Imprisoned with the Pharaohs

"Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" (called "Under the Pyramids" in draft form, also published as "Entombed with the Pharaohs"[1]) 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.

Lovecraft accepted the job because of the money he was offered in advance by Henneberg. The result was published in the May–June–July 1924 edition of Weird Tales, although it was credited solely to Houdini until the 1939 reprint. Despite Lovecraft's use of artistic license, Houdini enjoyed the tale and the two men collaborated on several smaller projects prior to the latter's death in 1926. "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" has been suggested as an early influence on author Robert Bloch and as anticipating the cosmic themes in Lovecraft's later work, including "The Shunned House".

"Imprisoned with the Pharaohs"
Under the Pyramids
Cover of the May–June–July 1924 edition of Weird Tales, featuring Imprisoned with the Pharaohs
AuthorH. P. Lovecraft
CountryUnited States
Published inWeird Tales
Publication typeLiterary journal
Media typePrint
Publication dateMay 1924


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":[2][3] 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 a deep pit.[2]

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 what he believes to be a draft from outdoors. 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. There he witnesses an army of half-man, half-animal mummies, led by the ancient Egyptian pharaohs Khephren and Nitokris, 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.[2]


Harry Houdini head
Harry Houdini was pleased with the result of Lovecraft's work and collaborated on several other projects with him prior to Houdini's death in 1926.

Facing financial problems, J. C. Henneberger, the founder and owner of Weird Tales, wanted to associate the popular Harry Houdini with the magazine in order to boost its readership. Following the introduction of an "Ask Houdini" column, as well as the publication of two short stories allegedly written by the escape artist, Henneberger sought out Lovecraft in February 1924 and commissioned him to write the tale of a supposedly true experience that Houdini had had in Egypt. Lovecraft was paid $100 (approximately $1462 in present-day terms) to ghostwrite the story,[4] at the time the largest sum he had ever been given as an advance. This was a major factor in motivating him to take the job[5] as, after listening to Houdini's story and researching its background, Lovecraft concluded that the tale was completely fabricated and requested permission from Henneberger to take artistic license. After receiving clearance from the editor, he began his writing by spending considerable time researching the setting in books issued by the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as by frequently visiting the museum's Egyptian exhibits.[4]

Lovecraft completed "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" in February 1924 but lost his original typescript of the story at Union Station in Providence, Rhode Island when he was on his way to New York to get married. He was forced to spend much of his honeymoon in Philadelphia retyping the manuscript.[6] The work's original title, "Under the Pyramids", is known only from the lost and found advertisement that he placed in The Providence Journal. The tale was printed in the May–June–July 1924 edition of Weird Tales as "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" and without credit to Lovecraft in the byline, as Henneberger thought that this would confuse the readers, as the narrative was told entirely from Houdini's first-person perspective. Lovecraft would later receive credit in the editor's note of the 1939 reprint.[4]

Reception and legacy

"Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" became a popular story and was received favorably by Houdini. The escape artist was so impressed that, until his death, he continued offering the writer jobs and ghostwriting opportunities. Among them was an article criticizing astrology (for which he was paid $75 – approximately $1096 in present-day terms)[5] and a book entitled The Cancer of Superstition, of which Lovecraft had completed an outline and some introductory pages prior to Houdini's 1926 death. To thank the author for his work, Houdini gave Lovecraft a signed copy of his 1924 book A Magician Among the Spirits.[1] Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi praised the tale, calling it "surprisingly effective and suspenseful, with a genuinely surprising ending".[4] Science fiction and fantasy author, editor, and critic Lin Carter, in his 1972 work Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, refers to the story as "one of the best things Lovecraft had written up to that time".[7]

"Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" has been cited as an early influence on Robert Bloch, which is particularly evident in his tale "Fane of the Black Pharaoh". Although Lovecraft himself refers to the real sphinx as a god of the dead, Bloch expanded upon the mythos and claimed that the sphinx in "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" was actually Nyarlathotep, an Outer God and Lovecraft creation.[8] The idea of a twist ending, where a terrible discovery is made worse by the realization that it is only part of a larger horror, was used again in "The Shunned House", written later that year. In this tale, the protagonist digs into the cellar of the eponymous dwelling only to find that the thing he believed to be the monster of the tale is only the beast's elbow.[9] The text of "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs", like many of Lovecraft's works, is in the public domain and can be found in several compilations of the author's work as well as on the Internet.[2]


