The Mummy’s Curse: The True History of a Dark Fantasy

Thomas Jones writes:

In 1889, Rudyard Kipling, 23 years old, recently arrived in London and looking to ingratiate himself with England’s most popular novelist, wrote to Rider Haggard with the outline of a story he’d recently heard, a ‘thing picked up the other day across some drinks’:

There was first one Englishman and one mummy. They met in Egypt and the live man bought the dead, for it was a fine dead. Then the dead was unrolled and in the last layers of the cloth that malignant Egyptian had tucked away a communication service of the most awful kind to the address of any man who disturbed him. He should die horribly in the open as a beast dies at the hand of a beast and there should not be enough of him to put into a matchbox, much less a mummy case. Whereat they laughed and of course later the Englishman went to your country and became ‘fey’ insomuch that he was weak enough to fire a shot gun into an elephant’s trunk. Then he was dealt with after the manner of elephants till he was blackcurrant jam … Were the mummy not in it I could and would take the thing and play with it. But there is a King of Egypt already and so I bring the body to his feet.

(LRB 6 February 2014)

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