Book Review: Anne Rice’s The Mummy

Ten years after Howard Carter unearthed King Tutankhamun out of the sands of Egypt Universal Pictures released, The Mummy. It was part of their early monster movie run in the 1930s.

Boris Karloff played the Mummy first.

Universal’s The Mummy hit the screens in 1932.

Perhaps the studio was cashing in on the “curse of the Pharohs” in the midst of its run of monster movies. The “curse” arose following a handful of deaths among the five dozen people who’d entered Tut’s tomb in 1922.

Boris Karloff, coming off his performance as the monster in Frankenstein the year before, played the dual role of the resurrected mummy of Imhotep and the mysterious Egyptian Ardath Bey. As with Frankenstein, Karloff defined the role and later actors struggled to equal his performance.

For nearly six decades the 1932 film was the best Mummy story in any media. Then along came Anne Rice.

Anne Rice’s Mummy Sets The Gold Standard

After several vampire tales put Rice on the top of the horror genre, she released The Mummy: Or Ramses the Damned in 1989. This Mummy was not Imhotep, who seems to be a favorite choice in books and films. Nor was his lost love Ankh-es-en-amon, another favorite in the genre.

Ramses II is the Mummy of all Mummies.

Anne Rice’s 1989 novel is the best Mummy story of all time. Fictional and non-fictional.

No, Rice chose one of the Pharohs, Ramses II, to be the Mummy. And for his lost love the incomparable Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. Unlike the cursed Imhotep, sentenced for an unthinkable crime, Ramses had banished himself into mummified exile. Having consumed an elixir that granted him immortal life, Ramses sleeps through the centuries.

He is awakened only when Egypt is in dire need of his counsel. One such time comes when a young Cleopatra summons Ramses from his slumber. He quickly falls prey to her charms as easily as Caesar and Anthony would later do.

Cleopatra rejects him when he refuses to use his potion to save Antony and raise an immortal army. When Cleopatra commits suicide Ramses banishes himself into permanent exile.

Ramses in the 20th Century

But Ramses tomb is discovered by Lawrence Stratford, who is murdered by his evil nephew Henry before he can solve the mystery of his new find. The mummy is sent to Stratford’s home in England to be placed on display. Henry follows and attempts to murder Lawrence’s only child, Julie.

But Ramses arises from his slumber in time to stop the murder. Julie finds herself fully enveloped by Ramses and the mystery of his life. The former Pharoh has fallen for her as well. Eventually the pair head back to Egypt. Ramses wants to say farewell to his past so he can fully embrace this new world he finds himself in.

The Past Does Not Remain Dead

But when Ramses discovers the mummified body of Cleopatra, lying unknown in a Cairo museum case, he dares to raise her from the dead. But the attempt goes awry and now Ramses, Julie and others in their party must hunt down a monster.

The entire novel is a grand adventure filled with cautionary tales of man attempting to play god to his own demise. There are certainly some erotic sections, but they are deftly done so as not to be crass or obscene. Rice develops each character fully, adding to the overall richness of the novel.

The Final Rating

So, how much did I like reading this book? Well, after finishing the paperback edition I purchased at the bookstore I went out and tracked down a first-edition, first-run copy in a bookstore in London. It still sits on my bookshelf today. So let us give this 5 stars until someone decides to add a sixth star to book rankings.

And by the way, this was The Mummy movie we should have been given last year. The less said about the Tom Cruise meh-fest we were given instead, the better.

But the problem with setting such a high mark is that the sequel was almost doomed to fail. And the sequel failed terribly. Written by Rice and her son, Christopher, Ramses The Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra was a flat two-dimensional copy of the original three-dimensional masterpiece.


About the author

Richard Paolinelli