  1. ^ a b Harms, Daniel; John Wisdom Gonce (2003). The Necronomicon files: the truth behind Lovecraft's legend. Newburyport, Massachusetts: Weiser Books. p. 342. ISBN 1-57863-269-2.
  2. ^ a b c d Lovecraft, H. P. (2008). H. P. Lovecraft: Complete and Unabridged. New York City: Barnes & Noble. p. 1098. ISBN 978-1-4351-0793-9.
  3. ^ Lovecraft, p. 277
  4. ^ a b c d Joshi, S. T.; Schultz, David E. (2001). An H.P. Lovecraft encyclopedia. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 339. ISBN 0-313-31578-7.
  5. ^ a b Tyson, Donald (2010). The Dream World of H. P. Lovecraft: His Life, His Demons, His Universe. Woodbury, Minnesota: Llewellyn Worldwide. p. 311. ISBN 0-7387-2284-7.
  6. ^ Schweitzer, Darrell (2009). The Fantastic Horizon: Essays and Reviews. Rockville, Maryland: Wildside Press. p. 240. ISBN 1-4344-0320-3.
  7. ^ Carter, Lin (1975). Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos. Panther Books. p. 189. ISBN 0-586-04166-4.
  8. ^ Lovecraft, H. P.; R. M. Price (2006). The Nyarlathotep Cycle. Chaosium. p. 256. ISBN 1-56882-200-6.
  9. ^ Joshi, S. T. (1996). A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft. Rockville, Maryland: Wildside Press. p. 316. ISBN 1-880448-61-0.

Further reading

  • Leigh Blackmore. "Under the Pyramids: On Lovecraft and Houdini". EOD [Australian] No 4 (Sept 1991) 17–39 (Part One); and No 5 (1991) 54–83 (Part Two).

External links


Cthulhu ( kə-THOO-loo) is a fictional cosmic entity created by writer H. P. Lovecraft and first introduced in the short story "The Call of Cthulhu", published in the American pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. Considered a Great Old One within the pantheon of Lovecraftian cosmic entities, the creature has since been featured in numerous popular culture references. Lovecraft depicts Cthulhu as a gigantic entity worshipped by cultists. Cthulhu's appearance is described as looking like an octopus, a dragon, and a caricature of human form. Its name was given to the Lovecraft-inspired universe where it and its fellow entities existed, the Cthulhu Mythos.

Dagon and Other Macabre Tales

Dagon and Other Macabre Tales is a collection of stories by American author H. P. Lovecraft, which also includes his essay on weird fiction, "Supernatural Horror in Literature". It was originally published in 1965 by Arkham House in an edition of 3,471 copies. The true first edition, unlike some other first editions of Lovecraft collections issued by Arkham House in the mid-sixties, is bound with head- and tailbands.

The collection was revised in 1986 by S.T. Joshi replacing the introduction by August Derleth for one by Joshi and another by T. E. D. Klein. The bulk of the tales were also reordered chronologically, while some tales were moved to appendices. It was released in an edition of 4,023 copies, designated a 'corrected 5th printing'.

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre is a series of radio dramas produced by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. They are produced in the style of 1930s radio drama, and the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre resembles a Mercury Theatre production hosted by the fictional "Chester Langfield" and "sponsored" by "Fleur-de-Lys Cigarettes". However, the character "died" of emphysema after the fourth production (The Shadow Over Innsmouth) and was replaced by the equally fictional "Erskine Blackwell," the new "sponsor" being "Forhan's Toothpaste." In the 2014 production, The Dreams in the Witch House, the sponsor became "Bub-L-Pep", a lithium-based drink. The series features casts of professional actors and original music. The CD releases include four prop documents, such as newspaper clippings, etc., from the show.

