The Curse of the Mummy's Tomb by R. L. Stine
When I was eight, during the summer between third and fourth grade, my parents took my sister and me halfway around the world to the Philippines. The trip was my first venture outside the United States, my first plane ride, and my first time in a country that spoke a completely different language. It wasn’t a random trip to a random country — my mother is Filipina, and we had (and still have) extensive family out there. I spent most of my time running around, exploring the countryside where my family lived on the slope of the Mayon Volcano. My favorite haunt was a dilapidated church and the adjacent graveyard. I was obsessed with the cracked gravestones and the icon of Mary with the faded paint and a chipped hand. Unlike Gabe in Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, I never came face to face with a supernatural creature, but I like to think I had an adventure, albeit a safe one.
R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was an absolute delight to read. This is what I came to Goosebumps for: kids my age (or slightly older) overcoming scary situations with a little dash of humor. While on a trip to his ancestral home of Egypt, our protagonist, Gabe, explores the Great Pyramid of Giza. Gabe is a sweet kid and his uncle, scientist Ben Hassan, is a likable adult who helps his nephew. Gabe’s adversary is his cousin, and Ben’s daughter, Sari, who is charming in her own way. I’m looking forward to exploring this book — this reminder of why I loved these books so much as a kid.
The book starts at the Great Pyramid and a thirsty child. Gabe asks his parents for water.
“We can’t give you a drink now,” she answered, staring at the pyramid. “Stop acting like you’re four. You’re twelve, remember?”
“Twelve-year-olds get thirsty, too,” I muttered. “All this sand in the air, it’s making me gag.”
“Look at the pyramid,” she said, sounding a little irritated. “That’s why we came here. We didn’t come here to get a drink.”
Hey, Mom, you can drink and look at pyramids at the same time. The end of the first chapter surprised me. Instead of a danger that is revealed to not be a danger at all, we have an ominous passage:
“I’m afraid you’ll just have to appreciate the pyramid from the outside,” Dad said, peering over the yellow sand, trying to focus the binoculars.
“I’ve already appreciated it,” I told him glumly. “Can we get a drink now?”
Little did I know that in a few days, Mom and Dad would be gone, and I would be deep inside the pyramid we were staring at. Not just inside it, but trapped inside it, sealed inside it — probably forever.
I’m in. I’m interested. I want to know where the story is going, and I’m happy the first chapter’s cliffhanger wasn’t some fake-out.
Gabe’s dismissive parents are quickly ushered away from the book and our protagonist is left with his Uncle Ben Hassan, an Egyptologist with a daughter, Sari. Gabe has an adversarial relationship with Sari. She treats him like a child despite their identical ages. She has a strained relationship with her cousin, but she has a great relationship with her father — one that sometimes forces Gabe to look at them through an invisible barrier. The father and daughter have inside jokes and play pranks on Gabe. He gets frustrated with them, but, as a reader, I never felt the jokes were too malicious, and I have the notion that Uncle Ben has played these pranks on his daughter and that the source of their inside jokes. He’s trying to pull his nephew into a relationship the only way he knows how — jokes.
Uncle Ben has discovered a new burial chamber in the Great Pyramid and he invites his nephew on a tour. This is where we have our classic horror warning.
Uncle Ben handed us both flashlights. “Clip them into your jeans as we go in,” he instructed. He gazed at me. “You don’t believe in curses, do you? You know — the ancient Egyptian kind.”
I didn’t know how to reply, so I shook my head.
“Good,” Uncle Ben replied, grinning. “Because one of my workers claims we’ve violated an ancient decree by entering this new tunnel, and that we’ve activated some curse.”
This is classic horror. The characters were warned. The strange old man told the teenager to avoid Camp Blood. The fortune-teller told the young jock not to enter the abandoned funhouse. The cheerleader read the stories about the escaped convict who targets babysitters. They were warned, but they continued deeper into the pyramid.
Uncle Ben goes down a rope ladder first, followed by Gabe, who falls off. Sari catches him. She teases Gabe, but she would never let him get hurt.
They reach the bottom of the pyramid and Uncle Ben introduces us to his excavation team — Ahmed, a taciturn man who is obsessed with the curse, Quasimodo, which is a nickname, and Christy. It’s nice to see a woman among the archaeologists. Thank you for the representation, Stine.
Uncle Ben forbids the children from exploring on their own, but the kids do it anyway in typical kid fashion. Sari gets ahead of Gabe and he gets lost trying to find her. He stumbles on a “mummy case.”
Uttering another low cry, I took a step back.
The lid raised up another inch.
I took another step back.
And dropped the flashlight.
I picked it up with a trembling hand and shined it back into the mummy case.
The lid was now open nearly a foot.
I sucked in a deep breath of air and held it.
I wanted to run, but my fear was freezing me in place.
The lid creaked and opened another inch.
I lowered the flashlight to the opening, the light quivering with my hand.
From the dark depths of the ancient coffin, I saw two eyes staring out at me.
This is a fun, scary passage, even though the single-sentence paragraphs make the passage look like a poem. The mummy is just Sari, but I wasn’t mad. I just thought, “Oh, that Sari, always with the pranks.”
Uncle Ben finds the children and admonishes them for running off. The next morning, Uncle Ben leaves the children behind at the hotel after two workers come down with a “mysterious illness.” Sari and Gabe get bored and decide to go to the museum. Gabe goes over the mummification process, complete with brain pulling and intestine yanking, much to Sari’s chagrin. We see that Sari is not impervious to everything around her. Her father is an Egyptologist and she has no problems spelunking in a stuffy pyramid, but she cannot listen to her cousin say things like, “The brain had to come out first. They had this special tool. It was like a long, skinny hook. They’d push it up the corpse’s nose until it reached the brain and then wiggled it back and forth, back and forth, until the brain became mush.” Sari is complicated. Just don’t talk about guts and she’s fine.
