Balladeer’s Blog celebrates Halloween all month long. For today here’s a look at an 1899 mummy tale.
PHAROS THE EGYPTIAN (1899) – Written by Guy Boothby, who was better known for his Doctor Nikola stories about an evil genius in the mold of Dr Mabuse and Fu Manchu.
Cyril Forrester, a successful British artist, is approached by an enigmatic and sinister-seeming old Egyptian named Pharos. This figure tells Cyril that a mummy he (Cyril) inherited from his Egyptologist father is the dead body of Pharos’ ancestor from over 3,000 years ago.
That ancestor was Ptahmes, whom we’re told served as a magician for the Pharaoh Ramses during the mythical Exodus. Pharos is angry over the desecration of his ancestor’s remains so Forrester obligingly returns the mummy to the old man.
And so begins a danger-filled supernatural adventure to return the mummy of Ptahmes to his tomb. Cyril is suckered along into following Pharos because he is attracted to – or as we’re supposed to pretend in fiction, he is “in love with” Valerie, a beautiful Hungarian violinist who is in thrall to the old Egyptian.
Though Cyril is given plenty of indications that Pharos is evil and depraved and bears malice toward the western nations he is always persuaded by the Egyptian that he (Pharos) is merely misunderstood. It’s a tossup if Forrester is really that stupid or if Pharos is exercising some kind of mental control over him in the best “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” fashion.
As the story proceeds, the Egyptian sorcerer, his beautiful but abused thrall Valerie and the British Ned Flanders named Cyril Forrester reach Egypt to complete Pharos’ plans. Once there they encounter even more horrors from the ancient past. SPOILERS AHEAD:
As most modern readers will figure out fairly early on, Pharos really IS Ptahmes, but mentally occupying another body. Being reunited with his mummy/ original mortal remains in his actual burial place enables him to enact his master plan for revenge.
Pharos/ Ptahmes unleashes one of the plagues visited upon ancient Egypt, in this case an actual disease. He mystically inoculates the wide-eyed and unsuspecting Cyril Forrester, transforming him into his own personal Typhoid Mary to spread the plague throughout Europe.
At first the plan is grimly successful and people are dying off by the millions in a very bold development for the novel’s time period. It is sometimes suggested that this downbeat state of affairs was Boothby’s intended finale but his editors may not have felt the book would sell well enough with such a gloomy “triumph of evil” ending.
A bewilderingly abrupt, seemingly tacked-on ending has the evil Pharos/ Ptahmes struck down by the very gods he worshipped because they are not pleased with his genocidal plans.
Cyril Forrester realizes he is the plague’s carrier and goes to live in isolation for the rest of his life after penning heart-felt farewells to everyone he was close to.
Pharos the Egyptian is enjoyable enough as long as you make allowances for the fact that what were fresh ideas in 1899 have now become tropes of horror stories in general and mummy stories in particular. The novel will appeal to a niche audience but won’t ever be as big as Dracula or Frankenstein. +++
FOR ISABELLA OF EGYPT, FEATURING A GOLEM, A MANDRAGORE, A LIVING DEAD MAN, A GYPSY WITCH AND A JEWISH SORCEROR CLICK HERE
FOR MORE HALLOWEEN ITEMS CLICK HERE: https://glitternight.com/category/halloween-season/
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