Currently released productions:

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: At the Mountains of Madness (2007)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Dunwich Horror (2008)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Shadow Out of Time (2008-10-01)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Shadow Over Innsmouth (2008-12)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Call of Cthulhu (2012-11)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (2013-03)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Color Out of Space (2013)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: Herbert West - Reanimator (2013)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Dreams in the Witch House (2014)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: Imprisoned with the Pharaohs (2014)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Horror at Red Hook (2015)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: Dagon: War of Worlds (2015)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: A Solstice Carol (2015)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The White Tree (2016)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Thing on the Doorstep (2016)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Brotherhood of the Beast (2016)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Haunter of the Dark (2017)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Rats in the Walls (2017)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar (2017)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: Bad Medicine (2018)

Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: Masks of Nyarlathotep (2019)

Edwin Baird

Edwin Baird (; 1886 – September 27, 1954) was the first editor of Weird Tales, the pioneering pulp magazine that specialized in horror fiction.

Fire vampire

Fire vampires are fictional characters in the Cthulhu Mythos. The term refers to two distinct types of beings: the Flame Creatures of Cthugha, created by August Derleth, and the Fire Vampires of Fthaggua, created by Donald Wandrei.


A ghostwriter is hired to write literary or journalistic works, speeches, or other texts that are officially credited to another person as the author. Celebrities, executives, participants in timely news stories, and political leaders often hire ghostwriters to draft or edit autobiographies, memoirs, magazine articles, or other written material. In music, ghostwriters are often used to write songs, lyrics, and instrumental pieces. Screenplay authors can also use ghostwriters to either edit or rewrite their scripts to improve them.

Usually, there is a confidentiality clause in the contract between the ghostwriter and the credited author that obligates the former to remain anonymous. Sometimes the ghostwriter is acknowledged by the author or publisher for his or her writing services, euphemistically called a "researcher" or "research assistant", but often the ghostwriter is not credited.

Ghostwriting (or simply "ghosting") also occurs in other creative fields. Composers have long hired ghostwriters to help them to write musical pieces and songs; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is an example of a well-known composer who was paid to ghostwrite music for wealthy patrons. Ghosting also occurs in popular music. A pop music ghostwriter writes lyrics and a melody in the style of the credited musician. In hip hop music, the increasing use of ghostwriters by high-profile hip-hop stars has led to controversy. In the visual arts, it is not uncommon in either fine art or commercial art such as comics for a number of assistants to do work on a piece that is credited to a single artist. However, when credit is established for the writer, the acknowledgement of their contribution is public domain and the writer in question would not be considered a ghostwriter.

H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society

The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society or HPLHS is the organization that hosts Cthulhu Lives!, a group of live-action roleplayers for the Cthulhu Live version of Call of Cthulhu. Founded in Colorado in 1984, it is now based in Glendale, California. Their motto is Ludo Fore Putavimus ("We thought it would be fun").HPLHS produces a number of Cthulhu Mythos films and sound recordings, under its Mythoscope and Mythophone labels, respectively. They also offer props, both for sale and for free download.

Harry Houdini

Harry Houdini (; born Erik Weisz, later Ehrich Weiss or Harry Weiss; March 24, 1874 – October 31, 1926) was a Hungarian-born American illusionist and stunt performer, noted for his sensational escape acts. He first attracted notice in vaudeville in the US and then as "Harry Handcuff Houdini" on a tour of Europe, where he challenged police forces to keep him locked up. Soon he extended his repertoire to include chains, ropes slung from skyscrapers, straitjackets under water, and having to escape from and hold his breath inside a sealed milk can with water in it.

In 1904, thousands watched as he tried to escape from special handcuffs commissioned by London's Daily Mirror, keeping them in suspense for an hour. Another stunt saw him buried alive and only just able to claw himself to the surface, emerging in a state of near-breakdown. While many suspected that these escapes were faked, Houdini presented himself as the scourge of fake spiritualists. As President of the Society of American Magicians, he was keen to uphold professional standards and expose fraudulent artists. He was also quick to sue anyone who imitated his escape stunts.

Houdini made several movies, but quit acting when it failed to bring in money. He was also a keen aviator, and aimed to become the first man to fly a plane in Australia.


Innsmouth, Massachusetts () is a fictional town created by American author H. P. Lovecraft as a setting for one of his horror stories, and referenced subsequently in some of his other works and by other authors who wrote stories taking place in the world Lovecraft created with his stories.