They see Ahmed in the museum and after a brief chase scene, Ahmed tells them that Uncle Ben sent him to get the children, so the children get into his car with him. They realize they aren’t heading back to the hotel — they’re being kidnapped! That’s terrifying! Fun fact! When I was a kid, someone tried to kidnap my sister and me, but that’s a story for another review.
The kids jump out of the car and run back to the hotel. Uncle Ben returns and they tell him about their experience with Ahmed. Uncle Ben believes them. He doesn’t imply that they didn’t understand what was happening, he doesn’t dismiss the children. He actually listens to them. Thank you, Stine, for having at least one adult actually listen to a child for once.
Uncle Ben wants to leave the children in the hotel, but Sari and Gabe convince him to take them as he returns to the pyramid. He gives them beepers in case they get separated, and, of course, they get separated. If they didn’t get separated it would be the end of the story. The floor gives out from beneath Gabe and he falls on his beeper, breaking it, but he’s in an undiscovered section of the pyramid.
There were mummies leaning against the wall. Mummies lying on stone slabs, arms crossed over their chests. Mummies leaning at odd angles, crouched low or standing tall, their arms straight out in front of them like Frankenstein monsters.
I realized that I had made an incredible discovery here. By falling through the floor, I had found a hidden chamber, a chamber where mummies had been made. I had found all of the tools and all of the materials used to make mummies four thousand years ago.
That’s creepy — a room full of dead bodies. Sari catches up with Gabe, but Ahmed is close behind. He reveals that the chamber is the “sacred Preparation Chamber of the Priestess Khala” and Ahmed is trying to prevent anyone from trespassing in it. Then he reveals the true identities of the surrounding mummies.
“They were all violators of the Priestess’s chamber,” Ahmed revealed. The thin smile that formed on his face could only be described as a proud smile.
“You mean — they’re not from ancient Egypt?” Sari cried, raising her hands in horror to her face.
“A few of them,” Ahmed replied, still smiling that frightening, cold smile. “A few of them were ancient intruders. Some are quite recent. But they all have one thing in common. They all became victims of the curse. And they all were mummified alive!”
Then he points out the one he did himself! This dude is insane and scary as shit. Uncle Ben finds them and tries to reason with him “scientist to scientist.” Ben, boobala, the man threatened your assistants by showing them what it would be like to be boiled alive. He’s not a scientist. He’s a crazy man with a knife who is threatening your daughter.
Ahmed knocks Uncle Ben out and forces the scientist into a coffin with the children. There’s a little crying and suspense before Uncle Ben wakes up and reveals that every coffin has a trap lever. That’s a little deus ex machina — I wanted the children to figure out a way out for themselves and save their Uncle, or maybe the kids could have observed the trap lever during their trip to the museum. I guess the book can’t be perfect.
The kids and Uncle Ben escape and are forced into a final confrontation with Ahmed. Gabe pulls out a mummy hand that he keeps with him. (This isn’t a deus ex machina — it’s been mentioned.)
Maybe I thought the mummy hand would distract Ahmed.
Or interest him.
Or confuse him.
Or frighten him.
Maybe I was just stalling for time.
Or maybe I was unconsciously remembering the legend behind the hand that the kid at the garage sale had told me.
The legend of why it was called The Summoner.
How it was used to call up ancient souls and spirits.
Or maybe I wasn’t thinking anything at all.
But I spun around and, gripping it by its slender wrist, held the mummy hand up high.
Ahmed stared at it.
But nothing happened.
I waited, standing there like the Statue of Liberty with the little hand raised high above my head.
It seemed as if I were standing like that for hours.
The thought of this kid holding up a mummy hand while everyone around him is just staring at him and shrugging is hilarious. I laughed out loud. If there’s an episode of the television show based on this book, I hope that’s played with a comedic beat. (I just checked — there is no television adaptation of this book.)
But the mummy hand does something eventually — the mummies come to life and chase Ahmed out of the pyramid, allowing Uncle Ben, Sari, and Gabe to escape. Ahmed should have been run into the tar pit, but that might be too gruesome for a kid’s book, even if the book is a horror book.
It ends with the three of them sharing a moment, including a silly pun that will probably be an inside joke among them.
“We’re okay,” Uncle Ben said gratefully, throwing his arms around Sari and me. “We’re okay. We’re okay.”
“We can go now!” Sari cried happily, hugging her dad. Then she turned to me. “You saved our lives,” she said. She had to choke out the words. But she said them.
Then Uncle Ben turned his gaze on me and the object I still gripped tightly in front of me. “Thanks for the helping hand,” Uncle Ben said.
I see what you did there.
Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was a delight. It was scary, funny, and I loved the dynamic between Gabe, his cousin, and his uncle. This is what Goosebumps is all about: a kid overcoming a scary situation with gumption and humor. I had an adventure to an ancestral homeland when I was a kid and, while it didn’t involve any mummies, I keep those treasured memories in a special part of my brain. Gabe’s experience was scary, but he became closer to his uncle and cousin, and now he has a great story to tell. And I enjoyed reading it.For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com. To listen to the official podcast, just visit the website or search for “Rereading My Childhood” in your favorite podcast app. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.