Gods and Monsters II: Sin and Cinema

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(This is part two of a series on my favorite film monster of all time–the Mummy. Part one is hereInformation was sourced from a variety of books, articles, films, and museum resources, but all opinions and conclusions are my own. Enjoy!)

II – Sin and Cinema

While the Mummy did not derive from a direct mythological tradition, the new mass media of cinema permitted him a chance to evolve. And evolve he would: from the moment he incarnated as Boris Karloff in 1932’s The Mummy, the cursed Egyptian was set on the path to becoming not just a monster, but a symbol of transformation and human fallibility.

The Mummy established the pattern for what we now think of as a mummy story. In ancient times, Imhotep (Boris Karloff) was a priest of ancient Egypt and in love with a royal lady—the princess Anck-es-en-Amon. When the princess died, he braved the gods’ anger by stealing the sacred Scroll of Thoth, hoping to resurrect her. But he was caught and sentenced to “the nameless death,” condemned “not only in this world, but in the next.” When his tomb is discovered in 1921, a foolish young Egyptologist murmurs words from the Scroll of Thoth, reanimating the Mummy. The plot then revolves around Imhotep’s desire to rejoin his princess, leading others to her tomb and seeking out her reincarnation in order to turn her into a living mummy like himself.

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Gods and Monsters I: Ancient Roots

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(This is part one of a series on the world’s most aristocratic walking dead man–the Mummy. Information was sourced from a variety of books, articles, films, and museum resources, but all opinions and conclusions are my own. Enjoy!)

Introduction

In June 2017 Universal Studios launched The Mummy, the first official film in their new “Dark Universe” cinematic series. The Dark Universe is planned to feature modern retellings of classic Universal monster film characters, including the Mummy, Frankenstein, the Bride of Frankenstein, and the Invisible Man. Producers Alex Kurtzman and Chris Morgan stated that they intend to “respect the legacy [of the monster characters] while bringing them into new and modern adventures.”

Indeed, as trope codifiers and intersections of myth and pop culture, the original Universal monster films have an impressive legacy. But in the ranks of classic monsters, the Mummy has always been the odd man out. Despite being undead, the Mummy blends genres and may carry elements of anything from sorcery and Satanism to good old-fashioned body horror and action-adventure drama. Unfortunately, the latest cinematic iteration of the Mummy’s story fails to explore either the fictional and historical roots of the character, or the methodology which makes a monster.

This series will explore the evolution of the Mummy in film, comparing and contrasting the creature’s various incarnations and tracking how the story changed over time. We’ll see its roots–not as an ancient legend, but as a construct of the 20th century and the British imperial tradition. We’ll see how, despite these roots, the Mummy broke away from cliche to become his own monster. And finally, we’ll follow the Mummy right up to June 2017, and discuss how and why the Dark Universe film failed to recapture the magic of ancient Egypt’s most famous curse.

For the sake of clarity, two modes of address will be used here. When speaking of mummies in general or actual historical mummies, the mummy in question will be referred to without capitalization; when referring to the monster and mythical figure as it has come to be known in Western culture, it will be capitalized, e.g. the Mummy.

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Celebrating my Writerversary with my favorite dead guys

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I can pinpoint the exact day I made the transition from simple young nerd to writer. It was my thirteenth birthday: January 31st, 2001. I know this because the website fanfiction.net required you to be thirteen years of age before you could sign up for an account, and I adhered faithfully to the letter of the law. I’m not certain what I thought would happen if I tried to get an account while I was still twelve; perhaps the fanfiction police would break my door down and take me away for writing unlicensed drivel

Thankfully for humanity and the English language, everything I wrote under that first account name is long gone. But the experience–and the joy–remains, and I am a writer to this day. And this Wednesday, January 31st, is both my 30th birthday and my 17th Writerversary.

