“Tutankhamun the Assassinated Pharaoh”
After the book’s young protagonist, Papyrus, stumbles on a plot to loot the tombs in the Valley of the Kings, he’s captured and left to die. While incarcerated, he discovers a magical artifact that allows him to speak with the dead pharaoh Tutankhamun and his wife Ankhsenamun. How is Papyrus’s fate tied to theirs? And is he destined to share Tutankhamun’s violent end?
Volume three of Lucien de Gieter’s Papyrus mixes adventure, Egyptian history, romance, and comedy--making it the perfect book to hand to an inquisitive upper elementary-aged student of either gender. While Papyrus is the titular hero, his friend Theti-Cheri, the Pharaoh’s daughter, is every bit his equal. Both children are curious, intelligent, courageous, and caring. When Theti-Cheri learns her friend is in danger, she doesn’t hesitate. She takes action--even if it means putting herself in danger. Meanwhile, Papyrus can feel pity for the unhappy ghost of Ankhsenamun and try to ease her pain.
Rounding out the cast are Puin (a Bedouin dwarf) and Khamelot, who is called “Amun’s chief officer, Pharaoh’s companion, great protector of the kingdom” and who is a donkey. This odd couple provides the story’s comic relief. Puin is the classic comic sidekick--big of mouth, yellow of heart, and quick to run from danger. He cares about his friends, but he prefers to help them from a safe distance. While Khamelot never says more than “Hee-Haw,” he’s intelligent enough to provide the literal kick in the rear that will get Puin moving in the right direction.
“Tutankhamun the Assassinated Pharaoh” juggles two storylines--three, if you count the machinations of Ankhsenamun and Papyrus’s ancestor as a separate subplot. The first revolves around the looting of the tombs and the various frame-up jobs and double-crosses the villain perpetrates to cover his tracks. The second plotline follows Tutankhamun from his childhood to his death. Both narratives are complex without being overly confusing, and both provide several dramatic scenes--though the storyline about the tomb robbers has more physical action.
The scenes develop leisurely, at their own pace, allowing the reader to feel involved in the life and times of these characters. Humor is used sparingly. De Gieter knows just the right moment to inject levity into the proceedings so that the drama will be that much more gripping. For instance, just as an artifact is found that would seem to implicate Papyrus in the grave robbing scheme, the scene shifts to Puin and Khamelot trading complaints and hee-haws in the desert. The single panel both diffuses and increases the tension.
De Gieter also scatters historical facts and footnotes throughout the book, making Papyrus both entertaining and educational.
The character design is a cross between Herge’s Tintin and Egyptian hieroglyphics and art, and the depiction of artifacts are detailed and authentic looking--check out Tutankhamun’s sarcophagus and Queen Nefertiti’s headdress and profile. They almost look like photographs. The landscapes are also well done as De Gieter gives the barren desert a distinctive grandeur.
G. Vloeberghs’ colors are gorgeous. The sky is a bright blue while the desert sports a variety of brown and yellow shades. The greens of the palace gardens are verdant and cool looking. I think my favorite panel is the one showing Papyrus and Theti-Cheri after they’ve stepped out of the tomb and into the sunlight. The sun is a white disk, and the sky is comprised of various shades of yellow and gold. The children are featureless purple figures that are outlined in yellow. The panel conveys both blinding brightness and oppressive heat. It’s simple, elegant, and very well done.
If you know a budding Egyptologist, you might want to drop Papyrus: Tutankhamun the Assassinated Pharaoh into his or her hands.
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