Return of the Mummy
Series number: 23
Number of pages: 118
Release date: September 1994
Tagline: He’s back… from the dead!
Did I Read It as a Child?: No
The Story On the Back
After last year’s scary adventure, Gabe’s a little nervous about being back in Egypt. Back near the ancient pyramids. Back where he saw all of those creepy mummies. Then he learns about an Egyptian superstition. A secret chant that is supposed to bring mummies to life. Gabe’s uncle says it’s just a hoax. But now it sounds like something’s moving in the mummy’s tomb. No way a couple of dumb words can wake the dead. Can they?
The Story On the Pages
Return of the Mummy is a sequel to The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, book five in the Goosebumps series. Like most sequels, it’s not as good as the first one, so on this ranking of mine, it’s got to be introduced first. A pain in the ass to be sure but what else is there to do? Return of the Mummy sucks compares to the The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, so let me walk you through this sequel before you see the original.
Let’s get started with Gabe who is flying into Egypt for his second summer in a row to visit his Egyptologist Uncle and his know-it-all, competitive, younger cousin Sari. Already we’re drowning in inconsistencies. In The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, Gabe is in Egypt over his Christmas break and Sari is said to be two months older than he is. It’s like Stine didn’t keep comprehensive notes on all the Goosebumps books lest he ever write a sequel!
Anyways, Gabe is now in Egypt. Uncle Ben is on the verge of discovering something amazing (but totally inaccurate to history in every single way) within the Great Pyramid. For whatever reason, he thinks it’s appropriate to have children around for this discovery and Gabe and Sari are not only given access to the dig site, but camp out near the pyramid with all the professionals and grad students.
A journalist from the Cairo Sun (totally a real paper guys, no doubt about it) named Nila is also given access to the secret dig site because she’s pretty and Ben no doubt wants to bone her. I mean, it’s fine, his wife has been dead for seven years, so he’s welcome to bone whoever he wants. He just shouldn’t be handing out an all-access pass to ancient Egypt’s wonders because he’s harbouring secret sexy thoughts about Nila.
This all-access pass turns out to be a bad thing (as if no one saw that coming) because Nila is not who she says she is. Nila is not a reporter for a newspaper, she’s actually a four thousand year old princess who’s interested in this dig site because it’s her brother’s tomb their opening up. She wants to raise him from the dead so they can rule Egypt again like they used to.
In terms of ruling like how they did in ancient Egypt, that means brother-sister incest because those wacky ancient Egyptian royals married and reproduced with close siblings more often than not. Gotta keep that royal bloodline pure, after all.
So Nila raises her dead brother with the help of a little trinket that Gabe just happens to carry around that’s actually powerful ancient ju-ju. It’s a little mummy hand on a keychain called the Summoner, able to reanimate the dead to your will. It played a big part in The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb as well.
Just as Gabe and Sari think they’re dead, the mummy of Khor-Ru (that’s the brother) shuffles past them and attacks his own sister because he wanted to rest in peace and she disturbed that. Nila is thwarted! She turns into a scarab beetle and rushes away into the pyramid, never to cause trouble again.
The story ends with Gabe saying “ouch” because he’s been bitten, and we’re led to believe it was Nila as a scarab that did it. Well, the bite of a scarab is said to be a death omen, so Gabe is surely dead and we never have to read another inaccurate Egypt story again! Hurray!
Okay, but seriously now.
This was inaccurate. This was inaccurate to the point that it made me feel ill while I read it. I didn’t mention any of it above because I wanted to condense it all here for your pleasure (I know the sass is everyone’s favourite part).
First things first, Stine is still under the impression that you need tar to make a mummy. The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb introduced the idea that a mummy was made when a body was dunked in tar and then wrapped in bandages. That’s as wrong as wrong could be. I forgave it in the first story for reasons I go over in that article, but I’m not going to stand by and have Return of the Mummy try and tell me that this was actually how a mummy was made!
Mummies were made by a refined process of removing organs/blood, packing the empty cavities of the body with linen, and most importantly, drying the body with salt. This takes the moisture out of the body and the moisture is what causes decay. This, combined with the arid atmosphere of the desert, is what preserves the mummies so well. Dunking them in tar is now just a ruined body covered in tar. That’s of no use to anyone: Egyptian gods admitting people to the afterlife or archaeologists alike.
Next is the fact that this story revolves around a small amber pendant that Ben gives to Gabe. It has a scarab beetle frozen in it and is said to be good luck. Nila has a similar pendant but it doesn’t have the beetle in it, because she herself is the beetle. She’d transform every night and sleep in it to stay young and immortal. That magic element? I’m fine with that. It’s the amber that’s wrong.
Thanks to the Amber Road, that stretched from the Baltic Sea area, through the Mediterranean, and into Egypt, those of wealth could buy the precious material in ancient times. King Tut (born in 1341 BCE) had a breast plate decorated with amber, so we know for sure amber made it that far. The thing is that the amber that Ben gives to Gabe wasn’t formed in Egypt like he claimed.
