Monday, January 20, 2014

RETURN FROM THE DEAD, edited by David Stuart Davies

Another example of Wordsworth's efforts at bringing back a slew of obscure and half-forgotten supernatural literature, this anthology has quite a bit of interest for some...although for me it was a bit of a slog.
First off, I have to say that I got all giddy when I saw the dedication..."To Richard & Tom, with fond memories of when we were the walking dead emerging from Eighty Eight's in the early hours." A bit of asking around confirmed it; he's talking about my own friends, the late Richard Valley and his partner Tom (I am leaving out his last name as he's still around but the last I heard had distanced himself from the genre community, and I'm not sure how he would react to having his name cited here.) Anyway, having an unexpected personal connection to the book in your hands is always a thrill.

This anthology is weird, though, for containing an entire novel, The Jewel of the Seven Stars, by Bram Stoker. It takes up most of the book; there's 273 pages and Jewel takes up 187 of them. And, honestly, I found Jewel to be rough going. Maybe it was me or my mindset, but I found it horribly slow-moving and lacking in clear menace. It's about an Egyptologist who had the mummified body of Tera, a witch-queen of ancient Egypt, who seems to have prophesied her own reincarnation...or resurrection. And it's hard to tell if she's a menace or if there's some other force at work. They decide to do a ritual to resurrect her...but why? There are times when character motivations are unclear. And I'll get the very end, it seems to be suggested that Tera's spirit starts to go to her body to reanimate it, but then another evil force takes over and inhabits the body. But that's all up to the imagination of the reader; it's not explained. One interesting thing here is that it's given the original dark, bleak ending that Stoker gave it, with most characters dead or awaiting death, and an evil force on the loose...but with the second edition Stoker was convinced to give it a happy ending, and the new ending is also provided.

Thankfully, this is followed by two humorous pieces, "The Mummy" by Jane Webb, and "Some Words with a Mummy" by Edgar Allan Poe. The latter, especially, has some pointed political commentary that's a bit surprising and still fairly relevant today. Poe is undervalued as a satirist, in my opinion.

Wrapping up the collection are two very good and fun stories from Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Ring of Thoth" in which a man, trapped in a museum overnight, witnesses a ancient ritual performed by an immortal Egyptian, and "Lot 249," a very fun story of a reanimated mummy wreaking havoc on a university campus.

Is this worth it? Eh...I question the judgement of putting a novel in an anthology. They could have very easily done a separate edition and dug up some other stories. The only other story here that hasn't been frequently anthologized is Webb's, and it's not all that great anyway. Doyle's stories are great but you can find them in other collections. So save your money, folks. This one is a bit of a letdown, although with good intentions.

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