Monday, November 05, 2007

#05 the Curse of the Mummy's Tomb

#05 the Curse of the Mummy's Tomb
Front Tagline: What will wake the dead?
Back Tagline: Something Dead Has Been Here....

Official Book Description:
Gabe just got lost-- in a pyramid. One minute, his crazy cousin Sari was right ahead of him in the pyramid tunnel. The next minute, she'd disappeared.
But Gabe isn't alone. Someone else is in the pyramid, too.
Someone. Or some thing.
Gabe doesn't believe in the curse of the mummy's tomb. But that doesn't mean that the curse isn't real.
Does it?

Brief Synopsis:
"Call me Ishmael."
"This is the saddest story I've ever heard."
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
Let us add to the list of great opening lines this bon mot:
"I saw the Great Pyramid and got thirsty."

Whiny 12 year-old Gabe is spending Christmas vacation in Egypt with his parents. Being in a desert and all, he asks for something to drink. His mom replies that they came to Egypt to see the pyramids, not get something to drink. Obviously he should have thought about getting thirsty before leaving America. Gabe's father quizzes him on how the pyramids were built. Gabe guesses with trucks. Now admittedly this is a bad guess and his father is right to mock him, but his father scoffs and claims the ancient Egyptians didn't even have a wheel. O R.L.Y?

Gabe's parents own a refrigeration company, so they're actually in Egypt for business (they don't have refrigeration businesses in Egypt?), not pleasure. I know, you're reading this entry and saying to yourself, "How can they possibly go to Egypt and not include a scientist relative?" Don't worry, not only do the refrigerationists get to see the pyramids, but they also get to drop in on their archaeologist relative, Uncle Ben! Aunt Jemima: unable to attend.

Back in al-Jizah (better known to most as Giza, but I guess kids love proper arabic), Bob Harris Gabe tries to relax in the hotel room, but the TV doesn't show anything in English. Gabe's parents get a call-- there's a refrigeration emergency in Alexandria, they have to rush out on a plane that leaves in an hour! A refrigeration emergency. They give Gabe an option: He can go with them to exciting Alexandria, or stay in boring Cairo with Uncle Ben. Gabe elects to stay with the archaeologist, even though he doesn't get along with Ben's twelve year-old daughter, Sari.

Since Uncle Ben is on his way to pick up Gabe, Gabe's parents leave him alone in the hotel so they can catch their plane. As he's waiting, Gabe removes from his jeans pocket a mummy's hand. Gabe had bought the grotesque bauble at an American garage sale several years ago and for whatever reason he just carries it around with him. He hears someone breaking into his hotel room: it's a mummy! Gabe throws the mummy hand at the mummy, who is revealed to actually be Uncle Ben in a mummy disguise! His cousin Sari and Uncle Ben start cracking up because... I don't know, maybe you had to be there.

Uncle Ben reveals that he's in such a good mood because he and his team have just discovered a secret burial chamber inside one of the Great Pyramids. And the best news of all is that both Gabe and Sari get to accompany him into the tombs because there are no other options. I dunno, seems like there are limitless options beyond taking twelve year-old children into a dangerous ancient tomb.

Uncle Ben treats the kids to dinner in the hotel lobby. As they eat, Uncle Ben prepares the kids for their adventure by giving out even more facts about the Pyramids, most of which sound made up.

The next morning the three trek down to the Pyramid. Uncle Ben flashes a guard his badge and the three prepare to head inside, but first Ben poses the following amazing question to Gabe:

"You don't believe in curses, do you? You know-- the ancient Egyptian kind."

Ben alerts the kids that his workers may have violated an ancient Egyptian decree and unleashed a curse. He also warns the two about getting lost in the tunnels several times, so the element of surprise is not really in play here. Each of the three are armed with halogen flashlights and the temperature drops significantly once inside the giant stone building.

As they walk along the dark corridor, Uncle Ben gives even more Pyramid facts. Since his crews just cut holes from one room to the next, there aren't any accessible stairwells that lead to the new chamber, so the only way to get to the room below is via a rope ladder. Ben goes down first so he can shine his light up at the entrance, and Gabe, wanting to show off for Sari, jumps confidently onto the rope ladder. However, he wasn't expecting the rope to be coarse and he draws his hands away in pain. Too bad Uncle Ben didn't spend all this time giving out facts about rope ladders, otherwise Gabe would have known that you have to hold onto them. Gabe falls down to his doom until Sari saves the day by grabbing his hand and guiding him back to the rope ladder. Uncle Ben tells Gabe to take his time and eventually all three make their way down the lower part of the Pyramid.

