Have you ever read Some Words with a Mummy? I didn’t even know it existed until I was looking for something to write about for Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday today. I’ve read Poe’s detective fiction, and I’ve read his horror fiction (of course). But, this is more comedic satire than anything else.
Tucked away in my copy of Poe’s tales is a story I hadn’t read until I was scanning through the table of contents trying to decide what to write for today’s post.
Like most of Poe’s stories, it has an anonymous narrator and it starts just as you may expect.
A mummy is discovered in Egypt. It’s brought back to sit in a museum and a group of thinkers, doctors, and one journalist decide to open the sarcophagus and examine the body.
Just like in the Boris Karloff or Brendan Fraser movies, things do not go as expected.
But when were the hopes of humanity fulfilled?Edgar Allan Poe
A man, the narrator, has a headache and munchies. He has a bit of supper and goes to bed early only to be awakened by the news that his friend, Doctor Ponnonner is about to examine a mummy. Not having watched any horror movies to know better than to mess with a mummy, he leaps out of bed and goes off to help his friend “examine” the specimen.
After breaking almost every known best practice of modern archeology, he and his friends discover the mummy never had its organs removed. Ponnonner suggests they attempt dissecting the body but it’s getting late and they decide to hold off until the next evening.
Until someone else decides it would be an excellent idea to try and hook the mummy up to electricity and see what happens. Again, not having watched their classic monster movies, they decided this was a capital idea and experimented.
Well, the mummy kicks Doctor Ponnoner out the window and waves it’s fist at the doctor attempting to run an electric current through him. He sits up and very frankly tells everyone how badly they’ve behaved and that they all should have known better. Except for the doctor, who he calls an idiot. His name is Allamistakeo—which, you’ll cleverly notice, is “all a mistake” smashed together.
Allamistakeo, also referred to as the Count, was mummified when he fell into a coma of sorts. It was common enough in those days for people of certain noble houses to get mummified alive and then be regenerated at a later date. They live for a very long time—the Count says that his own father lived to be a thousand or more.
The conversation that ensues is best described as a much of clueless men trying to brag to the Mummy about the wonders of their advanced age and getting disappointed at every turn by the fact that everything they thought was so great about their society had already existed before and, indeed, the Mummy had better knowledge of it.
There are only two points in which they prove themselves superior over the Mummy: fashion and advertising. Allamistakeo is humiliated for his ignorance of modern clothing fashion and of the latest and greatest products on the market. Those of you who have watched any kind of high school drama know this is the first rule in the playbook for bullying other people.
After the humiliation, the narrator gets disgusted with the whole affair and goes home.
He expresses the feeling that everything is going wrong. So wrong, in fact, the narrator decides he doesn’t want to live in the present day anymore. So, he gets embalmed alive, just as the Egyptian had been because he thinks somehow 2045 will be better. And he mentions that year specifically.
Well, if the 2020s are any sign, he’s going to be very disappointed there too. Unfortunately.
The lighter side of Poe is still very cynical.
Some Words with a Mummy is a much more light-hearted tale than I’m used to seeing from Poe. It was hilarious in some places and downright close to science fiction in others. The world Allamistakeo inhabited sounds very different, even from our own impressions of history.
And, let’s face it, until you’re face-to-face with history itself, it’s hard to really grasp the idea that our ancestors weren’t all ignorant primitives like we sometimes still believe. That’s part of the reason preserving places like the Valley of the Kings, the Parthenon, and the Colosseum, among others, is so important.
The point Poe is trying to make is that we’re not as advanced as we like to believe we are. History is cyclical as well as linear. And, if we have any illusions about somehow being better than our forbears, we’re sadly and horrifically mistaken. It also doesn’t hurt that there’s a few jabs at the whole idea of messing with the things of the past just to say we can.
For modern readers, the story will no doubt be a little tedious, given the language, but it’s worth reading at least once, if only because it’s so different to what we normally think of as characteristic Edgar Allan Poe.
Want a little refreshment to accompany your evening reading?
You can, and should, of course, have a little nip of amontillado or port to celebrate Poe. I plan on having a little myself this evening, once this post is out.
However, if you are in need of something a little comfort food to go with it, you should try to make the Welsh Rabbits the narrator of Some Words with a Mummy eats before all the action begins.
Don’t worry, there aren’t any actual rabbits involved. Welsh Rabbits, or Rarebits are basically a very decadent form of cheese toast. You basically make a cheese sauce with mustard and ale, pour it over some toast and then broil everything.
The narrator suggests drinking ale with your “rabbits.”
I suggest this makes a nice comforting accompaniment to settling in and re-watching old horror movies. Might I suggest The Mummy?
Either one will do.
My edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s works
My copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories and poems is one of my favorite volume in my personal book collection. The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe is a Modern Library edition for which I have but one date: September 23, 1940. It used to belong to my grandfather and has his scripted handwriting in the front and back with his name and address.
Since Poe was one of my very first introductions to the world of classic literature, he’s always had a special place in my consideration and in my collection. It was because of Poe that I wrote poetry (no pun intended) as a child. It’s the reason my logo has a raven in it too.
My grandfather passed away nearly a decade before I was born, so I never got to meet him. But, I’d like to think that if we had nothing else in common, we would at least have a fondness for Poe in common.
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