Deborah Jackson

Friday, June 03, 2011

All Things Egyptian

I'm often asked, where did your interest in history begin? It certainly didn't develop as a child, not in the typical fashion anyway, taking history classes at school. But I've always been fascinated with all things Egyptian.

That said, I quickly dispensed with history in high school, where I had a choice between history and geography. Yet the allure remained, the urge to explore other cultures, other times, other worlds—particularly the Egyptian one, which usually wasn't covered much in junior grades, and not to any great extent before one could specialize in ancient cultures or archaeology in college or university.

Who piqued my interest the most? I believe it was Wilbur Smith.

Have you ever read the Wilbur Smith series of novels about ancient Egypt? Do you recall the slave Taita, first introduced in River God, or Lostris and Tanus, the two lovers whose union is doomed from the start but who will eventually bring Egypt back to its former glory.

The river lay heavily upon the desert, bright as a spill of molten metal from a furnace. The sky smoked with heat-haze and the sun beat down upon it all with the strokes of a coppersmith's hammer. In the mirage the gaunt hills flanking the Nile seemed to tremble to the blows.

Our boat sped close in beside the papyrus beds; near enough for the creaking of the water buckets of the shadoof, on their long, counter-balanced arms, to carry from the fields across the water. The sound harmonized with the singing of the girl in the bows.

Lostris was fourteen years of age.

The voice of Taita lingers long after you've read the story, a story so richly imagined, Egypt seeps off the pages and envelops you.

His second book, The Seventh Scroll, jumps to modern day Egypt, and the search for Tanus's tomb, the secret location buried in clues left by the wily slave Taita. It becomes a treasure hunt, that will send the main characters, Royan and Nicholas, up the Blue Nile and deep into treacherous canyons inlaid with booby traps. Of course, it's also a race between Royan, the lover of all things Egyptian, and other sinister characters.

Could I resist the third book? Warlock travels back in time to ancient Egypt, where Taita, as an old man following the death of Queen Lostris, must help the prince Nefer rescue the kingdom. Taita has studied the occult and now wields extraordinary powers. And the last epic novel, The Quest, where Taita must travel up the White Nile to discover the source of a calamity: the Nile has dried up along Egypt's fertile plains and caused a drought. The final two installments are not as arresting as the first two, but they are still overflowing with detail and imagination, adventure and battles, they continue to prod your memory long after you've read the final page.

These books not only made me fall in love with Egypt, but also with Africa. The Blue Nile, the White Nile, the very depths of Africa, even though I'd never set foot on the continent. I could picture the thorny acacia tree, the waving date palm, the hippos peering with bulbous eyes from the midst of the river, the ever present, ever dangerous Nile crocodile. I still read about all things African, and especially all things Egyptian.

No doubt this is the reason I wrote Time Meddlers on the Nile, which is really about all things Nubian, dressed up in the Egyptian culture they borrowed, or another little Egyptian novel, one of the first I wrote and have never released. Not sure if I will.

I may ask some feedback on it someday, if anyone is interested. To see if the story is compelling enough for Egyptian enthusiasts.

Since River God, I also read Nile, by Laurie Devine, a modern day story of star-crossed lovers, and The Scroll of Saqqara by Pauline Gedge, another intriguing novel of ancient Egypt and magic—a scroll that can raise the dead. I've explored books by Judith Tarr, set during Egypt's transition to Macedonian/Greek rule and then Roman. I've devoured everything I could find to do with Egypt, but I can't remember most of these tales. It was Wilbur's books that captured me and it will always be Wilbur's books that I keep near at hand, both on my shelf and in my memory.

Which books captured you? Are you an Egyptian fanatic, like me? And can you suggest any books about Egypt that are simply too inviting to set down?

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