Goosebumps #23: Return of the Mummy
Return of the Mummy picks up one year after the events of Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb and sees Gabe returning to Egypt to visit his archeologist Uncle Ben and know-it-all cousin Sari. It’s got some good scares like the first book, and the setting lends itself naturally to a sense of adventure. There were some good comedic bits in there, too. I really liked the fake mummy who was there to shoot a gum commercial. The core characters had a good backstory to build off of from the first book, and no harm was done bringing them back for book two. However, so far as the other characters go… Stine has a tendency to write villains whose motivations are little more than vague notions of world domination. This makes sense to a degree when you consider the strong overlap of Goosebumps readers who religiously watched shows like Power Rangers. Complex villains weren’t exactly something that was sought out by this readership. And yes; I’m counting myself among them. Return of the Mummy felt like a missed opportunity on this front. Without getting into spoilers, the villain(s) had a great setup before stumbling into this vague and predictable cliche. Overall, Return of the Mummy was fine. It was a mild letdown after the first book and lands firmly in the middle of the Goosebumps pack.
ERMAHGERD #23: Return of the Mummy. Photo by Yours Truly with assistance by Lindsay Pacelli. Background Photo: Jerome Bon from Paris, France, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.
Observations & Spoilers
I’m going to start out by saying that Pyramid security is really spotty in these books. They make it way too easy for kids to sneak into them after hours without adult supervision. Something tells me security at the actual Giza Pyramids is a bit tighter than what we see in these books. But where would the fun be in that?
The story opens with Gabe returning to Egypt to visit his Uncle Ben and cousin Sari. Uncle Ben is on the cusp of a huge discovery, as he and his team believe they have located the long-lost tomb of Prince Khor-Ru. Uncle Ben’s partner, Dr. Fielding, is a complete and utter dick. That means he’s the obvious suspect when things start going wrong. Uncle Ben is also busy with a new romantic interest with Nila, a reporter from the Cairo Sun. Even though things seem to be going great, Gabe is uneasy because his trusty mummy hand from the first book (also known as The Summoner) has suddenly grown cold.
One thing that survived the events of Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb is Gabe and Sari’s rivalry. They are just as competitive as ever, always trying to one-up each other. Uncle Ben gives Gabe a gift; a pendant with a cherub beetle encased in amber. Nila has one just like it but without a cherub beetle. Gabe thinks it’s cool. Sari thinks it’s gross. I think (if it’s real) it is way too expensive/priceless to give to a 12-year old as a gift. But such are the plunders of western archeology, am I right? Uncle Ben and his team locate and open Prince Khor-Ru’s tomb, and it is untouched. Their find is historic. The hieroglyphs above the door warn “Let me rest in peace!” The only person who seems concerned about this is Dr. Fielding. But he’s a dick, so we don’t care what he thinks.
That night Uncle Ben translates the spell to bring Prince Khor-Ru’s mummy to life for Nila and the kids. It only needs to be repeated three times. Of course, Sari dares Gabe to say it, and he does. Then they overhear Uncle Ben and Dr. Fielding. The kids follow them as they disappear into the pyramid. They wait outside until Dr. Fielding emerges, seemingly dazed and confused, and without Uncle Ben. Sari and Gabe decide to go into the pyramid themselves. They find Uncle Ben unconscious and stuffed in an empty mummy tomb, which means the mummy must be somewhere…
The mummy walks slowly with creaky, breaking bones. I appreciated this detail. The kids appear to be trapped, but then Nila comes to save them! Only Nila doesn’t do that because she’s really the ancient Egyptian princess and Khor-Ru is her brother. She proceeds to info dump her evil plans to bring her brother back to life and somehow take over the world without getting into details. In spite of having some 4,000 years to plan this, Princess Nila has not done a great job. She commands her resurrected brother to kill the kids, but the mummy goes past them and chokes Nila instead. As the mummy chokes his sister, he tells her ”let me rest in peace!” In English! I guess it’s a good thing the Federation’s Universal Translator works as a plot device for mummies, too?
In spite of Nila wanting to kill them, Gabe tries to stop Prince Khor-Ru from killing her. In doing so, he shatters her amber pendant. Nila cries out in horror and tells Gabe he has killed her! As she is dying, she takes the time to explain to him how. See, she had been turning into a cherub beetle at night and sleeping inside the pendant. That’s how she has managed to stay alive all these years. She then turns back into a cherub beetle and scurries off, never to be heard from again… or did she? Dr. Fielding shows up with the police to rescue them because he was never really the bad guy. He was just a dick with good intentions or something.
