8 Reasons Ancient Egypt is an Awesome Place to Set your next Fantasy

Without, any sort of introduction, this may seem like quite a random post. Truth be told, there has been quite a lot of stir around the metaphorical ‘town’ (I mean the internet), about Mummy stories making a comeback. I for one am completely on board with this and would like to promote it in any/every way possible.

So, I created a list of awesome reasons you should set your next adventure/mystery/horror/alien adventure/ whatever else you can possibly come up with, in Ancient Egypt. Wish me luck!

I just had to add him in!
I just had to add him in!

1) Mummies –

I know. I already mentioned these guys but hear me out. There’s two distinct ways this trope can go.

A) You’ve got the whole Arnold Vosloo style mummy who needs to collect organs and sadistically reenact mummification scenes while his victims are still alive. Pretty much really gross and quite horrifying but also a great plot arch if your ever running dry (desert sands, dry, plot; I feel like there’s a pun in there somewhere).

B) You can just have a bunch of crazy mummies running around which are really no different than the zombies we know and love except that they are wrapped in toilet paper. Also . . . zombies wrapped in toilet paper. What’s not to love?

2) Pyramids – 

So I’m very aware of the whole ‘Dungeon’ trope in fantasy literature. It’s so popular that I feel like much of modern fantasy focuses solely on the dungeon, and not on any other parts of the story, but that’s not the point. The point is why not have your dungeon be a Pyramid? I know right? First of all, it is generally accepted that the Egyptian Pyramids are one of the 7 wonders of the world. They’re enormous, awe inspiring, older than (dirt?) . . . super old, and while we’re pretty sure we know how they were made,  I personally think we can disregard fact in favor of a super cool myth or legend which you’ll invent in your story. I’d go with: The god Osiris created the pyramids when baby Horus was born so sweet baby Horus could amuse himself in what is generally held to be a giant sandbox. But, because the god Osiris literally pisses excellence, he stuffed the pyramids full of treasure and . . .

Yup, you  guessed it. Mummies!

3) Egyptian Gods –

Ok, all joking aside. Ancient Egypt has some of the coolest Gods in all of paganism. They look awesome, have awesome myths associated with them, and generally don’t mess around when it comes to what they’re lording over (no gods of accounting here in Egypt as far as I know). For instance, I mentioned Osiris and sweet baby Horus earlier. Now there are probably a million different myths associated with these two, but the one I like, is the one where Osiris’ evil brother Set (also a god) kills Osiris but not before baby Horus is born. Now, baby Horus is not to keen on growing up without a father and exacts revenge on uncle Set (well obviously he grows up first). Because baby Horus also pisses excellence, this act allows him to rule over all of Egypt. Throw some foreigner mortal in the mix (looking at you Brendan Fraser) and you’ve got another blockbuster already written.

4) Random Artifacts –

The Eye of Horus! Gasp!
The Eye of Horus! Gasp!

From my, albeit limited, research into Ancient Egypt, it would seem that there are endless amount of treasures a protagonist might use in his (or her) quest to slay a god, or evil god-like mummy, or evil god-like-mummy-Pharaoh (shoot haven’t mentioned Pharaohs yet). The good news is, there are enough real, awesome sounding, artifacts which have been uncovered, that you really need not go through the trouble of making them up. For instance, The Book of the Dead is a real book used by ancient Egyptians to cast spells which would guide their dead through the afterlife (hear that? Spells! Now your Egyptian setting can have magic!).

Of course you can probably also come up with a few artifacts if you’re feeling up to the challenge. In the aforementioned battle between evil uncle Set and sweet baby Horus, our darling Horus loses an eye. If your protagonist were to find this eye? Or better yet perhaps your villain! You can keep that. I won’t sue for intellectual property rights (also pretty sure I didn’t make that up).

