At Comicpalooza in Houston I presented a panel on Steampunk Egyptology, discussing mummies and the Victorians. Like we, modern men and women, are mad for zombies, Victorians were crazy about mummies. The whole revenge of the mummy premise was theirs. No myth or tales exist in Egyptian history about mummies coming to life and staggering around in all their grave wrappings. Scary, revenge seeking mummies are pure Victoriana.
It all began in 1821, when a theater near Piccadilly Circus held a mummy unwrapping. Inspired by this event, author Jane Webb Loudon wrote “The Mummy, A Tale of the 22nd Century” in 1827. This was the first mummy story, one of the first sci-fi stories and one of the first sci-fi stories written by a woman. From time to time, I like to remind people that female writers, such as Mary Shelley, Jane Loudon, and Marry Griffith, were pioneers of Sci-fi and helped develop the genre.
“The ancient Egyptians you know, believed that the souls of their mummies were chained to them in a torpid state till the final day of judgment, and supposing this hypotheses to be correct, there is every reason to imagine that by employing so powerful an agent as galvanism, re-animation may be produced.” – From The Mummy, A Tale of the 22nd Century
And so it is, two of Loudon’s characters, Edwin and Dr. Entwerfen, embark by balloon on an expedition to the tomb of Pharaoh Cheops (Khufu), to shock him back to life with a galvanized battery.
One of the futuristic depictions I love most is when Loudon’s describing the queen’s court in the 22nd century, all of the women wear trousers. For a twenty-year old woman in the regency period, that’s pretty forward thinking.
Those Victorians loved their mummies and they loved mummy stories. Mummies proved a popular theme in many Edwardian and Victorian books. With so many mummy books, I’m going to only name the stories written by author’s you’ll recognize. The following are all available at the Gutenberg project.
First we have a short story, “Some Words with a Mummy”, written in 1845 by Edgar Allen Poe. It’s humorous satire, a delightful read, and the author’s voice is so fresh it seems as if it could have been written today. Simply put – it’s so Poe.
Then in 1869 Louisa May Alcott, of Little Women fame, wrote a short story, “Lost in a Pyramid: The Mummy’s Curse”. It’s on the horror side, quite Victorian, and you’ll recognize Alcott’s writing style.
Next, we have The Jewel of Seven Stars, a full length novel written in 1903 by Bram Stoker of Dracula fame. Stoker is a master of suspense and elegant writing. He has wonderful page turning hooks at the end of each chapter. It’s not as great as Dracula – but it’s good and it’s pure Stoker. I loved it.
The Jewel of Seven Stars has two endings. On the third print run, in 1912, the publisher demanded Stoker change the ending. At the time, critics called the original ending too gruesome. I read this at Project Gutenberg, which had the newer ending, but I was able to read the original ending at http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/543300.The_Jewel_of_Seven_Stars The first ending isn’t gruesome by today’s standards though it is horribly sad. Still, the original ending is clearly the best.
Let’s get to the good stuff, Mummy Unwrapping Parties, now believed to be more like academic lectures. Evidently some were more of a party from the accounts of removing the amulets found in the wrappings and handing them out as party favors.
Some infamous mummy incidents involved Lady Pesed Ma Rheres, daughter of Heshor, priest of Khem. Lady Pesed has resided at Westminster College in Pennsylvania since 1885. When a former student of the school served as a missionary in Egypt, he shipped her to the college as a donation. During the early 1900’s Lady Pesed was sometimes found in coed’s beds. Sounds like a party to me. That story also lends truth to what they say…liquor use to be much stronger.
Now to discus my favorite things – books. Two modern Steampunk classics with strong Egyptian influence are The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers and The Osiris Ritual by George Mann. Tim Power’s blew my mind with The Anubis Gates. The Osiris Ritual is a fabulous mystery with a lot of magic and it includes a mummy unwrapping party scene. Both are fabulous books and on my keeper shelf.
For young adults, Trisha Wolfe has an Egyptian themed Steampunk series, Kythan Guardians. The books, set in 2040, are about a race of shape-shifters descended from guardians to the Egyptian Pharaohs.
Timeless, the last book in Gail Carriger’s wonderful Parasol Protectorate series takes place in Egypt. I recommend the entire series and I also consider it a must read for Steampunk fans.
Empire of Ruins, a young adult, action adventure book by Arthur Slade takes place in Australia where an Egyptian tomb is discovered. It’s a fun, thrilling read.
My Egyptian themed Steampunk time travel books are As Timeless As Stone and As Timeless As Magic. Since I just got rights back, I’m revising them and will be submitting them to a publisher soon.
Now, learned ladies of Steamed and esteemed gentlemen, may I present the most amazing, most stupendous, most marvelous find on Egyptian Steampunk. Drum roll please.
Heron (Hero) The Egyptian in 1st century AD invented the first working steam engine in history, the aeolipile. It’s often called Hero’s ball, which actually sounds like a good title for a book.
Feel free to comment on anything you like below, but also if you’ve read or written an Egyptian Steampunk book that’s not listed, please include it in the comments. Or if you have an Egyptian Steampunk costume, please include a link to a photo of it or tell us about it. Also I wanted to wish everyone a Happy Forth of July tomorrow.
Maeve Alpin, who also writes under the pen name of Cornelia Amiri, is the author of 18 romance books, four of them are Steampunk.