Imprisoned with the Pharoahs
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Created: February 2017
| Updated: February 2017
"Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" (called "Under the Pyramids" in draft form, also published as "Entombed with the Pharaohs") is a short story written by American fantasy author H. P. Lovecraft in February 1924. Commissioned by Weird Tales founder and owner J. C. Henneberger, the narrative tells a fictionalized account in the first-person perspective of an allegedly true experience of escape artist Harry Houdini. Set in 1910, in Egypt, Houdini finds himself kidnapped by a tour guide, who resembles an ancient pharaoh, and thrown down a deep hole near the Great Sphinx of Giza. While attempting to find his way out, he stumbles upon a gigantic ceremonial cavern and encounters the real-life deity that inspired the building of the Sphinx.
Told from the first-person perspective of escape artist Harry Houdini, "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" is a fictionalized account of an encounter that he claims to have experienced while on vacation in Egypt in January 1910. Enlisting the services of a guide named Abdul Reis el Drogman, Houdini is taken on a tour of Cairo and eventually forced to break up a conflict between his guide and a Bedouin leader by the name of Ali Ziz. Drogman enlists Houdini to help him settle the fight by way of a "custom of great antiquity in Cairo": a boxing match atop the Great Pyramid of Giza. Houdini soon discovers, however, that the entire argument was merely a ruse designed to lure him into the desert at night and kidnap him. The escape artist is tied up, taken to an unknown location, and dropped down an extremely deep pit.
After dreaming of spectacular horrors, Houdini awakens at the bottom of the pit and eventually manages to free himself from the ropes. Suspecting that he is somewhere in a temple under the Great Sphinx of Giza, he travels through the dark in an attempt to find an exit, following a foul-smelling draft. Instead, he discovers that he has actually been heading further underground, eventually falling down a flight of stairs and landing in a large ceremonial cavern with giant pillars carved with heiroglyphs. Here he witnesses an parade of half-man, half-animal mummies, led by the ancient Egyptian pharaohs Khephren and Nitocris, leaving offerings to a hippopotamus-sized, five-headed, tentacled beast that appears from a hole deep in the hall. As he escapes, he realizes that this creature is merely the paw of a much larger deity in whose image the Sphinx was carved. Houdini dismisses the events as a hallucination or a dream consequent of the strains of his kidnapping ordeal, despite the resemblance he sees between Khephren and his guide, Drogman.