Hey look, I finished a book! It’s our first done of the year, with plans to read many more. To be fair, I cheated, by starting this book half a year or more ago… So we’ll see how I do with book number 2!
I picked up Anne Rice’s The Mummy because she’s one of those authors I figured I ought to read, but wasn’t sure where to begin. I had tried to read Interview with the Vampire but didn’t get very far… and there would have been oh-so-much to read after that! A stand-alone novel like this was a much better taste of her writing, and lets me move on to another author’s work next…
As a first thought on the novel – and as an observation that probably applies to much of the rest of Rice’s work – it’s incredibly hard to pin down its genre. The gut reaction is that it’s a monster story – like the Universal monster flicks. However, it’s not really a horror story. It has romantic elements, but isn’t a romance novel. It is placed in a historical moment, but it’s full of alternate history (you know, the living mummy). The only alternate technology is the elixir that gives long life, so not really Steampunk. Kind of fantasy with the immortality, but also like science fiction in that it must have an explanation with modern science… Modern adventure fantasy? Something.
Whatever it is, it’s good.
There’s really only one topic to cover, because the book is centered so completely around it: immortality. It’s a topic I love, and one that makes for interesting looks at human psyche. What are we like after a few centuries? A few millennia? Given how many vampire novels Anne Rice has written, I’m thinking she likes exploring this topic as well…
What would you do with all the time in the world? And with the properties of this elixir, as well – health, youth, vigor, and hunger. A keen mind, an acuity for languages. It’s really the perfect immortality draft – taken only once, and all these effects. So it solves all of those problems.
Then the question is just… what do you do with yourself? Ramses the Damned, the mummy himself, traveled. Saw the world, found out it was bigger than anyone expected. And waited. He helped the kings and queens of Egypt, as well, remembering his connection to his homeland, still caring for it. Coming back, with his wisdom and knowledge of the wide world.
And eventually, even that is boring. He goes to sleep, his vitality (from the sun) sapping, and left with instructions to only be awoken in a time of great need for the kings and queens of Egypt. Which happened on occasion, but eventually he slept for millennia, waking up during the era of British colonization and plunder.
And hijinks ensue.
Does that all make sense, if you were immortal? Maybe. A longing and connection with home – because the place persists even if the people do not. Travel and a desire for new experiences. Boredom. These things make sense to me, and were nicely handled in the book – we hear about them more second-hand, as they are all part of Ramses’ past.
The last big thing, and the connection with romance stories – loneliness. Ramses offers the elixir to a few people through the whole timeline of the story, and they tend to have concerns, rather than just jumping at the chance. The biggest problem being the woman that he hopes will solve his loneliness – Cleopatra – who wants to bring along her love, Marc Antony, into immortality.
It seems prudent to avoid an immortal love-triangle…
It is in these asks that as the audience we also think about it. Would we accept, given the chance? Would we want to live forever, as the only one to do so? Would we, with one other? Forever? It stretches the idea of true love to its logical conclusion. It feels easy to say yes – does it feel the same when truly confronted with the reality of it?
Going Through the Motions
This hits on the end of the book, so turn back or else sorry for the spoilers on a 1989 book… Right at the end one of the characters talks about heading home, after this great adventure, and how they’ll all just be going through the motions. Not living, just alive. Doing the things society expects – of them, as British nobles and wealthy people, at that time. No other interference, and likely the two betrothed end up married in a loveless marriage, showing the world a happy couple.
Which mirrors their parents’ generation, who in their youth came to Egypt – and found love in each other – before returning home, being nobility, running businesses. Going through the motions.
So is it the immortal who is truly living, then? Who has the ability to do more than go through the motions? In this story at least, yes. But it framed the whole story nicely, and left me thinking back over it all at the end, thinking about all the secondary characters, about everyone, really, who wasn’t a mummy.
There’s a lot there. She made all of their stories mean something in the end. It mattered to read all of that. It made me think. Good stuff.
I’ll probably return to Anne Rice again one day, read the vampire stories probably, because this was quite good. I would recommend it if you haven’t read any Anne Rice, or if you have but haven’t read this. And if you have read it, I’d be happy to talk about the book more in the comments!