the studio’s plans for an entire “Dark Universe” franchise, our own Sue Granquist has you covered. As for me, I have no plans to write a post about Nu-Mummy. Instead, I’m going to hang out here in the 1940s, maybe work on my victory garden, listen to some 78s of Artie Shaw and the Gramercy Five, purchase War Bonds, and watch a couple of mummy flicks.
Interior of the mastaba of Meresankh III. The row of
statues shows the queen and female members of her family
Not everyone gets a pyramid when they die.
As nice as it would be for everyone to get their own massive stone monument that lasts for all time, it’s really expensive and the one percenters want to have something of their own that makes them feel special.
So for those of us who don’t get to rule over Ancient Egypt with an iron fist, but aren’t so poor that we’re stuck in a shallow pit in the desert, there’s the mastaba, a home away home where we can spend the afterlife.
Mastabas were rectangular buildings made of mud brick or stone containing a few rooms and a burial chamber beneath it reached via a vertical shaft. They were wonderfully decorated on the inside and had a place for making offerings to the dead.
A remarkable exhibition at the British Museum is revealing the secrets hidden inside mummy wrappings.
Ancient Lives, New Discoveries showcases eight mummies from the Nile valley, Africa’s greatest center of ancient civilization. Seven were found in Egypt and an eighth was uncovered in Sudan. They have all been analyzed with the latest model CT scanner at a London hospital to reveal information about the people without their having to go through damaging analysis.
“The Mysterious Mummy” marked Sax Rohmer’s first appearance in print. Only 20 years old at the time, Rohmer was then writing under the byline of A. Sarsfield Ward. Born Arthur Henry Ward, Sarsfield was a surname of historical repute from his mother’s side of the family, which he adopted at the start of his writing career.
A preview of the story was featured in the November 19, 1903 issue of Pearson’s Weekly, with the full story printed in the November 24 issue. “The Mysterious Mummy” languished in obscurity until it was reprinted by Peter Haining in the 1986 anthology, Ray Bradbury Introduces Tales of Dungeons and Dragons. Haining also included the story in the 1988 anthology, The Mummy: Stories of the Living Corpse. Rohmer scholar Gene Christie selected the story for inclusion in the first volume of Black Dog Books’ Sax Rohmer Library, The Green Spider and Other Forgotten Tales of Mystery and Suspense, published in 2011.
The most interesting feature about this first foray into fiction is that it is not at all a living mummy story, but rather a straight heist caper. Rohmer later disingenuously claimed that a copycat theft was attempted in France and the thief was arrested with a copy of Pearson’s Weekly on his person, featuring the story which he claimed was so good he had to risk trying it in real life. Rohmer, of course, was a terribly unreliable interview subject. While it is possible the press were more gullible a century ago, it is more likely they viewed his tall tales as good copy.
This year, the home video divisions of all the major distributors banded together and plotted a full-scale assault on the wallets and bank accounts of Blu-ray owners during September and October. Only the wealthiest could possibly survive an attack that began with the first Hi-Def release of the Indiana Jones films. But the supreme weapon, the ultimate October Surprise, is Universal’s huge ebony slab of fear, nostalgia, and latex make-up: Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection. Spanning twenty-three years and nine films (advertised as eight, sorry Spanish Dracula), the long-anticipated set brings the Masters of Halloween into glorious 1080p for the first time, and in perfect seasonal position to drain your money before you waste it on a Jack Sparrow costume that forty other people are also going to wear to that same party.
Few movie series have had such an impact on filmmaking and popular culture as Universal’s stable of ghouls. They are as much a part of Halloween as Pixie Styx and pumpkin carving. I can’t imagine there are Blu-ray owners with any shred of geek cred out there who won’t want to add this to their shelves. When I received mine in the mail, I rejoiced at the anticipation of a week full of evenings revisiting some of my favorite movies in beautiful restored editions. The box set did not let me down—except for the one film that doesn’t really belong on it, but I anticipated that.
Universal Classic Monsters: The Essential Collection comes packaged in a black slipcase with a side-bound color booklet of trivia. The eight discs contain Dracula (1931), the Spanish-language Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, Bride of Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, the 1943 color re-make of The Phantom of the Opera, and Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Taking the discs in chronological order, as I did during the week: