Fits of Nostalgia: Goosebumps #5
This is my favorite one so far, which was unexpected. It’s fun, and it has a lot of legit scare factors - especially when you consider the target audience. It’s not the most original concept, and the setting sometimes makes the story feel like more of an adventure than horror, but none of those things work against it. This book is also remarkable because it’s characters were all people of color. Gabe and Sari could be really frustrating at times, but their actions were very much in line with those of most insecure 12-year-old kids. They also proved to be more dynamic than many in this series, each showing some significant growth by the end of the book. I can’t wait to see how they retract into their worst behaviors for the sequel.
Observations & Spoilers
It doesn’t get much cooler than having an archaeologist uncle who takes you along to restricted dig sites in the Ancient Egyptian pyramids. OK, maybe it isn't as cool as getting lost in Jurassic Park with Dr. Grant, but it's up there. My point is that it’s hard to feel bad for Gabe and his predicament of also having to deal with his annoying know-it-all cousin, Sari. Gabe’s the nervous sort who’s desperately trying to prove that he’s not, and Sari has an almost pathological need to be the best at everything. Thankfully these traits are used to accentuate each character growth by the end of the book.
The second act of the book really kicks things into high gear, when Gabe and Sari are kidnapped by Ahmed. This would be a scary event in any setting, but having it happen in an unfamiliar city in a foreign country make it all the more terrifying. When they finally do get away and realize they are lost, the fear continues to pile on. My favorite thing about this book is that once Stine lays on the gas, he doesn’t let up. The tension from the attempted kidnapping and on continues to build into a creepy and unsettling climax.
In order to get to the climax, Uncle Ben had to make a bad decision. The kind that too many horror movies rely on their characters making. After finding out one of his assistants tried to kidnap his daughter and nephew, and potentially tried to poison the other members of the dig crew, Uncle Ben decides to go back to the pyramid with two 12 year-old kids to handle things himself. Not a good decision, but it’s the one he made. Usually these ‘character makes incredibly stupid decision in order to move the plot’ moments infuriate me, but sometime they don’t. Luckily for Uncle Ben, this was one of the exceptions. I’ll chalk it up to a forgivable offense.
The story culminates in a showdown with Ahmed, who believes he is carrying out the will of the ancient priestess, Khala. Gabe, Sari, and Uncle Ben get trapped in different sarcophagi, and Ahmed tells them they’re going to be mummified alive for violating the sacred chambers of Khala. The idea of getting mummified alive is a scary concept regardless of one’s age, and especially so if you’re incredibly claustrophobic like I am. This is the part where that mummy hand that Gabe has been carrying around as a good luck charm, that he bought at an American garage sale, becomes important just as it was foreshadowed to. It turned out to be the actual Hand of the Priestess, and ended up saving everyone's asses. My one gripe with this is that it would have made way more sense for Gabe to have found it in the first few chapters while exploring the pyramids rather than a garage sale back in the US.
Dollar Store Mummy Hands.
Now, Gabe had the mummy hand from the beginning. So it wasn't a contrivance so much as heavy handed foreshadowing. I didn’t think much of a 12 year-old carrying a mummy hand as a good luck charm because I assumed it was the size of a key chain. When we find out it’s the actual Hand of the Priestess, we realize that Gabe has been carrying around an actual mummified human hand this whole time. I can’t decide if the priestess Khala had especially tiny hands, or if Gabe has been carrying around a severed mummy hand that’s roughly the size of his own. Anyway, the hand allowed Gabe to bring all of the mummy’s in the chamber to life, after which they promptly turned on Ahmed, which in turn allowed everyone to escape to a happy ending. Seriously; this is one of the few Goosebumps books with an actual happy ending.
Actual Mummy Hand, for the sake of comparison.
Questionable good luck charms and Uncle Ben's bad decision aside, this really is my favorite one so far. I'm surprised it doesn't have more love.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 point each. I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are Concept (the overall idea), Execution (the mechanics of storytelling), Character (the protagonists, antagonists, and villains), Scare Factor (from a childhood standpoint), and Originality (subversion and reliance on genre tropes). Based on GoodReads aggregate ratings, The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is ranked 24th of 62, placing it in the middle high tier of the series.
The concept is pretty solid and throws in some unexpected twists. It’s a nice mix of adventure and horror. Having the book set in a foreign country added an element of excitement and mystique that hasn’t really been present in the rest of the books.
Gabe’s mummy hand being a tad contrived. I think it would have been cooler if he found it in the first chapter and kept it to himself, or stole it from somewhere. Just happening to find it at a garage sale in America and bring it with him was a bit of a stretch. At least it was there from the beginning, though. The main reason I'm docking a point here is Uncle Ben going back into the pyramid alone with 2 kids rather than reporting the kidnapping attempt and potential poisoning of his crew to some form of authority falls under “reliance on character stupidity to further the plot.” Otherwise it was really well paced. It followed the Stine 3 act formula but but it had nice high stakes from the middle onward.
This was the first Goosebumps book in the series to have have characters identified as people of color. I phrase it that way because a lot of the kids and their families in this series are deliberately vague in this specification; leaving the reader to fill in the blank from what they know. Sari was extremely petty, and Gabe made some stupid decisions based on saving face, which is frustrating as an adult but makes sense for a kid that age. The most important thing though is that they were dynamic. Both Gabe and Sari showed significant growth from the beginning to the end.
Scare Factor: 2/2
Kidnapping, claustrophobia, and of course, mummy’s coming to life. Getting mummified alive is a pretty terrifying prospect for any age group. I think what cuts the tension a bit with this one is that it has an Indiana Jones adventure vibe driving the plot that makes it as exciting as it is scary.
The actual curse turned out to be a fake, but we did get a bunch of Mummys that came to life in the end. There’s nothing strikingly original in this one, but it didn’t feel derivative and it didn’t get bogged down by tropes.
TV Adaptation - Bullet Review
There’s no TV adaptation for this one. They did do an episode for the sequel, and they definitely cast white actors for Gabe, Sari, and Uncle Ben. It’ll be a few years before I get to that on this blog though.