Today is Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday. Today means an awful lot to me: since discovering Poe when I was in 3rd grade, he has had such a tremendous impact on me. For my 21st birthday I took a trip to Baltimore where I had a marvelous time despite the rain (while it definitely would have been far more enjoyable with nicer weather, the rain really set the mood for my Poe trip). I toured his house and both graves and it was simply an amazing experience (& a trip I look forward to taking many more times! Baltimore is only a few hours away from Pittsburgh, after all~)
I always celebrate Poe’s birthday with cupcakes a reading or two of his work. I opted to forgo my usual picks and my favorites and instead chose a short story often overlooked: Some Words With a Mummy. Some Words With a Mummy is among Poe’s latter works, this one being published in 1845, just a few years before his death. One thing I love about the Victorian era is what was considered a fun hobby: the occult and mysticism (as mentioned in my review of The Gathering Storm) as well as Egypt. I love the idea of socialites and other well-to-do members of society all gathered around someone’s living room to poke and prod at mummies. I. Love. It.
The application of electricity to a mummy three or four thousand years old at the least, was an idea, if not very sage, still sufficiently original, and we all caught it at once. About one-tenth in earnest and nine-tenths in jest, we arranged a battery in the Doctor’s study, and conveyed thither the Egyptian.
From what I’ve seen, people who don’t read Poe outside class immediately write him off as a horror writer. While it’s obviously true he wrote extensively for the genre, he also had a penchant for satire and humor and Some Words With a Mummy is the best of both.
Our narrator wakes up one morning and receives a letter from Doctor Ponnonner expressing excitement over having received permission to unwrap a mummy. Said narrator is one of the few special guests invited to attend the unwrapping.
Once the mummy is indeed unwrapped, Ponnonner begins his experimentation: attaching a battery to it! First the experiment with the forehead. After a few moments of…nothing, the men decide to head home for the night. However, our narrator then realizes the mummy’s eyes are nearly closed (when they had previously been wide open).
I cannot say that I was alarmed at the phenomenon, because “alarmed” is, in my case, not exactly the word. It is possible, however, that, but for the Brown Stout, I might have been a little nervous. As for the rest of the company, they really made no attempt at concealing the downright fright which possessed them. Doctor Ponnonner was a man to be pitied. Mr. Gliddon, by some peculiar process, rendered himself invisible. Mr. Silk Buckingham, I fancy, will scarcely be so bold as to deny that he made his way, upon all fours, under the table.
In a flurry of excitement, the group tests the mummy’s foot. The mummy promptly rears back and delivers a swift kick to Ponnonner’s stomach. The assault actually sends the poor man through the window and down to the streets below. Hee!
The rest of the men immediately rush outside, fully convinced they’ll find Ponnonner’s mangled corpse lying in the street. However, they wind up meeting him on the staircase full of vigor and very eager to proceed with the experiments.
When the men return to the room, they discover the mummy is very much alive:
Morally and physically — figuratively and literally — was the effect electric. In the first place, the corpse opened its eyes and winked very rapidly for several minutes, as does Mr. Barnes in the pantomime, in the second place, it sneezed; in the third, it sat upon end; in the fourth, it shook its fist in Doctor Ponnonner’s face; in the fifth, turning to Messieurs Gliddon and Buckingham, it addressed them, in very capital Egyptian, thus:
“I must say, gentlemen, that I am as much surprised as I am mortified at your behaviour. Of Doctor Ponnonner nothing better was to be expected. He is a poor little fat fool who knows no better. I pity and forgive him. But you, Mr. Gliddon- and you, Silk — who have travelled and resided in Egypt until one might imagine you to the manner born — you, I say who have been so much among us that you speak Egyptian fully as well, I think, as you write your mother tongue — you, whom I have always been led to regard as the firm friend of the mummies — I really did anticipate more gentlemanly conduct from you. What am I to think of your standing quietly by and seeing me thus unhandsomely used? What am I to suppose by your permitting Tom, Dick, and Harry to strip me of my coffins, and my clothes, in this wretchedly cold climate? In what light (to come to the point) am I to regard your aiding and abetting that miserable little villain, Doctor Ponnonner, in pulling me by the nose?”
From then on, it’s really nothing but a lovely sit-down with the mummy (Count Allamistakeo – haha!). The men ask Allamistakeo about his world and try to impress him with theirs (steam? BAH! Fancy machines? POO!) It’s pretty cute, really. Allamistakeo reminded me of a lovely, wizened father figure humoring these supposed modern men.
At the end of the night the narrator returns home and climbs into bed. After only a few short hours, he pens his thoughts (which eerily hold true today):
The truth is, I am heartily sick of this life and of the nineteenth century in general. I am convinced that every thing is going wrong. Besides, I am anxious to know who will be President in 2045. As soon, therefore, as I shave and swallow a cup of coffee, I shall just step over to Ponnonner’s and get embalmed for a couple of hundred years.
Some Words With a Mummy is a super quick and very fun read and highlight’s Poe’s strength as a writer of humor.
A light supper of course. I am exceedingly fond of Welsh rabbit. More than a pound at once, however, may not at all times be advisable. Still, there can be no material objection to two. And really between two and three, there is merely a single unit of difference. I ventured, perhaps, upon four. My wife will have it five; — but, clearly, she has confounded two very distinct affairs.
“Why, it is the general custom in Egypt to deprive a corpse, before embalmment, of its bowels and brains; the race of the Scarabaei alone did not coincide with the custom. Had I not been a Scarabeus, therefore, I should have been without bowels and brains; and without either it is inconvenient to live.”