Lovecraft first used the name "Innsmouth" in his 1920 short story "Celephaïs" (1920), where it refers to a fictional village in England. Lovecraft's more famous Innsmouth, however, is found in his story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (1936), set in Massachusetts. This latter Innsmouth was first identified in two of his cycle of sonnets Fungi from Yuggoth. Lovecraft called Innsmouth "a considerably twisted version of Newburyport", Massachusetts.

Marginalia (collection)

Marginalia is a collection of Fantasy, Horror and Science fiction short stories, essays, biography and poetry by and about the American author H. P. Lovecraft. It was released in 1944 and was the third collection of Lovecraft's work published by Arkham House. 2,035 copies were printed.

The contents of this volume were selected by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei. The dust-jacket art is a reproduction of Virgil Finlay's illustration for Lovecraft's story "The Shunned House."


Nitocris (Greek: Νίτωκρις) has been claimed to have been the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt's Sixth Dynasty. Her name is found in Herodotus' Histories and in writings by Manetho, but her historicity is questionable. If she was in fact a historical person, then she may have been an interregnum queen, the sister of Merenre Nemtyemsaf II and the daughter of Pepi II and Queen Neith. Alternatively, the Egyptologist and phylologist Kim Ryholt has argued that Nitocris is legendary but derives from an historical figure, the male pharaoh Neitiqerty Siptah, who succeeded Merenre Nemtyemsaf II at the transition between the Old Kingdom and First Intermediate periods.


R'lyeh is a fictional lost city that first appeared in the H. P. Lovecraft short story "The Call of Cthulhu", first published in Weird Tales in June 1928. In the story, R'lyeh is a sunken city in the South Pacific and the prison of the entity called Cthulhu.

The nightmare corpse-city of R'lyeh…was built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults.

Sonia Greene

Sonia Haft Greene Lovecraft Davis (16 March 1883 – 26 December 1972) was an American one-time pulp fiction writer and amateur publisher, a single mother, business woman and milliner who bankrolled several fanzines in the early twentieth century. She is best known for her two-year marriage to American weird fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft. She was a president of the United Amateur Press Association.

Supernatural Horror in Literature

"Supernatural Horror in Literature" is a long essay by American writer H. P. Lovecraft, surveying the topic of horror fiction. It was written between November 1925 and May 1927 and revised during 1933–1934. It was first published in 1927 in the one-issue magazine The Recluse. More recently, it was included in the collection Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (1965).

Lovecraft examines the beginnings of weird fiction in the gothic novel (relying greatly on Edith Birkhead's 1921 survey The Tale of Terror) and traces its development through such writers as Ambrose Bierce, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe (who merits his own chapter). Lovecraft names as the four "modern masters" of horror: Algernon Blackwood, Lord Dunsany, M. R. James, and Arthur Machen.

An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia terms the work "HPL's most significant literary essay and one of the finest historical analyses of horror literature." Upon reading the essay, M. R. James proclaimed Lovecraft's style "most offensive". However,

Edmund Wilson, who was not an admirer of Lovecraft's fiction, praised the essay as a "really able piece of

work...he had read comprehensively in this field—he was strong on the Gothic novelists—and

writes about it with much intelligence". David G. Hartwell has called "Supernatural Horror in Literature", "the most important essay on horror literature".

The Cancer of Superstition

The Cancer of Superstition is a manuscript by C. M. Eddy, Jr. that investigates ideas and trends of superstition throughout history. C. M. Eddy, Jr. and H. P. Lovecraft were commissioned to write a book on the subject by famed magician and escapologist Harry Houdini from an outline provided by Lovecraft.The 31-page manuscript was discovered in a collection of materials procured by a private collector from a magic shop that had closed. Houdini and Lovecraft scholars knew of the book previously, but until this manuscript was found in 2016, such a complete version of the work was not known to exist. It remains unclear what parts were written by Eddy and what by Lovecraft. A synopsis of the book, as well as a single chapter titled "The Genesis of Superstition", was published in the 1966 as part of the book The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces.

