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Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center

The Sleeper in the Sands by Tom Holland

June 1, 2003

Abacus Books, London
1999 (pb)

“What is it? Can you see anything?”

“Yes. Wonderful things.”

The question was asked by Lord Carnarvon; the answer was given by Howard Carter, as he first gazed upon the candle-lit burial chamber of Tut-ank-Amen.

This may be the most famous dialogue in the history of archaeology and the story of the discovery of the tomb of “King Tut” is certainly one of the most famous. But Tom Holland has taken that oft-told story, retained the historical accuracies, and has woven around that history a wonderfully rich and fantastic supernatural thriller that will keep the reader enthralled into the wee hours of the morning—especially if the roll of thunder and the flash of lightning provides an appropriate ambiance to consider once again the possibility of the “curse of the mummy.”

Tom Holland, a British writer of considerable skill, has done this sort of thing before—taken authentic historical mystery and then deftly interpreted it with an occult explanation. His Lord of the Dead, published a decade or so ago, offered a suggested explanation to Lord Byron’s mysterious disappearance in the Balkans as he fought for Greek independence against the Ottoman Empire—he became a vampire, an Undead. Not for nothing did Bram Stoker place Dracula’s home on a craggy mountain in Transylvania!

Tom Holland is even more imaginative in Sleeper in the Sands as he traces some of archaeologist Howard Carter’s career prior to his famed 1922 discovery. He works in many aspects to that career to serve the ultimate purpose of his book—to provide an “historical” and mythological basis to the “Mummy’s Curse”—including even his sacking from the Egyptian Antiquities Service after a run-in with a particularly loutish group of German tourists. His unemployment puts him in a position to ultimately wind up working for Lord Carnarvon, who financed the search for Tut-ank-Amen in the Valley of the Kings.

Stealing a page from 1001 Nights, Holland spins a tale tying together the stories of medieval a Christian merchant, an Arab merchant, a Sage of the Mountains, and even a desert jinni, to methodically weave together ancient Egyptian and Israelite creation stories to explain the practice of mummification of Egyptian royalty and ultimately the source of the Mummy’s Curse. Along the way he works into the montage a good bit of medieval Christian and Moslem theology and tradition.

All in all it’s a wonderfully crafted story that should provide hours of reading enjoyment to any Egyptian archaeology enthusiast. Don’t miss this one!