A mummy is the body of a dead animal or person which has been preserved in such a way that, if it is kept in cool and dry conditions, it will not decay any further. Bodies can become mummified either intentionally or unintentionally. Unintentional mummification can occur when bodies are kept in areas with very low humidity or in extreme icy cold conditions. It can also occur when bodies are unintentionally exposed to certain chemicals or, in the case of bodies submerged in bogs, as a result of a lack of air. Intentional mummification is the result of a lengthy embalming process, performed for religious or cultural reasons.
Some Buddhist temples in Japan display the bodies of monks who are said to have begun a process of self-mummification before death. Believing that they were about to die, for several weeks the monks would eat nothing but salt, nuts, seeds, roots and pine bark and drink tea made from a toxic plant.
Mummies, created intentionally and unintentionally, have been found in Europe, Asia and South America but the best known ones, which have had the greatest effect on people's imaginations, are those of ancient Egypt.
The fact that ancient Egyptians believed that mummification would allow people to live forever in the next world, along with widespread belief in a "curse of the pharaohs" that would kill all those who disturbed the tombs of the Egyptian dead, has led to a number of novels, short stories and movies in which monstrous mummies come back to life.
Egyptian mummification process
The ancient Egyptians used salts to remove moisture from the body. The internal organs were removed, most of them were put in jars which were later placed in the tomb but the brain, which the ancient Egyptians considered to be a useless lump of bone marrow, was thrown away. The heart, which the Egyptians believed to be the center of emotions and intelligence, would be placed back in the body later. The body was covered with perfumes and oils. Protectors were often placed on fingers and toes to prevent them from breaking. The body was wrapped in strips of white linen and then in a sheet of canvas. Many charms and amulets were placed inside the wrappings in the belief that they would protect the body's owner in the afterlife. The body was finally placed in a sarcophagus where it was expected to spend eternity.
Later, a ritual was performed in which the mummy's mouth was opened, symbolically allowing the mummy to breathe in the next world. This ritual helped to give rise to the idea that mummies could be brought back to life again.
The first novel about a mummy that returns from the dead is The Mummy!: Or a Tale of the Twenty-Second Century by Jane C. London, first published in 1827. It is an early example of a "curse of the pharaohs" story, in which the Egyptian mummy Cheops is brought back to life in the 22nd century and travels to England to murder those associated with the people who disturbed his eternal rest. It is heavily influenced by another story of the resurrected dead written by another female British author a few years earlier, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.
Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, wrote a short story called "Lot No. 249" which was first published in 1897. In the story, a student buys an Egyptian mummy at an auction, hence the title. He uses ancient magic that he has studied to bring the mummy back to life and orders it to kill people against whom he bears a grudge.
Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula wrote a novel called The Jewel of Seven Stars. In the novel, an archaeologist plans to bring the mummy of Queen Tera back to life. The novel formed the basis of the 1971 movie Blood from the Mummy's Tomb.
In 1932, Universal released the movie The Mummy starring Boris Karloff as Imhotep the mummy. The movie describes how in ancient Egypt the priest Imhotep is caught trying to bring his dead lover Princess Ankh-es-en-amon by reading a sacred scroll. For his crime, he is condemned to be buried alive. In 1922 his body is discovered, in spite of being warned not to do so, an archaeologist reads from the same scroll and returns Imhotep to life. The action then continues ten years later. Imhotep has removed his bandages, although he has a heavily scarred face. He has learned to speak English, wears a fez and a kaftan and passes himself off as a modern Egyptian named Ardath Bey. He searches for the reincarnated Princess Ankh-es-en-amon and finds her in the form of Helen Grosvenor, and tries to kill her in order to resurrect her as an immortal like himself. Helen accepts that she was once the princess but wants to continue with her 20th century life. She calls on the goddess Isis for help, the scroll which keeps Imhotep alive is destroyed and he crumbles to dust.
Unlike Universal's film versions of Dracula, Frankenstein and The Invisible Man, there was no direct sequel to The Mummy. Instead, the movie was partially remade as the 1940 movie The Mummy's Hand, starring Tom Tyler as Kharis the mummy. Like Imhotep in the previous movie, Kharis is condemned to be buried alive after he tries to use sacred tana leaves to bring his lover Princess Anaka back to life. Kharis remains alive but immobile for three thousand years. When American archaeologists approach Princess Anaka's tomb, the priests of Karnak give Kharis a brew made of nine tana leaves which allows him to move again. The image of Kharis form The Mummy's Hand set the standard for future appearances of undead mummies in fiction. Kharis remains wrapped in bandages, he is completely mute (his tongue was cut out before he was mummified alive), he can not use his left arm and drags his left leg behind him when he walks. He resembles a Haitian zombie or a golem in that he follows orders from his priestly masters and has little free will of his own. Three sequels followed which starred Lon Chaney, Jr. as Kharis: The Mummy's Tomb (1942), The Mummy's Ghost (1944) and The Mummy's Curse (1944). In the sequels, Kharis is brought to the United States. He is first tasked with killing all the family members of those who opened Princess Ananka's tomb and then with finding the reincarnated princess.
Britain's Hammer Film Productions, famous for the horror movies it produced between the late 1950s and early 1970s, released a movie called The Mummy in 1959. In spite of its name, it is a remake of The Mummy's Hand and The Mummy's Tomb with some elements taken from other Universal mummy movies. It stars Christopher Lee as Kharis the mummy who follows some British archaeologists home to Victorian England to terrorize them. Hammer produced four more mummy movies: The Curse of the Mummy's tomb (1964), The Mummy's Shroud (1967) and Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971).
The 1932 movie The Mummy was remade in 1999, although the 1999 version moves away from horror and is more of an action adventure movie. Two direct sequels followed, The Mummy Returns (2001) and The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Empire (2008), as well as three spin-off films about the character of Scorpion King and an animated series which first aired in 2001.
Another film called The Mummy was released in 2017. It was directed by Alex Kurtzner. It stars Tom Cruise as Nick Morton, an American soldier who accidentally unearths the tomb of the ancient Egyptian princess Ahmanet, played by Sofia Boutelle. The movie performed poorly at the box office and received largely negative reviews from critics. It was intended to be the first film in Universal Pictures' horror franchise Dark Universe, which would feature other characters that had appeared in films produced by Universal in the 1930s and 1940s in a shared cinematic universe. The character of Dr. Henry Jekyll, played by Russell Crowe, is introduced in The Mummy. In January 2019, Universal Pictures announced that, although more remakes of classic monster movies from the 1930s and 1940s would be released, they would each be stand alone films. The announcement effectively cancelled the Dark Universe.
In the 2006 movie Night at the Museum, a mummy's magical tablet is responsible for bringing all the exhibits in the museum to life. The mummy Akhmenrah is kept trapped inside his sarcophagus because he is assumed to be a monster. When Akhmenrah is finally released, he turns out to be a very pleasant character.