“The Mummy’s Foot”

This week’s bit of weird fiction being discussed over at LibraryThing.

Review: “The Mummy’s Foot”, Théophile Gautier, trans. Lafcaido Hearn, 1908, 1840. 

This is a light, frothy bit of fiction.

A great deal of it is taken up with the narrator’s description of a Parisian antique shop where he comes across what he first takes to be the beautiful foot left over from some statue. He wants something cheap to use as a paperweight. He’s told that the foot is not from a statute. It’s the mummified foot of Princess Hermonthis. 

Originally the dealer, who looks ancient, tries to charge him 500 francs for it. The narrator says five louis is all he has. The dealer sells it to him and cries out, stridently, upon the sale: “Old Pharaoh will not be pleased.  He loved his daughter, the dear man!” The narrator notes that he sounds as if he knew the Pharaoh personally. 

Taking it home, the narrator has a dream that night after coming home drunk on champagne.

The foot moves about on its stack of papers. Then he sees a figure of “the purest Egyptian type of perfect beauty”. 

It’s Hermonthis, of course. Her figure is missing its foot, and she finds it. It’s always fleeing from her, she says, no matter how well she takes care of it. The foot then speaks giving us a history. 

It seems maybe the dealer did know her in life and bore her a grudge for refusing his marriage offer. He had her foot stolen. 

The narrator apologizes saying he knew none of this and is happy to give her foot back. She takes it. 

Hermonthis says her father will be pleased. She offers to take the narrator to her father. 

We get a nifty account of the two going inside a mountain where there is a vast hall and, of course, Egyptian architecture. 

There are many pharaohs and servants and animals there. The pharaohs are covered with naptha and bitumen from mummification. There are even the earliest pharaohs there, “contemporary with the deluge, and Tubal Cain, who reigned before it”. 

Xixouthros, Hermonthis’ father, is pleased his daughter has her foot back and pronounces the narrator a “brave and worthy lad”. 

What does our hero want in recompense? 

Here Gautier ends on a wry note. The narrator would like to marry Hermonthis. Xixouthros doesn’t go for this because the narrator is just 27 years old. 

Xixouthros then goes on to note that mummification has gotten pretty crappy lately. Unlike him, even people who died 1,500 years ago are dust. Hermonthis will last longer than a bronze statue, and the narrator will turn to dust when he dies and even Isis won’t be able to put him together again. To show how healthy he is, Xixouthros even shakes the narrator’s hand firmly. 

And, at that point, the narrator is woken up by a friend whom he promised to take to an art exhibit. He does notice his mummy foot paperweight has been replaced by a “little green paste idol” Hermonthis left there. 

It’s certainly more humor than horror, but the scene of all the mummified pharaohs still animate does have a wonderous and strange feel to it.

2 thoughts on ““The Mummy’s Foot”

  1. EG July 19, 2020 / 4:04 pm

    I was thinking as I read this that it might make a decent television episode in one form or another. I checked, and there is actually a version of it from way back in 1949. It’s episode No. 4 of a series called “Your Show Time.” It must have been one of the earliest TV series. The only others from that time that I know of are “Lights Out” and “Suspense,” both of which began as radio series.

    As for the television episode of “The Mummy’s Foot,” it takes place in NYC instead of Paris and they’ve made the protagonist a playwright.

    • marzaat July 19, 2020 / 5:10 pm

      Thanks! I will check this out. I’m not sure if the LibraryThing group knows there is a tv adaptation. As for changing the hero from an idle bohemian to a playwright would be fitting given his career. I also found out that, oddly, Gautier is best remembered these days for his critical writing on dance and his ballet scenarios.

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