Gabe's shoelaces keep coming untied, and Uncle Ben makes a lot of really bad (as though there were other kinds?) mummy jokes as the three trek thru a downhill passage. This passage leads to a forked passage and Uncle Ben leads them through a tight, claustrophobic passage that they have to walk through sideways. This leads to the Northwest Passage, and the three enjoy some nice Universal Healthcare. Eventually they find themselves in a large, cavernous room with a high ceiling. Spotlights hooked up to generators hang from the walls, revealing four of Uncle Ben's workers excavating the tomb, plus one noticeably non-helpful Egyptian dressed in all white with a red kerchief. Uncle Ben introduces this quiet ponytailed figure as Ahmed, a man from "university" there to serve as a consultant on ancient curses.

Uncle Ben turns his attention to his workers and Gabe directs Sari's attention to the dirt inside the pyramid. This is one of the earliest books in the series and as such, it runs about twenty pages longer than most other Goosebumps books. Don't worry, the extra space isn't used to flesh-out the characters or clarify the plot. If that stuff was included, how would there be room for half a page of two kids looking at dirt? Sari yearns for more excitement and talks Gabe into exploring the pyramid. She insists that it's safe because she did it yesterday and all the passageways eventually lead back to the main room. Of course as soon as they make their way down a passage and Gabe turns around, Sari disappears.

Gabe continues walking down the tunnel, convinced that Sari is playing a trick on him. He comes across a small square room with a stone casket inside. Slowly the painted lid of the case slides off and Gabe sees the eyes of the creature within. If any of you think it's a mummy inside this coffin and not Sari, you're not old enough to read this blog. Sari throws a fit of hysterics at spooking her cousin. Uncle Ben barges in and yells at the two about wandering off in the pyramid, only to join in the laughter when Sari fills him in on her prank. Gabe sulks like an Egyptian and follows Ben and Sari out of the tomb.

The next morning, the three are eating breakfast in their hotel room. There's an extended passage about Arabic Frosted Flakes and other cultural references about one step removed from a Yakov Smirnoff routine are made. Uncle Ben has to conduct a little business inside the Cairo Museum, but proposes the two kids tag along so they can wander the museum while he works. No sooner is this mentioned than it is dashed away by a phone call. Apparently two of Uncle Ben's workers have fallen mysteriously ill and he has to go visit them in the hospital. He sternly tells the two kids to stay put in the hotel (they can leave the room if they want but not the hotel itself) until he gets back. As soon as he's gone Gabe tries to show off for Sari by proposing they go to the Cairo Museum on their own. Gabe writes a note for his uncle and the two head out.

Inside the giant museum, Gabe teaches Sari about the grotesque methods the Egyptians used to prep a dead body for mummification. Gabe lays it on pretty thick as he describes the Walter Freeman-esque process of first inserting a hook into the eyesocket or nostril of the corpse and then stirring the brain around until it's pliable to be scooped out with a spoon. This is all mostly accurate from what I remember from the semester-long Egyptian unit I took in fifth grade (oh the perks of being in the gifted and talented program--though I recall Steve Martin's "King Tut" playing a larger part than it should have in the curriculum), although Gabe starts to embellish around the time he gets to the part where the Egyptians would occasionally cut off a head and let the brains drain out through the neck (which is to say I don't remember that rhyming couplet).

Ahmed shows up at the museum and spooks the kids. They run away from him but he catches up with them and claims that Uncle Ben sent him to take them back to the hotel. Even though they  walked only two blocks to the hotel, Ahmed insists they drive back in his station wagon. Ahmed drives away in the opposite direction of the hotel, kidnapping the children.

Inside the car, Gabe signals to his cousin to run out whenever Ahmed stops. The plan works and the kids run like the dickens into the busy streets of Cairo, eventually seeking solace in a department store. The two are relieved to have escaped Ahmed's clutches but begin to panic when they realize they're lost in Cairo. They hail a cab and tell the driver to go to the Cairo Hotel but the driver doesn't pull out. He just sits in the front seat laughing at the kids. Not quite getting the joke, the kids begin to panic, fearing that the driver is in cahoots with Ahmed. Still laughing, the cabbie points through the windshield at the Cairo Hotel. Sari and Gabe trot up to their room and make it inside just before Uncle Ben arrives.

Ben's clearly distraught over the mysterious illness of his workers-- they won't reveal anything to him, leading him to suspect something wicked is afoot. He tells the kids that he gave the rest of his workers the day off but he simply must go back to the pyramid and investigate. He proposes the kids wait for him inside the hotel room but they fear Ahmed might return. Uncle Ben reluctantly agrees to take the two kids with him.

