Monday, November 15, 2010

"Do Mummies Walk Around at Night?"

At the Savannah Children's Book Festival this weekend, I told lots of stories about mummies and myths. At least once a storytelling session, a younger child would ask, "Do the mummies get up and walk around at night?"

I always answered, "Nope, but do you want to know why people used to think they did?"

Even the older kids who had smiled indulgently at the question, nodded their heads. 

Well, I began. Ancient tomb robbers knew a secret--that the Priests of Anubis hid special amulets all throughout the mummy's linen wrappings. These amulets were often made of gold and precious stones. In Cleopatra Rules! I called these amulets "lucky charms" because they were meant to keep the dead safe during their journey to the afterworld.

Unfortunately, greedy tomb robbers knew about these amulets. So, when they broke into a tomb, they often lifted the coffin lid, took the mummy out and patted it down in search of amulets. Or, if they were in a big hurry, they picked up the mummy, tucked it under one arm and walked right out with it--along with whatever other goodies they could carry--into the desert.

There they would unwrap the body, steal the amulets, and leave the unwrapped mummy to disappear under the changing sands. So when modern archaeologists first entered "newly" discovered tombs, they were be shocked to find coffin lids thrown off as if the mummies themselves had sat up and done so. Sometimes, the partially unwrapped mummy was on the other side of the room, looking as if it had taken a stroll. Or, creepier, the body was gone altogether.

Rumors spread. The mummies were magic! They walked around at night! They cursed and punished all those that had entered their tombs!  Hollywood jumped in and mummy horror movies were born.

Now we know better. We know that the bodies were disturbed primarily for purposes of robbery.

It was interesting to watch the reactions. They little ones looked relieved, but the upper elementary and middle school kids looked intensely curious. They wanted more--they wanted to hear about real Egyptian curses versus movie ones, about WHY the ancient Egyptians believed what they believed (and why some--like the robbers--did not).

A fifth-grade fan tries on my helmet.
Yeah, I'm short. What can I say?
Story-times were limited so I couldn't answer all their questions. But you could see the fire of curiosity shining in their eyes. Afterward, some of the parents would thank me. "This is so fascinating," one grandfather commented.

Still in kid-mode, I responded with a big grin and said, "I KNOW, right?!"

I love what I do.


Trisha said...

Wait...mummies don't really get up and walk around at night? You're killing me Smalls! :)

Unknown said...

What a wonderful experience for those kids! Great work Vicky!

I love that pic - it looks like a hidden paparazzi shot - the caption would read 'King Leonidas spotted at local park!'

Also, I have a little art related tidbit related to mummies. The colour 'mummy brown' is still widely available from art shops today - although it is synthetic of course. Originally though, it first came into being in the 16th Century, with artists using actual mummy remnants, usually of animals to mix in to get this unique browny tinge!

This colour was used heavily by the 19th Century Pre-Raphaelite painters in England, particularly in depiction of brown elements of landscape and hair.

Kind Regards
H Niyazi

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Thanks for commenting, Trisha!

And Hasan, what a great tidbit to learn. I will talk about "mummy brown" from now on! Love details like that.

Tanya V said...

that is a great post. I think you might have the best job ever. Thanks for sharing!

sally said...

Very interesting stuff. my kids love those mummy movies with that guy who played Tarzan---or is it The Rock in the movies?--I can't remember. I've never watched them. I've never wanted to think about mummies walking around.

I did, however, go up in the great Pyramid at Giza when I was six years old. Wonderful experience. Even at that age I marveled at how the pyramids were built with those huge rocks and no giant cranes. And there is something about the mummies and the treasures buried with them that lends itself to mystery and intrigue.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Thanks, Tanya!

Sally, what an experience! I have yet to visit Egypt (or Greece or Rome...le sigh). But one day I will.

Oh and the mummy movie you're talking about featured Brendan Fraser I think. I cannot watch the movie because it's so infuriating. When I give tours to older kids I usually ask how many of them have seen the movie and then proceed to tell them what Hollywood got WRONG. Still, it's a good launching point...

Cathy C. Hall said...

Once again, I have increased my brain power by dropping in over here. Fascinating!

But I think the increase may have been offset by the mummy movies I've watched. I kinda liked Brendan Fraser.

P.S. Sorry about your Greek dress. But you cannot argue with 12 year old embarrassment logic. I like the new pic just as much. :-)

Elizabeth O. Dulemba said...

I know! Right! :)e

Karen Strong said...

Considering that it's almost my bedtime as I post this, I'm VERY happy to hear mummies don't walk around at night. :)

Sounds like Savannah was a success! :)

...and don't worry, you'll always be taller than me!

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Thanks for stopping by Cathy, e, and Karen. And Karen, it is NOT true that I'm taller than you! Is it?

Doraine said...

Sounds like a great weekend. I could never handle mummy movies. Even the music from the Twilight Zone gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I did see the mummies in the British Museum in London a few summers back. The tons of rock and other paraphernalia those Brits carted off and shipped home is mind boggling.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

It is, isn't it Doraine. And more and more nations (Greece, Egypt) are demanding that the Brits return their treasures!

Gabriele Campbell said...

That reminds me of some books by German writer Hans Baumann I read as child (back in the 70ies). He had a series about great discoveries like Troy and Mycenae, the tombs of the pharaohs, cave paintings in France and such. (Plus several YA novels; my favourite was the one about a boy who joins Hannibal's elephant corps). Several of his books have been translated into English - including the Egypt one - but are mostly out of print. May be worth looking for them in libraries and used book stores, though.