Yes, that’s the Harry Houdini on the byline and H. P. Lovecraft is lurking in the brackets because he was the ghostwriter. This is not the last time we’ll see him in that capacity. Most of his pathetic income was actually derived from ghostwriting.
Going from memory (because I’m not going to take the time to fact check) Lovecraft finished this story up during the honeymoon of his disastrous marriage and en route to New York City where he was going to have a horrible couple of years (even if he got to hang around with his friends in person).
But, as S. T. Joshi noted in his biography of Lovecraft, the New York City exile strengthened Lovecraft as a person. It certainly led to a burst of creativity when he returned to his home in Providence, Rhode Island.
Raw Feed (2005): “Under the Pyramids”, Harry Houdini [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1924.
I would be curious as to why Houdini had this story ghostwritten for Weird Tales and why he chose Lovecraft as the ghostwriter. (I’m sure when I get around to reading Joshi’s biography of Lovecraft, he will answer those questions.) [And it does, and I’ll probably post something about it in the future.] Was Houdini at this point in his career (1924 — he was to die the next year) trying to become a multimedia star? After all, he had already done three movies in 1919. Though he wrote nonfiction, he may have had neither the inclination nor talent to tackle a work of fiction — which clearly is presented with the conceit that its narrator is Harry Houdini recounting an odd adventure he had in Egypt. However, I’m still curious why he chose Lovecraft.
I’m fairly confident that the basic plot — Houdini going to Egypt, being stranded in some odd passages beneath the Great Sphinx, and escaping (without any revelation of trade secrets as to how he escapes his bonds) — was Houdini’s. However, the language and probably the conceit of elder surviving horrors beneath the Giza plain are Lovecraft’s.
In his introduction to this Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, T. E. D. Klein remarks that the beginning of this story reads like a travelogue and that’s true. Lovecraft spent a lot more time describing the details of the landscape and city of Cairo, a place he never visited, than he did on any of the settings in his New England tales, but he may have felt readers would not only have less knowledge of Egypt than New England but be more interested in the occult mystique associated with that country.
For that matter, Lovecraft’s other great foray into exotic climes — the Antarctic of his “At the Mountains of Madness” — also gets a lot of description.
Lovecraft obviously had an interest in Egypt. Some of the names in his Dunsanian tales, like Kadath, have an Egyptian flavor. The pyramids are mentioned in “The Outsider” of four years earlier. Both that story and this story mention ghouls beneath the pyramids.
I found this story more effective than I remember it from 20 years ago.
The marching armies of human-animal hybrid mummies, animated by wandering ka, were interesting.
However, and the narrator even mentions how this must seem like cheap melodrama, the narrator must faint in this story more than any other Lovecraft story ever. [I seem to recall Lovecraft suffered from migraines and the occasional fainting spell. My personal theory is that he suffered, at some points, from vasovagal syncope.]
The story also follows the broad Lovecraft plot structure of the narrator reluctantly relating some horrors he experiences, a lead hinting of those terrors, a full revelation of those horrors, and the narrator fainting and not knowing exactly how he escaped.
Reviews of more Lovecraft related are indexed on the Lovecraft page.