Outside the pyramid, Uncle Ben clips special pagers to their belts. In case the kids get lost or need to score a quarter-bag, they can press a button on the beeper and the device will transmit a homing device for their uncle. Before entering the pyramid, Gabe pauses to make sure he has the mummy hand in a segment that exists because only there is not yet technology in place that allows RL Stine to simply come up behind the reader and hit him or her in the back of the head.

Not like three minutes into the pyramid, Gabe gets lost. He stopped to tie his shoe and then when he looked up the other two were gone. He resists hitting the panic button because he thinks he can catch up with them. He comes across the fork in the path from earlier and he of course enters the wrong passageway and falls through the stone floor, crashing into a hidden burial room. As he looks up from the rubble he spots a mummy standing at attention, motionless against the opposite wall. Gabe gets up and shines his flashlight around the huge room-- the auditorium-sized room is at least twice as tall as the tomb being excavated by Uncle Ben's team.

Inside there are dozens of mummies in various positions and a table with the tools used to prepare the mummies. Gabe shines his light on a dark square in the floor the size of a swimming pool. He walks closer and discovers the dark spot is a pool of molten tar. Gabe questions how the tar could possibly be soft after all this time locked away in the crypt. Finally he's had enough adventure and decides to beep his uncle. Unfortunately, the fall crushed the pager. Gabe is on his own. It gets worse for Gabe as he becomes aware that parts of the room are moving. It's not the mummies though-- it's scorpions. A wave of the dangerous insects convenes across the floor and rushes towards a frantic Gabe. In his panic, Gabe trips and falls headfirst into the pile of scorpions.

Remember when there were only no sets of footprints in the scorpion pile? That was when Sari was carrying Gabe. Somehow, in a move that requires a suspension of disbelief that's pushing it, even for a Goosebumps book, Sari also got lost and also made her way into the cavernous room and just happened to grab onto Gabe just as he was falling into the scorpions. The two make their way to a non-Virgin Killer-occupied area of the tomb and Sari explains that she got split up from her father too and that he was so mad at Gabe for getting lost. Gabe reasons that she's lost too and that Ben will get over it once he sees the tomb. Sari directs Gabe to the tunnel entrance in the corner of the room that she came thru and the two make their way over. Gabe makes Sari page for her Dad so they can be saved. Shortly after beeping her father, Sari sees a light coming through the tunnel. Of course it's not Uncle Ben but Ahmed. And he has a torch.

Ahmed tells the kids that he tried to warn Sari's father about the curse, but he just wouldn't listen. See, the kids have violated the Sacred Chamber of Priestess Khala, and violating a sacred chamber comes at a price, and unlike a museum, there is only one suggested donation: death. Ahmed reveals that he tried to scare Uncle Ben's workers to prove that the curse was alive by showing them what it would feel like to be boiled alive in the tar pit. Ahmed in his duty as the descendant of Khala has punished all who entered the tomb. He reveals that the dozens of mummies inside the tomb consist mostly of recent violators of Priestess Khala's chamber-- and they were mummified alive! Now I know that wasn't part of Steve Martin's song.

Ahmed draws a dagger and makes his way towards the children. Gabe suggests making a run for it when a rope ladder drops from the ceiling. Uncle Ben swoops down and confronts Ahmed. Ahmed declines Uncle Ben's genial offer to go somewhere else and discuss the rampant murders Ahmed has committed. In an argument that could only come from a Goosebumps parent (in more ways than one), Ben tries to reason with Ahmed: "Ahmed, you are a scientist, and so am I." Somehow the Brotherhood of Man approach fails and Ahmed declines Ben's offer to handle the situation "scientist to scientist," opting instead to hit Ben as hard as he can in the head with his torch. Holy.

Sari runs over to her Uncle's bloody body and begs Ahmed to let them go. Ahmed pulls the torch back and swings it behind him, letting it drop into the tar pit. The pit bursts into bright flames. Ahmed turns around as a watched tar pit never boils and tells the kids they're going to have to wait for it to heat up. Had Ahmed bothered to preheat the tar pit, this book could be over right now.

Ahmed hoists Uncle Ben's body into a stone sarcophagus and closes the lid. Gabe worries that if he's still alive, Ben might not have enough air inside the coffin. He quickly stops worrying about Ben when he and Sari get shoved into a rotting, wooden coffin of their own. In a remarkable case of missing the point, Gabe notes that the coffin he's sharing with his cousin is filled with gross bugs. Hey Gabe, you know what's a little worse: being shoved in a coffin with bugs and then being boiled alive in tar. Prioritize.

