Book Review: The Book of the Dead

The Book of the Dead
Jared Shurin, editor
Jurassic London, 2013

Vampires and werewolves have never really left our collective social and cultural consciousness. Neither has Frankenstein’s Monster, once it was created. Of the classic “Universal monsters”, the Mummy has been the one left by the wayside. Partly because it’s so culturally specific; and partly because (perhaps) it’s pretty lame when you come to think of it. They have no special powers, and a well-thrown torch will have them go up in flames. They are just dessicated corpses, whose spirit for some reason has yet to complete the passage to the afterlife.

Does that mean there are no stories left to tell? Is the idea of a mummy as a monster one that has run out of scares? This collection of original stories says emphatically NO.

Paul Cornell has the mummy of Ramses I waking up in the New World (it was found in the collection of the Michael C. Carlos Museum in Atlanta, after a stopover in Niagara Falls….). Adam Roberts and Maria Dahvana Headley look at two alternative methods of mummification. Glen Mehn explores what the mummification rituals might be like in the Internet Age. Den Patrick shows why you probably shouldn’t store your cocaine in an ancient canopic jar…

Other authors have written period pieces, set in both Ancient Egypt and the Victorian Era, or “traditional” tales where the mummy is searching for a lost love. There are alternate histories, tales of romance and revenge, action, and even comedy. All of them have at least a frisson of horror.

The title of the first contribution, “Some Words from an Egyptologist”, might lead to to believe that it’s actually a story when it’s an introduction penned by John J. Johnston of the Egypt Exploration Society. The EES collaborated with Jurassic London on this work, presumably offering advice and information to the nineteen authors whose stories make up the anthology. I actually learned quite a bit about Ancient Egyptian funeral rites and their version of the afterlife from this book.

It’s a bit difficult to review an anthology; you have to comment on both the parts and the whole – and the two might be completely different in quality. One really outstanding story might make getting the book worthwhile even though all the other stories are complete rubbish. That’s not the case here, fortunately. All the stories are excellent, which makes the collection a great read for anyone interested in mummies, Egypt, or contemporary horror.

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