Sunday, October 26, 2014

Imprisoned With the Pharaohs

            Some folks don’t realize that H.P. Lovecraft did a lot more than write about big, tentacley evil from beyond time.  He was an amateur scientist, wrote essays about the literary and psychological nature of horror, and also did some work as a ghost writer (where he did all the work and someone else got to put their name on it).
            Perhaps his best-known ghostwriting client was a stage magician and escape artist named Erik Weisz who could also probably be credited with creating the art of self-promotion.  Most of you probably know Weisz by his far-more-popular stage name—Harry Houdini.  Houdini routinely escaped from handcuffs, manacles, strait jackets, prison cells, locked safes, and more.  He was also a movie star, a fervent anti-spiritualist who debunked supernatural claims between stage shows, and the author of numerous books, stories, and articles about his personal exploits and the art of magic.
            Well... the author of some of them.
            In  early 1924, Lovecraft got offered a writing assignment from his publisher at Weird Tales.  Houdini had scribbled down notes about an amazing adventure he’d (supposedly) had while touring in Egypt and was looking for someone to write them up as an actual story for his millions of fans.  Lovecraft looked at the notes, declared the whole thing to be a complete fantasy, and asked if he’d have carte blanche to embellish the story as he saw fit.  The publisher said sure and Lovecraft went off to write “Under The Pyramids,” which appeared in the June-July issue of Weird Tales magazine as “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs” with Houdini’s name on the byline.  The escape artist was so pleased with the story he offered Lovecraft several more writing assignments over the next two years (until Houdini’s death in 1926).  It was more than ten years before H.P. finally got proper credit for the story.
            So, now that you have some background... here are some highlights from “Imprisoned With the Pharaohs” for your enjoyment.
            Also, a huge thanks to Peter C. (the other, original Peter C., as it were) who managed to score a bunch of minifigs I needed to pull this off.  When you see the really impressive shot in a few days, it’s all thanks to him.


           Mystery attracts mystery. Ever since the wide appearance of my name as a performer of unexplained feats, I have encountered strange narratives and events which my calling has led people to link with my interests and activities. Some of these have been trivial and irrelevant, some deeply dramatic and absorbing, some productive of weird and perilous experiences, and some involving me in extensive scientific and historical research. Many of these matters I have told and shall continue to tell freely; but there is one of which I speak with great reluctance, and which I am now relating only after a session of grilling persuasion from the publishers of this magazine, who had heard vague rumours of it from other members of my family.
          The hitherto guarded subject pertains to my non-professional visit to Egypt fourteen years ago, and has been avoided by me for several reasons. For one thing, I am averse to exploiting certain unmistakably actual facts and conditions obviously unknown to the myriad tourists who throng about the pyramids and apparently secreted with much diligence by the authorities at Cairo, who cannot be wholly ignorant of them. For another thing, I dislike to recount an incident in which my own fantastic imagination must have played so great a part. What I saw—or thought I saw—certainly did not take place; but is rather to be viewed as a result of my then recent readings in Egyptology, and of the speculations anent this theme which my environment naturally prompted. These imaginative stimuli, magnified by the excitement of an actual event terrible enough in itself, undoubtedly gave rise to the culminating horror of that grotesque night so long past.
        In January, 1910, I had finished a professional engagement in England and signed a contract for a tour of Australian theatres. A liberal time being allowed for the trip, I determined to make the most of it in the sort of travel which chiefly interests me; so accompanied by my wife I drifted pleasantly down the Continent and embarked at Marseilles on the P. & O. Steamer Malwa, bound for Port Said. From that point I proposed to visit the principal historical localities of lower Egypt before leaving finally for Australia.


          But once more disappointment awaited us, for all that we beheld was European save the costumes and the crowds. A prosaic subway led to a square teeming with carriages, taxicabs, and trolley-cars, and gorgeous with electric lights shining on tall buildings; whilst the very theatre where I was vainly requested to play, and which I later attended as a spectator, had recently been renamed the “American Cosmograph”. We stopped at Shepherd’s Hotel, reached in a taxi that sped along broad, smartly built-up streets; and amidst the perfect service of its restaurant, elevators, and generally Anglo-American luxuries the mysterious East and immemorial past seemed very far away.
          The next day, however, precipitated us delightfully into the heart of the Arabian Nights atmosphere; and in the winding ways and exotic skyline of Cairo, the Bagdad of Haroun-al-Raschid seemed to live again. Guided by our Baedeker, we had struck east past the Ezbekiyeh Gardens along the Mouski in quest of the native quarter, and were soon in the hands of a clamorous cicerone who—notwithstanding later developments—was assuredly a master at his trade. Not until afterward did I see that I should have applied at the hotel for a licenced guide. This man, a shaven, peculiarly hollow-voiced, and relatively cleanly fellow who looked like a Pharaoh and called himself “Abdul Reis el Drogman”, appeared to have much power over others of his kind; though subsequently the police professed not to know him, and to suggest that reis is merely a name for any person in authority, whilst “Drogman” is obviously no more than a clumsy modification of the word for a leader of tourist parties—dragoman.

          Abdul led us among such wonders as we had before only read and dreamed of. Old Cairo is itself a story-book and a dream—labyrinths of narrow alleys redolent of aromatic secrets; Arabesque balconies and oriels nearly meeting above the cobbled streets; maelstroms of Oriental traffic with strange cries, cracking whips, rattling carts, jingling money, and braying donkeys; kaleidoscopes of polychrome robes, veils, turbans, and tarbushes; water-carriers and dervishes, dogs and cats, soothsayers and barbers; and over all the whining of blind beggars crouched in alcoves, and the sonorous chanting of muezzins from minarets limned delicately against a sky of deep, unchanging blue.
          The roofed, quieter bazaars were hardly less alluring. Spice, perfume, incense, beads, rugs, silks, and brass—old Mahmoud Suleiman squats cross-legged amidst his gummy bottles while chattering youths pulverise mustard in the hollowed-out capital of an ancient classic column—a Roman Corinthian, perhaps from neighbouring Heliopolis, where Augustus stationed one of his three Egyptian legions. Antiquity begins to mingle with exoticism. And then the mosques and the museum—we saw them all, and tried not to let our Arabian revel succumb to the darker charm of Pharaonic Egypt which the museum’s priceless treasures offered. That was to be our climax, and for the present we concentrated on the mediaeval Saracenic glories of the Caliphs whose magnificent tomb-mosques form a glittering faery necropolis on the edge of the Arabian Desert.



  1. By the way, all the cool bottles in the marketplace are from Brickforge. Go check out all the very cool accessories in their store, including the new Rigged WWII gear.

  2. This is sensational. Love the pics. Thank you.