Sari and Gabe are locked in a coffin, about to be murdered. The situation is pretty tense, so naturally there has to be an absurd, insulting moment of pure plot convenience. Sari and Gabe hear a rustling inside their coffin. No, it's not a mummy. It's not even the bugs. It's Uncle Ben. Inside their coffin. What.

See, the Egyptians built their caskets with escape hatches in the bottom so the soul can escape. Ahmed is so wrapped up in chanting an ancient spell that he didn't even notice Ben slipping out the hatch and into the other coffin. So the three are just sitting inside the rotting coffin, shooting the breeze about all of this. Ben tells the kids that Ahmed has slipped out of the tomb and the three slide out the secret coffin passage. They trot across the tomb and almost make it out when they spot Ahmed's torchlight. Ahmed draws his dagger and forces them backwards towards the tarpit. Finally he has them lined up with their backs facing the bubbling pit. He tells the family that they will have to jump one by one into the pit, which is still burning with a low flame over the boiling surface.

In a moment of panic, Gabe pulls out the mummy's hand from his jeans and lifts it above his head. Ahmed flips and cries out that it's the Hand of the Priestess. Ahmed starts chanting in a foreign language. Behind him all of the mummies in the room begin to move. They slowly scrape their way towards Ahmed. Ahmed circles around and cries out in horror. He throws the torch at an advancing mummy. The mummy bursts into flames but keeps walking towards Ahmed. A group of mummies foists Ahmed over their heads and lifts him above the tar pit. The family looks away as the mummies drop Ahmed into the pit. Strangely, when they open their eyes, the mummies are back to their original positions and they spot Ahmed running through the tomb's exit in terror.

But the Twist is:
Back at the hotel, Gabe is toying around with his mummy's hand. Jokingly he cries out to the ancient spirits, summoning them to life. Sari and Gabe hear a knock on the hotel door. When they go to answer, they discover... Gabe's parents are back. So while this book may have ended without event, the real twist is on all of us as there's still another 118 pages to spend with these characters in the book's sequel, Return of the Mummy... I guess that means it's not a wrap, huh?

the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Gabe and his cousin Sari, who disappears into a pyramid a quarter of the way thru the book, and then again three-fourths of the way thru the book.

Questionable Parenting For Sari,
Questionable Legal Guardianing for Gabe:
Upon being frantically told that Ahmed is going to kill his daughter and nephew, Ben pauses to confirm the story with the murderer.

Minority Alert:
All central characters are Egyptian. This must be an early title.

Religion Alert:
When she's locked in a coffin, about to be boiled alive, Sari quietly prays, although in fairness that's the exact scenario that instigates most last-minute conversions.

Get Off the Stage! Alert:
"You don't get down from a camel," I said. "You get down from a duck."

Early 90s Cultural References:
Indiana Jones, Super Nintendo, Game Boy

Foreshadowing Alert:
At the end of the first chapter, Gabe reveals that he will eventually get sealed inside the pyramid, "probably forever." Probably not.

Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Ch. 14/15:
Gabe feels two hands grab his shoulders: A mummy! No, because that's slightly plausible Gabe: it's your cousin.

Great Prose Alert:
My tongue was the size of a salami and hanging down to the floor just like Elvis's.

Just because mummies are slow doesn't mean a book about them should be. After a while, I was cursing more than the mummy's tomb.


Anonymous said...

Wow, this book sounds so...boring.

Anonymous said...

Haha, genius! I know Goosebumps are kids books but that book sounds so unbelievably stupid . . . I'm just imagining this giant, salami sized tongue right now, lol.

Anonymous said...

Yay! Two new entries this week.

Was the jack o lantern one a Halloween gift? In any case, thanks!

troy steele said...

Yup it was, and with this entry the blog is back on normal schedule, meaning next update will be Monday November 19th!

Zak said...

Wow, that's my birthday! I'll have something to look forward to!
AWESOME choice for great prose, lmao.

BTW troy, I'm not sure if it's not there or I just can't find it, can you tell me your email address?
If you don't wanna disclose it that's fine, I just have a few questions and didn't wanna derail the subject of any entry :)

Alex said...

Oh man, the gifted program. That mummy unit was second only to rockets. But we got to mummify and bury a chicken in mine...

And it's pretty amazing to me, reading this entry now, because this was the second or third book in the series I had read. So I wasn't really invested in the series then, and somehow after reading the book I saw something in it that made me think "yeah, I'm gonna keep up with this series". I even remember some long descriptions of the airport in Cairo. How could I like both this and ninja turtles?

troy steele said...

