One of the fun things about studying pulp horror stories is learning unexpected trivia about the authors. Just as often, though, the trivia learned is that a famous author ever indulged in such “sensationalist” writings!
As a case in point, I point the reader to the story, Lost in a Pyramid; or, The Mummy’s Curse, written by none other than Louisa May Alcott (1832-1888), probably best known for her novel Little Women:
“And what are these, Paul?” asked Evelyn, opening a tarnished gold box and examining its contents curiously.
“Seeds of some unknown Egyptian plant,” replied Forsyth, with a sudden shadow on his dark face, as he looked down at the three scarlet grains lying in the white hand lifted to him.
“Where did you get them?” asked the girl.
“That is a weird story, which will only haunt you if I tell it,” said Forsyth, with an absent expression that strongly excited the girl’s curiosity.
“Please tell it, I like weird tales, and they never trouble me. Ah, do tell it; your stories are always so interesting,” she cried, looking up with such a pretty blending of entreaty and command in her charming face, that refusal was impossible.
“You’ll be sorry for it, and so shall I, perhaps; I warn you beforehand, that harm is foretold to the possessor of those mysterious seeds,” said Forsyth, smiling, even while he knit his black brows, and regarded the blooming creature before him with a fond yet foreboding glance.
Forsyth describes how, on an expedition to Egypt, he and his colleague were lost within a maze of corridors within the great pyramid. To escape, they are forced to defile the funerary trappings of one of its mummified inhabitants. Their actions set in motion an ancient curse, which is fulfulled after Forsyth narrates his dark tale.
The story is charming, albeit possessing an ending which I found a little disappointing. According to the Louisa May Alcott Encyclopedia, the story was written in late 1868 or the first week of 1869, around the same time that Little Women was written, and published in the Jan 16th issue of Frank Leslie’s The New World, for which Alcott received $25. The Encyclopedia further notes that a hint of the inspiration for the story can be found in chapter 27 of Little Women itself:
She was just recovering from one of these attacks when she was prevailed upon to escort Miss Crocker to a lecture, and in return for her virtue was rewarded with a new idea. It was a People’s Course, the lecture on the Pyramids, and Jo rather wondered at the choice of such a subject for such an audience, but took it for granted that some great social evil would be remedied or some great want supplied by unfolding the glories of the Pharaohs to an audience whose thoughts were busy with the price of coal and flour, and whose lives were spent in trying to solve harder riddles than that of the Sphinx.
The character of Josephine “Jo” March is based on Alcott herself, and this passage hints at the inspiration Alcott herself used for the story.
Alcott is not the only author to have written “sensational” tales of horror. I’ll come back to others in upcoming posts.