It’s not just the actors who can be pigeonholed. Authors can have their entire career defined by a single work, sometimes to their chagrin. Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle both came to resent their fictional detectives Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. It proved an even more pervasive problem for one of Doyle’s contemporaries; while some of his non-Holmes stories and interests outside of writing are still remembered, hardly anyone knows bram stoker for everything except Dracula.
This level of notoriety was slow to come to the book, and Stoker didn’t live to see his creation define his legacy or to leave any thoughts on such a development. But if horror fiction is to be its mark on the ages, then we could at least broaden our view of that mark. For in addition to defining the image of the vampire for the modern age, another of Stoker’s novels shaped the conception of another classic movie monster – the Mummy.
Stoker’s literary production beyond the before and after Dracula received modest attention at best during his lifetime and virtually none since. The comments that have been attracted to it are often dismissive (The Lair of the White WormStoker’s latest novel, has been excoriated by no less than HP Lovecraft). The only exception, up to a point, is The jewel of the seven stars. To like Dracula, it is a work of Imperial Gothic, a fusion of ancient horrors and romantic themes with then-contemporary Victorian society. To like Dracula, it follows a small group led by an elderly scientist in a supernatural enterprise, with a central role played by the female member. And like Draculait represented Stoker’s turn into a popular trend in British culture at the time.
In the case of The jewel of the seven stars, this trend was Egyptomania. Vampires had a modest cultural presence before Draculabut Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign sparked a craze for treasures, monuments and mummies that still lingered when Stoker began to write The jewel of the seven stars. Stolen artifacts were collected by the European elite, archaeologists strove to decipher the secrets of the pharaohs, and thousands of words of fiction were written about the mummies. The idea that these preserved corpses could somehow be reanimated, for good or ill, has become a popular topic for gothic fiction at all times. Jane Wells Webb Loudon pioneered both mummy fiction and science fiction with her novel The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, Edgar Allan Poe usurped the whole concept in “A few words with a mom.” Conan Doyle even dabbled in mummy fiction, introducing the idea of the mummy as a threat into “Lot No. 249.”
As he did with DraculaStoker synthesized building tendencies in Gothic fiction by The jewel of the seven stars while adding its own flourishes. Ancient curses on the tombs of Egyptian royalty were nothing new even in 1903, the year the book was published. Neither does the idea of a female mummy; many a first effort turned to love and sex. But Tera, Queen of Egypt, was more than a sovereign buried with a cursed tomb. She was a witch with power over the lords of the upper and lower worlds, convinced that she could be resurrected and thus chosen for death while still in her prime. Her return was to be brought about by occult practices, but although mummified, Tera was still able to project her astral body to do her will, and she may have taken an extra step to restore herself.
The discovery of Tera’s tomb by Professor Abel Trelawney coincides with the death of his wife and the birth of their daughter Margaret. Without ever confirming it, the novel implies throughout that Margaret is either a reincarnation of Tera, or gradually possessed by her. A shy young woman and devoted child, Margaret has no knowledge of Egyptology at the beginning of the book. When her father is injured and plunged into a coma in inexplicable circumstances, she is as in the dark as everyone else. When Professor Trelawny wakes up and explains his goal – to complete the ritual that would revive Tera – Margaret’s personality begins to change. It should be noted that she bears a great physical resemblance to Tera, but she suddenly and intuitively knows key facts about the instruments needed for the rites. She voices Tera’s likely wishes with great assurance. She grows distant from her lover Malcolm Ross, the novel’s narrator, a change that leads Ross to suspect Tera’s potential influence when Trelawney and his co-workers become too engrossed in their experience. At times, Margaret becomes cold and overbearing. On the night of the experiment, she gives instructions and gives her assent as if she were Tera herself. In the novel’s original ending, after a storm upends the ritual, Ross is left as the sole survivor. In the initial darkness, he retrieves what he suspects to be Margaret’s body; when the light is restored, he finds Margaret dead along with her father and the others, but all that remains of Tera’s mummy are the wedding clothes Margaret had dressed her in.
Ross expresses another concern about the audacity to attempt Tera’s resurrection – the collision between the ancient world and Victorian society. The fact that the looting of ancient tombs would bring misfortune to the adventurers behind such desecration was a popular element in mummy stories, but in the form of a curse resulting in death. Ross fears a clash of civilizations. Professor Trelawney surmises that Tera and her followers have stumbled upon forces comparable to anything modern science knows and perhaps beyond, challenging any notion of modern society’s superiority. And Tera’s successful return through her prescribed sorcery would challenge an even more fundamental tenet of the British Empire’s view of itself. “If… the old gods held their strength,” Ross wonders, “where was the supremacy of the new?
It’s a question Ross never gets an answer to; The jewel of the seven stars ends abruptly with the discovery of the corpses and the disappearance of Terra. When the book was republished in 1912, Stoker swapped a happy ending where Ross and Margaret got married wearing Tera’s wedding dress, any disastrous implications for Christianity or the Empire being forgotten rather than lingering for piss off Victorian readers. The book is weaker for change. The happy ending provides a showcase for its one major flaw: banal prose through voice or Ross, who has little personality and no role in the story except to be an amorous watcher. But the plot it observes and tells is a solid piece of gothic horror with engrossing mythology, delightfully spooky moments, and strong concept (with uneven execution) in the connection between Tera and Margaret.
That The jewel of the seven stars received a reissue suggests that it enjoyed some success and attracted some polite reviews. It didn’t make many waves either, and the weather Dracula went from popular book to cinematic sensation in 1931, Jewel lay in the dark with the rest of Stoker’s non-vampiric writing. And yet, when the success of Dracula and Frankenstein universal conduit to do The Mummy in 1932, the resulting film contained more than a few of the same ideas that Bram Stoker had put into his novel. There was the tension between the trust of British archaeologists and the ancient practices they unearthed; a romance threatened by the effect of occult powers on the woman in the relationship; said woman being a potential reincarnation or vessel for long-deceased Egyptian royalty; and performing life-threatening rituals to bring a mummy back to life.
The Mummy is often referred to as a universal monster with no pre-existing source material, and none have been credited. But the last significant contribution to mummy fiction before Universal’s film was The jewel of the seven stars. And Stoker’s innovations with reincarnation and threatened romantic relationships continued to be referenced in Universal’s later mummy films of the 1940s and by Stephen Sommer The Mummy from 1999. They surfaced in Hammer’s mummy pictures of the 50s and 60s, which included among them a loose adaptation of Jewel as Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb (the only one of the rare adaptations of Jewel worth watching). Even those of 2017 The Mummy keep track of these ideas.
It’s an obscure influence that Stoker had on the mummies subgenre, one that largely went unnoticed, and perhaps he would have lamented the lack of recognition. But in the world of gothic fiction, an invisible force guiding perceptions and representations isn’t so inappropriate.
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