To celebrate, this Wednesday I’ll be posting the first in a series about a topic I can’t get enough of: ancient Egypt! But not just regular old historically-accurate ancient Egypt. No, I’ll be sharing pieces of a project that I began more than six months ago–inspired by, of all things, the Tom Cruise version of The Mummy (2017). Originally intended to be a simple movie review, the project ballooned into a survey and analysis of the very concept of an undead mummy, focusing specifically on the Mummy’s history in English-speaking cinema.  We’ll be talking about the history of Egypt ancient and modern, the changing Western view of the “mysterious east,” and how mummy movies over the decades created a new monster independent of its supposed origins. The phrases “braved the gods’ anger” and “violent undead assassin” also get used a lot.

The project will update once a week until it’s complete, and its working title is “Gods and Monsters.” The schedule reads as follows:

1/31 — Introduction and Part I: Ancient Roots

2/7 — Part II: Sin and Cinema

2/14 — Part III: Hammered to Death

2/21 — Part IV: Temporary Resurrection

2/28 — Part V: Formula Refined

3/7 — Part VI: Good and Evil

3/14 — Part VII: Conclusion (It’s Always Sunny in Hamunaptra)

Welcome, everyone, to “Gods and Monsters.” And here’s to another seventeen years!

What I’m Reading, June 2016: murder and walking spirits

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Real life has been interfering with my recreation a lot lately, so this blog has rather fallen by the wayside. Mea culpa! Still, even if I haven’t been here to blather at you about it, you can bet I’ve been reading. Here are two of my recent favorites. And if you notice a certain theme, well, what can I say? A girl knows what she likes. 😀

The Ghost Bride, Yangsze Choo — Yangsze Choo’s debut novel is the kind of story that makes someone like me go “Damn, I wish I’d thought of that.” Pan Li Lan, a young woman living in late-19th-century Malaysia, receives an offer of marriage–from the family of a dead man. It would mean security for life, but Li Lan is being troubled by eerie dreams of her would-be ghostly groom and isn’t quite prepared to marry someone who’s not only dead, but a creep. Yet when an attempt at barring the ghost from her mind goes drastically wrong, Li Lan may get a chance to confront her tormentor face-to-face, uncovering the tale of how the young man died and discovering who she wants to be.

This book hit all the right notes for me. There’s a touch of romance (though from an unexpected corner), a whiff of haunting, and when the second act takes us through Choo’s version of the Chinese afterlife, we follow Li Lan into a truly eerie world of paper people and ghost lights. Li Lan herself is in an awkward position, struggling to figure out what she wants from life and to separate the desires of her heart and her head. As for Er Lang … well, I’ll leave you to meet Er Lang. Adorable little stinker.

The Corpse-Rat King, Lee Battersby — I described this on my Facebook page as “Terry Pratchett via Burke and Hare,” and I stand by that. The Corpse-Rat King is the tale of one Marius, a professional liar, thief, and gentleman of misfortune, who robs the wrong body on the wrong battlefield and ends up dragged down into the stygian pits by the dead themselves, who believe that God has forsaken them and want a king–God’s anointed–to of their own to make things right. Marius proves not to be the king they want, and they release him in a somewhat zombified state, with orders to either fetch them a king or suffer extreme consequences. After all, where can you run that the dead won’t follow?

Marius lives in a big, sprawling, pseudo-medieval fantasy world, with just enough conscious parody to make me think of Pratchett’s Discworld. The details, though, are suitably grimy, and Marius’s own disgusting profession and degenerating condition lend a ripe touch of body horror to the proceedings. Marius himself may owe a little to George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman (or, if you prefer, Sandy Mitchell’s Ciaphas Cain), being a coward and liar who’s out for himself but somehow ends up being called upon for heroism. And he delivers, too–cursing and complaining all the way. As he flees from his responsibilities he meets multiple kings, has a memorable underwater encounter with a lunatic, gets told off several times by his now-dead apprentice, pines after the girl of his dreams, and falls in a lot of gross substances. Black humor is definitely the order of the day.

 

This Halloween, the Fair Folk fight dirty

I’ve been sitting on this news for about a month now, and it’s time to finally let the cat out of the bag.

They're watching you.

They’re watching you.

