Lost in a Pyramid collects a dozen short stories published between 1869 and 1910, each featuring mummies in one way or another. A few of the tales are by writers a casual reader may be familiar with, such as Louisa May Alcott (of Little Women fame), Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Fu Manchu creator Sax Rohmer, the subject matter offering a differing approach to the works that made them famous. Others were written by writers whose fame has long since dissipated and a few whose true identities behind their pseudonyms remain a mystery to this day.
Being mummy tales, several of the stories involve curses, usually invoked by the thoughtless of raiding treasures from tombs wisely left alone for millennia, with each take on the popular notion of the bandage-wrapped revenging undead differing from the others in some way, preventing the plots from becoming repetitive.
As the date range of the stories’ initial publications coincides more or less with the zenith of the British Empire’s reach and power, a certain colonial arrogance comes through at times, to the extent that you can actually hear the plummiest of “bally-ho, what-what?” accents sneering through waxed moustaches at the uncivilized savagery of Johnny Foreigner. This contemptible arrogance for any culture beyond that of the megalomaniacal island nation prevents any kind of empathy with the narrators, despite such an attitude clearly intending the opposite effect.
Another recurring theme is that casting of mummies not as forces of vengeance meting out punishment on glorified grave robbers, but as sultry and exotic maidens free with their appearance and affections who tempt steadfast and proper young gentlemen away from the pale and fragile English roses they are contrasted against. These seem to comment not on Britain’s attitudes towards its colonies and protectorates, but of the social constraints of Victorian society.
Being written at a time when tales of the supernatural were far less prevalent, the structure of the stories often doesn’t quite conform to what you’d expect, with some feeling it necessary to specify just how unbelievable is the tale the reader is about to experience, while several quite abrupt endings have little regard for explanations of exactly why the mystical shenanigans featured in them actually occurred.
While the collection is an interesting read and offers up varying perspectives on attitudes towards British colonialism amidst examples of a subgenre as it initially developed, much of the action appears a little tame to the modern reader. Something more for historical or scholarly value rather than true entertainment.
LOST IN A PYRAMID / AUTHOR: VARIOUS / PUBLISHER: BRITISH LIBRARY / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 6TH