Tutankhamen’s Curse by Joyce Tyldesley

Tutankhamen's Curse: The Developing History of an Egyptian King

This is a brilliantly accessible book from the splendid Joyce Tyldesley. She has written an engaging tale  that encompasses the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb, the afterlife of the supposed curse, and Tutankhamen’s place in Egyptian dynastic history. And the best part is it’s all true!

Books are very good value: £1.75 for a lifetime of enjoyment.

I have been somewhat interested (obsessed) with Ancient Egypt since I was a very small child. When, at infant school, we got to choose the subject for our first ever project I knew exactly what I’d be writing and drawing about, no hesitation. Pyramids, Pharaohs, dog-headed gods, I couldn’t get enough. My gorgeous parents took me, and my sisters, to the British Museum to stare in awe at the amazing relics of a long-lost age. I think I can trace my beginnings as an historian to that day; mum bought me this book, a proper grown-up history book, so much more interesting to me than any children’s book. It is a treasured possession.

There was a small hiatus when I watched a film that scared the life out of me (adult non-fiction yes, films no!)

Scary film when you are only 7!

Once I had overcome the fear that I would be struck down by the curse for my fascination Ancient Egypt was back. I’ve never studied it formally, for that my heart belongs to the early modern period, but I do like to indulge in a little armchair Egyptology from time to time. I’ve read a fair few of Tyldesley’s book I think, and enjoyed them, so was pleased as punch to get a copy of her latest. One of her main strengths is her ability to explain complex and confused topics clearly and concisely. Good explanations are given at the beginning of the book about names and dates, so you come to the main part fully prepared. It is never dry either, the chapters carry you along from the momentous discovery of the tomb, to the examination of its contents. From there to Tutankhamen’s place within the royal family and Tyldesley’s opinion of where he best fits in, and finally an overview of the whole curse thing. Of course, it’s all rot, the curse, but it is amazing how prevalent and widespread the belief in it is. It seems to be predicated on a completely fictitious warning above the entrance to the tomb. Fictitious in that in never existed, not that it was ineffective! The power of the supernatural has a very enduring appeal, and statistics and facts never deter those who are determined to believe. And a curse is a very good story.
The best bits of the book though are those that deal with Howard Carter’s excavations. I could feel the frustration as he dealt with some fairly hostile authorities as well as a very demanding press and public. As always, I felt a shiver of excitement as he puts his head through the gap in the tomb wall and sees ‘wonderful things’. It is also fascinating to think about the how the ethics and methods of excavation have changed. Now, treasure hunting is sneered at, mummies are preserved not unwrapped, and ownership of artefacts is a thorny matter. Carter was fairly careful and progressive for his time, although I guess the whiff of scandal surrounding him will never go away.
It was a pleasure to sit down with this book. Tyldesley is superb at explaining how inconclusive and fragmentary the evidence is, discussing the options and drawing her own interpretation. I think this could be read happily by a complete newcomer to Tutankhamen as well as enjoyed by the interested amateur like myself.

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