Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Dead and Buried or Alive and Kicking | Jonathan Green on the Mummy

“Anck-es-en-Amon, my love has lasted longer than the temples of our gods. No man ever suffered as I did for you.”

So declares Boris Karloff’s reanimated ancient Egyptian priest Imhotep, in Universal Studios’ 1932 chiller The Mummy. But just what is it about mummies (the ones that look like they’re wrapped in loo roll, as opposed to the ones who actually buy the loo roll) that makes them so appealing to movie makers and writers of fiction with a fascination for the fantastical and macabre?

The undead — those restless revenants that rise from the grave at the slightest excuse — have always held a fascination for writers who are, by nature, preoccupied with the really weighty issues life throws at us — love, life itself, and possibly the biggest one there is: what happens to us after we die?

It’s all a question of faith. When very few can honestly claim to know what happens to our immortal souls after death takes us, the revenant — no matter how vile and decomposed a thing it might be — at least implies by its very existence that death is not the end. And when it comes to the undead, the mummy got there first.

Legends of mummies predate central European vampire myths as well as Roman ghost stories concerning werewolves. Zombies are positively modern by comparison, emerging out of Haiti (as well as their tombs) in the early 20th century.

If vampires represent the potential killer in us all, or the desire to remain eternally young (fuelled by today’s obsession with image), and the werewolf is the beast in us all (the bad boy that metrosexual man is supposed to suppress, that also reminds us just how close to base animals we still are beneath our skin of so-called civilised humanity), while the zombie personifies the very real fear of death chasing after us, what does the mummy represent to our modern sensibilities?

Quite simply, the mummy is the antidote to all these other monstrous mythic archetypes. The mummy has it all. It is immune to death, freed from the need to sustain its physical form. It is no ravening beast but a civilised creature, and not just any creature, but a highborn, noble ruler.

In our materialistic society, one that is driven by the need to accumulate wealth whilst also being trapped within a seemingly endless cycle of boom and bust that has lasted for the best part of a hundred years (if not longer), the mummy lets us defeat the old adage. The mummy says you can take it with you when you die.

And for those of us motivated by things other than the accumulation of wealth, the mummy has a message of hope for us too. For the mummy shows us what it is to be human. As Imhotep attests, even when every other capacity has left us, we are still capable of love. 

Years after we have gone into the ground, those we leave behind will still feel our love for them as a very real presence inside their hearts, and we will receive their love in return. For love is ultimately what makes us human. And more than that, it is love that makes us immortal.


Jonathan Green has more than thirty-five books to his name. Well known for his contributions to the Fighting Fantasy range of adventure gamebooks, and numerous Black Library publications, he has also written fiction for such diverse properties as Doctor Who, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Sonic the Hedgehog and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Jonathan is the creator of the Pax Britannia series for Abaddon Books. He is currently writing the eighth novel in an ongoing series set within this alternative steampunk universe and featuring the debonair dandy adventurer Ulysses Quicksilver.

For more about the author, follow @jonathangreen on Twitter and check out his blog.

No comments:

Post a Comment