Saturday, June 04, 2016
Lovecraftian Thing a Day No.156: Khai of Ancient Khem
I don'r even know where to begin when trying to describe this: Lumley's take on a kind of Howardian sword-and-sorcery (although in this case more science fantasy) action tale, set amidst an earthly 'lost' civilisation that is the precursor to ancient Egypt. Mix in lots of sex and violence (the eye-watering incident involving a pair of bronze false teeth which merges both comes to mind), ancient aliens, time travel, with the Cthulhu Mythos lurking in the background, and you have the glorius pulpy goodness that is Khai of Ancient Khem. The plot, though convoluted, is at heart fairly straight forward: the manly, muscular hero Khai seeks revenge against the pharaoh Khasathut for murdering his family, and manages to win the heart of a beautiful princess on the way to doing this. Amidst all this pulpy fun there is, however, one big criticism, and that is the thread of heteronormative homophobia (sadly indicative of a good deal of 70s and 80s horror) running through the book (the incident with the aforementioned bronze false teeth being a case in point) - think the kind of Othering found in Zak Synder's rendition of Frank Miller's 300, where the bad guys are portrayed as physiognomically monstrous sexual deviants. I may very well be looking at this from a 21st Century sensibility, but it is nonetheless an issue which readers should be aware of (and no doubt one that will infuriate those who think Lovecraft's racism doesn't matter...).
That aside, regular readers may be aware of my academic interest in tracking the influence of the Lovecaftian milieu upon contemporary pop culture. Given that it was first published in 1980 (and well before the Stargate franchise popularised these ideas), Khai of Ancient Khem contains many elements that have become a normative part of contemporary (online) paranormal occultures: ancient/lost civilisations mixed in with the belief held by some 'alternative' archaeologist that the Sphinx and the pyramids are much older than the archaeological mainstream claims; ancient but anachronistic technologies; ancient aliens, and human-alien hybridisation programmes. Admittedly all of these ideas were floating around prior to 1980, and certainly at that point the idea that aliens built the pyramids was nothing new. I'm not, then, suggesting that Lumley's book gave rise to these beliefs; it does, however, seem seem a little prescient in terms of bringing together a range of themes that probably didn't begin to coalesce within the mainstream of pop and paranormal cultures until the 1990s - so I'm wondering if Khai of Ancient Khem may have played a very small role in popularising these ideas and their intersection.