Later on, Gabe, Sari, and Uncle Ben are celebrating their survival. Sari warns Gabe that Nila could still be looking for him as a cherub. As Unclue Ben wars, the single bite of a cherub could be deadly. Just as Gabe crawls into bed, he cries out “ouch!” Did she get him? Given the evidence we have, it’s safe to assume Gabe dies a slow agonizing death. Or he doesn’t because scarab beetles eat poop and are otherwise harmless. We may never know for sure, but we do know that there are no sequels after this.
As I lamented at the beginning, I was annoyed by the lack of motive for Nila. She had a great set up to succeed as one of the better villains, but she succumbed to all of the cliches in the end. And in spite of all her info-dumping and explaining things that she didn’t have to, I was left wanting to know more about her and Prince Khor-Ru’s back story. Did the prince have some kind of special powers that she needed? Was there something buried with him that she needed for power? Why was the location of the tomb kept hidden from her? What exactly was her plan? Vague notions of ruling the world are boring! I wanted weird ancient world stuff; motivations that would seem utterly foreign and weird to us. It would have been so much creepier and more interesting.
In the end, Return of the Mummy is a disappointing sequel. It fared better than the first Goosebumps sequel Monster Blood II, which isn’t saying much. Monster Blood II managed to be worse than the first Monster Blood, which itself was not good. I’m curious to see how this will stack up among the other sequels I have yet to read. The next up in that category will be Night of the Living Dummy II.
For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points 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, Return of the Mummy is ranked 47th of 62, placing it in the low-middle tier of the series.
The overall concept was pretty cool; an ancient Egyptian princess seeking to reanimate her brother’s mummified corpse for nefarious purposes. She really needed another purpose other than “to rule the world,” though. I was also left wanting to know way more about Nila and her brother’s past.
Dr. Fielding was clearly set up for you to think he would be the villain, while Nila was intended to be good before the plot twist. I think Fielding needed to be less of a dick and Nila needed to be a bit more suspicious to have pulled this off.
Gabe and Sari return as solid characters, and Uncle Ben works well too. Nila on the other hand is really frustrating. She’s waited 4,000 years to resurrect her dead brother’s corpse so she can take over an empire that hasn’t existed for over a millennium? She needed another, stronger motivation for her actions. This made her very one dimensional when she had the potential to be so much more.
Scare Factor: 2/2
Just like in the first book, this one has plenty of good scares. Claustrophobia, falling into a tomb covered in spiders, reanimated ancient corpses, etc. But where it really delivers is how the adults cannot save the kids and they’re left to fend for themselves.
This could have been a 2 out of 2 if we got a little bit more time with Nila to understand her motives. Instead, she just info-dumped her backstory in a couple of pages, not unlike some previous Goosebumps villains.
TV Adaptation – Bullet Review
• We didn’t get an adaptation of the first (and arguably better) book. But we got Return of the Mummy, and… they whitewashed the main character.
• They made Gabe a white kid. He’s explicitly described as Egyptian-American in the first book. There are very few Goosebumps books that explicitly describe the protagonist as a person of color, and the show felt the need to whitewash it. It was as unnecessary as it was unsurprising.
• The books worked well in part because Gabe is a kid learning about his own ancestry. It’s not just another white kid who thinks mummies are cool. No shade on white kids who are fascinated by ancient history, we just didn’t need this change for that angle here.
• They even credit him as just “Gabe,” leaving off his Egyptian last name: Sabry.
• THEN, on top of all of that, Gabe discovers the tomb. Not his archeologist Uncle. Never underestimate the brilliance of white male mediocrity in a 90s television plot.
• Gabe also had some strong Wesley Crusher vibes. That’s not a compliment. Send my apologies to Will Wheaton because I am genuinely a fan of him.
• This show really did not age well.
• Not bad on set design, and I liked the mummy costume. I’d rock that for Halloween.
• That monotone of the actress playing Princess Nila was rough. It’s not like she had great material to work with, though. Her whole part was essentially an info dump.
• The kids destroyed a ton of precious artifacts escaping the tomb. No one seems concerned about this.
• It’s not clear what threat the Summoner poses by sneaking back into Gabe’s suitcase at the end. I liked the book’s twist ending better.
• Overall, I prefer the Michael Jackson adaptation.
Don’t miss the next post in my Goosebumps blog series:
Goosebumps #24: Phantom of the Auditorium
Coming in February 2021.
Also, be sure to check out the latest from the Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street Super Chiller #5: Silent Night 2