Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Book Review: Tutankhamen's Curse by Joyce Tyldesley

The Guardian, UK (Review by Toby Wilkinson)

Among the manifold treasures of Tutankhamen's tomb, "the only thing missing", as Joyce Tyldesley notes in her new book, "was a library". The boy-king need not have worried: Egyptologists and others have more than made up for that deficiency in the 90 years since the discovery of the pharaoh's gilded sepulchre in the Valley of the Kings.

A quick search for "Tutankhamen" in my local library catalogue reveals no fewer than 115 titles. One might be tempted to ask "Do we really need another book?" By writing one, Tyldesley succumbs to one of the most pernicious of Tutankhamen's curses: in her own words, "the fixation that the general public, thoroughly egged on by the media, has developed with the king at the expense of the rest of Egypt's long history". His celebrity may be illogical, but it is irresistible.

Perhaps in an attempt to distance itself from "Tut-mania", Tyldesley's book underwent a subtle re-positioning between press release and publication. Its original, stirring subtitle, "The Development of a Legend", was amended to the anodyne "The Developing History of an Egyptian King". But this merely illustrates another of the boy-king's curses: as Tydesley remarks wryly, "writing about Tutankhamen may be interpreted as a venal attempt to make money, which, in the world of academia, has not always been seen as a good thing".

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