VALLEY OF THE KINGS by Elizabeth Eliot Carter


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My name is Howard Carter, and I am English; I am an Egyptologist."" So begins this fictional rendition of the Carter-Carnavon 1923 discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb in the Valley of the Kings, and so begins its greatest problem: novelist Carter seeks to portray archaeologist Carter as a man obsessed (a man to whom people will later shout, ""You can't live in his [Tut's] world, and you won't pay attention to your own!""), but she hasn't a clue as to how a narrating voice can be cagily, believably infused with depths and quirks of character. And any lingering hope for a three-dimensional Carter disappears with the decision to alternate the already choppy chapters covering twenty years of dead-end digs with Cecil B. DeMille flashbacks to the 18th-Dynasty court intrigues that arguably led to Tut's death (murder by wife) and lavish burial: ""I shall make naked the walls of my palace. . . if you will give of your secret hoardings."" With such zigzagging sketchiness, the full impact of Carter's dogged, futile years followed by sudden, unmanageable triumph can hardly be hinted at, but some isolated dramas do survive: Lord Carnavon's dilettantish off-and-on support; governmental obstacles (the sanctity of the Ramses VI tourist attraction); and, ineluctably, the unearthing of those steps, that door, those rooms. A subplot concerning a native looter's unlikely conversion into a treasure-protective nationalist glimmers with potential, but, like ail the glimmers here, it gets swatted into pasty superficiality. Only the rampant Tut-Tutting brought on by the traveling Treasure Show (see Edwards, p. 343) could rescue this rotary arrangement of weak fiction and worse history from speedy entombment.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Dutton