In 2001, when The Mummy returned, Brendan Fraser knew firsthand what it was to be between a rock and a hard place. More like being caught between a Scorpion King and a hard place. Or better yet, a Scorpion King and an angry Egyptian mummy. Since then, the Rock has wrestled his way to bigger and better things. Brendan Fraser is experiencing a Whale sized resurgence of popularity, and mummies are still just as scary as they ever were.
In literature, pop culture, and even cinematic history, wrapped in bandages, mummies are blunderingly walking their way into the protagonist‘s role. So the question is, how did the mummy lore start its shuffle-footed walk (despite Tom Cruise and Universal Studios doing their best to try to kill it)?
It can be traced back to 1922 in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt when the tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh, whom we now refer to as King Tut, was discovered. Amongst the sarcophagus of King Tut and the other members of his family were over 5,000 artifacts which included gold (with the innermost coffin consisting of 243 lbs of gold), furniture, clothes, jewelry, mummified animals, and other items. The discovery caused a media frenzy because it was and still is the most famous find in the history of Egyptology.
So how did finding the tomb of an Egyptian pharaoh create so much fuss 100 years later? The main reason is that 100 years and a couple of days ago, the excavator, Howard Carter, had his patron die after opening the sarcophagus. Speculation ensued that the tomb was cursed. The curse of the pharaohs, King Tut’s curse, or the mummy’s curse is a “curse alleged to be cast upon anyone who disturbs the mummy of an ancient Egyptian, especially a pharaoh.” This curse does not differentiate between thieves and archaeologists and claims to cause bad luck, illness, or death. We know this because; inside the tombs, built before the time of the pyramids, ancient Egyptians wrote threatening curses meant to scare away anyone wanting to pillage the tombs. The rumor of the curse circulated, and people feared that those who violated the boy king’s final resting place would face a terrible curse. To their defense, ancient Egyptian culture and religions state that the mummified body had to remain undisturbed so its spirit could go to the afterlife.
The death of the patron of Howard Carter’s excavations, Lord Carnarvon, created the spark, but the 1932 Boris Karloff movie The Mummy fanned the newly formed flames. A lot has changed over the 100 years since Howard Carter opened King Tut’s sarcophagus. A lot has happened in the ninety years since the on-screen mummy Prince Imhotep was brought back to life by British archeologists. The legend of mummies has assuredly caused controversy, horror stories, comic books, novels, movies, and a plethora of fear. Some believe in the curse of the mummy despite Lord Carnarvon dying from blood poisoning following an infected mosquito bite. Some think it’s just another Hollywood-fueled horror story. Whatever we believe, it doesn’t seem that mummies lumbering around with outstretched arms yearning to appease their wants is going anywhere.
The Mummy Returns movie poster by http://www.impawards.com/2001/mummy_returns.html, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1008336
Howard Carter examining the coffin of Tutankhamun image Exclusive to The Times – The New York Times photo archive, via their online store, here, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2948071
King Tut Golden Mask by Roland Unger – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48168958
The Mummy movie poster accredited to Karoly Grosz – Los Angeles Public Library, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18513015