Fell the Angels is getting an early release!  That’s right, the sequel to Thief of Midnight will be available in print from Stark House, October 2015. Just in time for Halloween! This time around it’s a story about power plays, ambition, and magical murder most foul …

Just days after Christmas, Midwestern sorcerers begin turning up in pieces, and monster hunter Abby Marquise finds herself on the trail of a literal fairy tale. There’s a whiff of conspiracy in the air, but what could those sorcerers have possibly done to die so quickly and so gruesomely? And with fairies running amok in Chicago–and her teenage son still trying to process his own encounter with a very real bogeyman–Abby is going to have her hands full just surviving until the New Year.

Also featuring, but not limited to: a homebrewed war zombie, a shapeshifter who takes up way too much space, the words “Church of Satan suicide helpline,” ways a yoga mat bag can help in urban combat, and a devout Catholic trying desperately not to swear when faced with all of the above.

I can’t wait until you guys get to read this! Fell the Angels was always in the cards, but it took a long time to finally come together, and I think I can honestly say it’s the hardest, most complex book I’ve written so far. A challenge, but one I did my best to meet, and I think you’re going to like it. 🙂

And to celebrate, I’ll be doing another giveaway closer to time! In addition to copies of the book and some nifty other prizes, I’m going to have custom Fell the Angels items available as fun add-ins. Watch this space!

Three words that we need to use more

I love words. I am a word nerd. (A werd?) Unfortunately, cornering a random coworker and eagerly blathering about the correct way to pluralize “platypus” isn’t the best way to make friends. Worse, many of my favorite words don’t have any real use in modern English, so I can’t justify including them in my books. It would take a real stretch of the imagination–and the reader’s patience–to cram “kinderfeindlichkeit” into casual dialogue.

Sometimes, however, you run into an obscure or weird word that deserves to be better-recognized. Usually these are words that fill a linguistic hole, identifying a concept or summing up a complex notion in a way others can’t. Sometimes they’re just plain fun to say.

Here, then, is my list of three amazing words that deserve to be used more. Two of them are useful, but one is just fun to say. But–perhaps most importantly for a word nerd–all three of them can be used to absolutely slaughter your opponents in Hangman.

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What I’m Reading, April 2015: Peasant 101

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I’ve mentioned before that I always have multiple projects going at once to cut down on the possibility of boredom or burnout. Well, in addition to the usual UF stuff, I’ve been recently dabbling in YA high fantasy, and my decision to make my heroine an illiterate peasant in an Iron Age Near-East-like setting has led to some questions. Namely: what exactly would she do all day? How do you spin thread? How does a loom work? And what the heck is an adze, anyway?

Of course, once I started researching, it was hard to stop. It amazes me just how many skills people in the old days had … Skills learned in childhood, too, many of which most adults in modern western countries couldn’t manage to save their lives. Thoroughly informed and mildly ashamed, I present my reading list for Peasant 101.

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Celebrating “The God Collector” — Giveaway!

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This month The God Collector (Amazon, B&N) officially goes on sale, and yes, I’m excited! This is a book I’ve been wanting to write for years and years–my fond tribute to urban fantasy, romance, museums, and ancient Egypt. And to celebrate, I’ve assembled some nifty prize packs for a giveaway!

Here’s how it works. Leave a comment here, on this post, telling me what your favorite historical period or event is and why it’s your favorite. It doesn’t have to be ancient, either; if you have a burning passion for the 1990s, say so. That’s all you have to do. One entry per person, please!

The contest closes at 11:59 PM CST on March 10, 2015, so make sure you have your entries in by then. Once it closes, I’ll pick three winners by using a random number generator to select three from the list of entries. I’ll post the winners here on the blog and on my Facebook, and you can e-mail me to claim your prizes.

And what are the prizes? Well …

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Fairy tales, female characters, and Ivan the gormless wonder

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When I was young, there was one book in the house I loved more than any other. That book was Tales from Central Russia by James Riordan, and it contained forty-seven fairy tales that seemed to come from another world. A world of tiny villages and deep forests, where it always seemed to be winter and that winter had a personal grudge against you. Magic and Christianity existed side-by-side–every village had its priest, who was usually depicted doing something foolish–and the animals all knew more than they were letting on. Riders with spiked helmets cantered through the forest, bringing night behind them.

And when it came to boys and girls, the girls would end you. Nicely.

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