My e-mail can be found by clicking on my name above to see my Blogger profile.

Anonymous said...

Awesome entry.

I'm with Alex; I liked this book back in the day. I can still remember Gabe trying to play his Game Boy near the Pyramids, as well as he and Sari looking at the menu in Arabic.

That said, I did not remember that the Egyptian translation for "mummy hand" is apparently "deus ex machina."

LOL @ "Ahmed, you are a scientist, and so am I."

Also, the Onion recently did an article about R. L. Stine making shocking revelations about a character:

Anonymous said...

The refrigerator business is classic. It's just so bad of a plot filler that I actually had to look up whether or not this was at all plausible, by the way it's not.

Anonymous said...

That Onion article reminds me; Troy I can't wait until you start reviewing the Living Dummy books. Slappy is the greatest villain Stine ever created (in a sea of horrible villains) and those books were all really good, esp. the first one. But don't worry, I'm sure you'll find something in them to make fun of.

Anonymous said...

R.L. Stine's villains had a thing for threatening the protagonists with "forever," and when I remember how interminable some of these books felt, it's almost as though they were out to get me, as well. I'm lucky to have survived this series.

Also, the fact that the mummy(s) in question didn't even appear until the 11th hour leaves me feeling rather gypped...or should I say, Egypped?

*crickets chirp*

Thank you, I'm here all week!

troy steele said...

Eric, you're like that kid who unwraps his Christmas present early, as I already made an "egypped" joke in the forthcoming Return of the Mummy entry. Did you really think I would have passed up the opportunity to make that pun? You gotta remember, I had to spread terrible Egypt jokes over two books.

vancedancougar said...

Wow. This entry is officially awesome for having a Scorpions reference. Hell yes.

Anonymous said...

I tell you, this was one of the Goosebumps with a misleading cover, though the worst cover was Deep Trouble...did a shark actually appear in that story?!

In retrospect, Stine seemed to be experimenting with writing an adventure story, as opposed to a horror one. Though this was disappointing to me as a kid, it's definately better than the sequel, which actually DID feature the mummies more heavily. Go figure.

Groggy Dundee said...

I read this one in the Barnes and Noble today. I hadn't read it since I was a kid, and I actually liked it. Stine's writing is much better than usual, besides some awkward bits of prose - I liked "it was a crackling sound, like two saltines being broken in half" - and there's a lot of padding. But it was well-written and reasonably suspenseful. I liked the ending too, I have to admit.

Observant said...

Thought you might be interested to know that someone has used your blog (minus the jokes) as the wikipedia page for this book.
I would look into that if I were you.

Anonymous said...

omjesus i love me some Ishmael! :D

Anonymous said...

But actually, the Egyptians didn't have a wheel. The pyramids were built in the Old Kingdom, and they didn't get the wheel until the Hyksos invasion, in the Middle Kingdom.
Sorry... haha I just learned about that in school.

Pizza said...

I remember literally dozing off and falling asleep a few times when I read this one as a small boy. It just didn't have that creepy feeling that made the other Goosebumps books so enjoyable. However, I would read this book again solely for my interest in anything to do with Ancient Egypt.

Anonymous said...

benny here. i read this one and its like any other goosebumps book except it was boring and who wants to read about egypt?! also the tv version even made it worse. the worse of the series. but thats only my opinion 4/10 not good.

Anonymous said...

You shut up, I love that "You don't get down off an x, you get down off a duck" joke. :(

Unknown said...

cool book...

Gillty said...

Actually, I'd say that the questionable parenting is the fact that Gabe's parents left him with Uncle Ben. Uncle Ben's questionable parenting is leaving two 12 year old kids by themselves at a hotel. Everyone knows that kids don't listen when an adult tells them to stay put and not go anywhere. Hell even teens do the exact opposite of what they're told to do.

Anonymous said...

"Sari runs over to her Uncle's bloody body and begs Ahmed to let them go." Uncle Ben is her father.

Not really important though and still enjoyable

Ram27 said...

I'm disappointed that one guy isn't doing those "that's what she said" lines anymore.

Anonymous said...

You are so funny! I just found this blog, re-directed from TvTropes (yeah, I'm an insomniac, gotta fill the time somehow!) and I'm just adoring every minute of it. I'm like 30, but I had all these books when I was a kid (the Pogs too, I fear) and loved them. Now I realize they SUCKED. Your synopses are a delight and you've got a great sense of humor. Thank you for filling the wee hours with some laughter for me.

Plumbuc Leadfinger said...

This is the Goosebumps book I remember the least from my childhood. The only detail I could recall was the name. Not the plot, not the characters, not even the cover art.