Amber forms on conifers when the sap hardens and petrifies and Egypt doesn’t have those types of trees. Furthermore, the area where amber formed wouldn’t have had scarab beetles (aka dung beetles) because the little critters don’t do extreme cold. Now the nearby Syria has pine and cedar, and since scarab beetles would have had a better time existing there, it’s possible it could have formed in Syria. The absolute closest this amber came from is Syria, but even that’s unlikely since amber is a rare discovery in Egypt nowadays, even for the wealthy and the royalty, so that implies it was only coming from the Baltic area.
I’ll buy Nila’s amber pendant because there’s a chance as a princess she would have had access to precious materials like amber, but the one that Gabe gets with the scarab beetle preserved in it? There’s no way. So Uncle Ben is clearly using Gabe’s lack of knowledge about geology to rip him off or is just a terrible Egyptologist himself.
I’m going to say the latter because here comes the biggest inconsistency of all; the straw that breaks the camel’s back. This great injustice of lazy, inaccurate history is the mummy that Ben is currently digging up. Prince Khor-Ru, a four thousand year old cousin of King Tut, buried in a pyramid and uber rich.
Does this sound right to you? Well this makes me want to rage vomit.
Ben is claiming that Prince Khor-Ru is four thousand years old but a relative of King Tut? From 1994 (when this book was written) four thousand years back is 2006 BCE. King Tut was born in 1341 BCE. So Stine, you’re telling me that this Khor-Ru guy was a direct cousin of King Tut even though he was born six hundred and fifty nine years before him? Must have been a hell of a time getting together for a family reunion.
You’re also telling me that he was buried in one of the pyramids on the Giza strip? The pyramids built for Khufu, Khafre, and Menkaure and not anyone in Tut’s family? Because the pyramids were constructed over a thousand years before Tut was born. Even by Stine’s faulty logic that Khor-Ru is four thousand years old, that still makes the pyramids over five hundred years older than even him.
Then, just for a second, just on a whim, let’s imagine that the ancient Egyptians did use pyramids for more than one guy and say that Khor-Ru was buried there. This still raises questions! King Tut was found in the Valley of the Kings in the smallest tomb ever discovered. If King Tut had such small burial digs, why was his cousin, who was only ever a Prince, buried in a pyramid? And no, he wasn’t Pharaoh after Tut. When Tut died at age eighteen, his sister-wife Ankhesenamun remarried their vizier Ay, making Ay Pharaoh. Prince Khor-Ru would have remained a nobody.
And nobodies don’t get buried in pyramids!
I was willing to overlook the issue with mummy making in The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb because Stine did a good job of not mentioning anything else that had hard facts attached to it. No names that have specific dates, no myths, legends, or gods, and sure as hell no one as big in history as King Tut!
By the time Return of the Mummy came around though, Stine was foolhardy enough to go in and say whatever he wanted. He had a formula for these books down and he wasn’t going to stray from it. Thing is though, he had no idea what he was talking about!
Listen Stine, I know you wrote Return of the Mummy in 1994, and the internet wasn’t really a thing yet, but books were! Would it have killed you to drop into a library and scribble down some basic facts about pyramids, mummies, and King Tut?
Since Return of the Mummy is a sequel with reoccurring characters, you would assume there would be some character development, but you’d be wrong. Ben and Sari are still playing pranks, Sari is still obnoxious and terrible (even though her age has somehow changed), Gabe is still falling for/getting pouty about every prank pulled or obnoxious thing said, and he’s managing to get lost in the pyramids in the exact same why he did twice before in The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb.
Which is to say he has to stop and tie his fucking shoelaces. Someone strap this kid in with Velcro and let’s all be happier for it!
The only new addition to the cast is Nila but she doesn’t have much going on beyond the fact that she’s pretty and using that to manipulate Ben. Oh! There’s some character development for Ben! We’ve learned he’s shallow and easily manipulated via his penis. But that’s most men so it’s hardly what I would call a “development”.
Spooks and Scares
Return of the Mummy offers nothing new in terms of spooks and scares. The first one had some interesting subversions of classic tropes in it, and since the sequel just does it all again, it’s not entertaining, it’s just lazy rehashing of a story in the exact location with the exact cast of characters that happened only eighteen books ago.
Here are just more long, dark, underground tunnels for Gabe to get lost in. Here are just more tar dipped mummies to come to life because the keychain good luck charm Gabe carries around is real magic. Here is just another human antagonist in a story where you assume the mummy is trouble.
It’s exactly the same as the first, just switch out the male villain in The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb for the female villain in Return of the Mummy. Honestly, I can’t bring to mind any of the “scary” things that happened. The scares from The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb are all very clear in my mind, but besides a part where Gabe ends up covered in spiders, nothing is sticking out in Return of the Mummy.
That’s what you want from your scary stories right? For nothing to be scary enough to remember? And for it to be so inaccurate to basic history and science (cc ancient Egypt) that it will either plant false information in the minds of those that don’t know better to just flat out piss off those that do? That’s what constitutes good storytelling? Because Return of the Mummy has all that in spades!
Or should I say that it has it all wrapped up? You know. Because mummies. Tar mummies. Buried with scarab amber. In the pyramids.
Here comes that rage vomit again…