In The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces 1966 August Derleth writes: Early in the 1920s Harry Houdini retained H. P. Lovecraft to ghost-write for him, and one of Lovecraft's ghost-written tales appeared in Weird Tales in 1924 under the title Imprisoned with the Pharaohs. Soon after, he also enlisted the talents of C. M. Eddy, Jr. and in the course of their work together Houdini outlined sketchily a book he thought ought to be done on the origins, growth and fallacy of superstition. He suggested that Eddy might prepare the book, and furnished him with voluminous notes and ideas that he wanted incorporated in the book; he suggested also that perhaps H. P. Lovecraft could put the notes into shape so that Eddy could work from the outline Lovecraft prepared.

In The 13 Gates of the Necronomican: A Workbook of Magic (2012) author Donald Tyson referred to the Lovecraft/Houdini collaboration as follows:

At the time of his death, Houdini had been corresponding with Lovecraft regarding a book on which they intended to collaborate, along with writer C.M. Eddy Jr., which was to be entitled 'The Cancer of Superstition.' Lovecraft prepared a detailed outline of the work, which is extant, and Barlow actually began the writing and completed three chapters, but Houdini's widow cancelled the project - perhaps because she was herself more inclined to believe in the reality of spiritualists phenomena than her skeptical late husband.

Tyson misidentifies Eddy as Barlow in the above quote and book.

The Cancer of Superstition states “all superstitious beliefs are relics of a common ‘prehistoric ignorance’ in humans,” which lays a foundational sense of the book's thesis and raison d'être. Both Lovecraft as a writer of horror fiction and Houdini as an illusionist relied on people's superstitions in their careers, playing on audiences' and readers' senses of the unknown for heightened entertainment, while also advocating for greater skepticism in society.In April 2016, the typewritten manuscript sold at auction for $33,600.

The Doom that Came to Sarnath and Other Stories

The Doom That Came to Sarnath and Other Stories is a collection of fantasy and horror stories by H. P. Lovecraft, edited by Lin Carter. It was first published in paperback by Ballantine Books as the twenty-sixth volume of its Ballantine Adult Fantasy series in February 1971. It was the second collection of Lovecraft's works assembled by Carter for the series, the first being The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. The stories were written between 1919 and 1935, and originally published in various fantasy magazines, notably Weird Tales.

The book collects twenty tales from the author's two main series of short stories, the Dream Cycle of Dunsanian fantasies and the Cthulhu Mythos of science fictional horror, with a general introduction, notes, and a partial chronology of Lovecraft's works by the editor. The book is dedicated to Lovecraft's friend, correspondent and posthumous publisher August Derleth.

The Outsider (short story)

"The Outsider" is a short story by American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Written between March and August 1921, it was first published in Weird Tales, April 1926. In this work, a mysterious individual who has been living alone in a castle for as long as he can remember decides to break free in search of human contact and light. "The Outsider" is one of Lovecraft's most commonly reprinted works and is also one of the most popular stories ever to be published in Weird Tales.

"The Outsider" combines horror, fantasy, and gothic fiction to create a nightmarish story, containing themes of loneliness, the abhuman, and the afterlife. Its epigram is from John Keats' 1819 poem "The Eve of St. Agnes".

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories

The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories is Penguin Classics' second omnibus edition of works by 20th-century American author H. P. Lovecraft. It was released in October 2001 and is still in print.

This edition is the second in Penguin Classics' series of paperback collections. Again, it collects a number of Lovecraft's most popular stories in their latest "definitive" editions as edited by S. T. Joshi. Many of the texts are the same as those from the earlier Arkham House hardcover editions, with the exception of At the Mountains of Madness, which has recently been released in a definitive edition by the Modern Library, with an introduction by China Miéville and also including Lovecraft's essay on the history and evolution of weird fiction, Supernatural Horror in Literature.

Its companion volumes from Penguin Classics are The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories (2001), and The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories (2004).

Whipple Van Buren Phillips

Whipple Van Buren Phillips (November 22, 1833 – March 28, 1904) was an American businessman from Providence, Rhode Island who also had mining interests in Idaho. He was most notable as the grandfather of H. P. Lovecraft, whom he raised with his daughters and encouraged to have an appreciation of literature, especially classical literature and English poetry.

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