5) Pharaohs –

Oh yes. And Pharaohs. These guys were also great. Basically gods in and of their own right, except they’re mortal (womp womp). But don’t let it fool you. They’ve still got plenty to do and plenty of problems. Have to keep the Gods happy, birth an heir, lead their people, attack other Pharaohs (I think Egypt was divided for a time). All in a day’s work. I can’t really say what kind of court was paid to Pharaohs but I’m sure it’s as intricate and intriguing as any game of thrones.

Also, if your looking for a strong female cast, Egypt’s got you covered. Nefertiti! Cleopatra! Hatshepsut! I especially think Hatshepsut is cool. Apparently she outlived her husband and co-ruled with her step-son (awk.) until eventually she just proclaimed herself Pharaoh . . .

I was going to attempt something witty but I think I’ll just let that one marinate.

6) Hieroglyphs –

Now I know we all grew up obsessed with LOTR, or maybe if you’re still growing up, you’re in to Eragon or some other fantasy which has a mysterious (also made up) ancient language which allows you to use magic or decipher treasure maps or spout prophecies (am I covering all my bases?), but Egypt’s already got one. It’s called Hieroglyphics. And from what I can tell (again, limited research) it’s about as complex as anything you can think up on your own. Probably more so. The good news is, other people have already figured it out so you can still use it in meaningful ways without having to become an Egyptologist although I might still argue in favor of becoming one anyway.

7) Good Creepy Crawlies –

This isn't the best picture ever but still pretty scare
This isn’t the best picture ever but still pretty scary

This header probably could have been wordsmithed a little better but essentially the point is, Ancient Egypt has a plethora of mythic (and real) creatures to toss in the way of a well intentioned expedition. We’ve got Alligators, Crocodiles, and Hippopotami. It’s the desert so probably some lions as well (I think in general Ancient Egypt has a thing with cats). Jackals used to hang around the grave sites and were thought to guard the dead, hence the god Anubis (god of the dead) had the form of a jackal. Finally, there are scarab beetles and scorpions all over the place. Oh and how could I forget? Snakes! It’s really a pretty rough place if you don’t like nature.

I mentioned Lions, Crocodiles, and Hippo’s before. What could be more frightening then all three put together? The Ancient Egyptians called her (yes her) Ammit which meant Devourer of Souls. Anubis would weigh your heart against a feather and if your heart was impure, he’d let this thing after you (ok I oversimplified this a bit but look this legend up it’s pretty amazing).

Lastly, Shezmu was the god of slaughter, wine and perfume. Who knew? He was depicted with a lion’s head, mane and fangs, of course covered in blood. He was a lesser god but served some important functions for the dead and those lording over death. It’s not a good crew that hangs around death so I think Shezmu got the short end of the stick as far as labels go. But feel free to paint him as villainous and blood thirsty as you want, though I might show him some sympathy myself.

8) Maat –

Alright, here is where things get literary. The ancient Egyptians believed that Maat was the balance and order of the universe (also it’s that feather I mentioned above). It was established at creation and is what separates the universe from the chaos that came before, and the chaos that is still to come. The gods use their power in an effort to establish and maintain Maat. So earlier, when I was talking about sweet baby Horus killing bad uncle Set, he did so to re-establish Maat and put the rule of Egypt back into the hands of order and happiness. Woah!

This becomes an even more fruitful garden when we consider the Ancient Egyptian’s conception of time. Events of myth and legend are linear and lay the foundations for which time can (and does) repeat itself. This repetition is necessary for all things to return back to order. For Maat to be established. This is why we can have reincarnation and a whole host of other interesting devices in an Egyptian setting (personally I’m thinking time travel! Again, take it I won’t sue).

So, I can’t wait for Mummies to make their comeback and re-establish themselves in genre fiction. After all, order must be maintained. In my mind’s eye I see the weight of literature upon the ‘Scales of Justice’. Will we be found wanting? Better put out some great Egyptian stories or be fed to Ammit!!

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  1. Nice write-up! Let’s not forget mummy love stories, “chit lit” possibilities with Cleopatra and Hatshepsut and African American genres that could (and possibly do) benefit from the legacy of Ancient Egypt.

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