“Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” (called “Under the Pyramids” in draft form, also published as “Entombed with the Pharaohs“) is a short story written by H.P. Lovecraft. It tells a fictionalized tale about the journey of famous Harry Houdini trough Cairo, Egypt.
The story is told in a first person’s perspective and it is set in 1910 on his vacation in Egypt. While in Cairo he seeks the help of a guide called Abdul Reis el Drogman who very closely resembles an ancient pharaoh. Abdul takes him trough the city and as they browse it his guide gets into a fight between a Bedouin leader called Ali Ziz.During this Abdul asks Houdini for his help in settling the fight by a way of great custom in Cairo which is a boxing match at the top of the great pyramid of Giza. However the true cause of all these events was to kidnap him and lure him into the desert. Houdini is then tied up, taken to an unknown location, and dropped down a deep pit.
Once dropped he starts having horrific nightmares which prompts him to wake up and he manages to free himself from the ropes. Once free he tries to find his way out but ends up going deeper underground and comes across a ceremonial cavern where he witnesses all kinds of unspeakable horrors.
I’ve been reading Lovecraft for a while now but this story still managed to take me by surprise. He manages to draw such a vivid painting of the beauty of Cairo. The atmosphere is rich with details and it makes you feel like you are actually there. The second part manages to make a very claustrophobic feeling as you read it and completely terrifies you with the otherworldly beings found deep within the tunnels finishing off with a fantastic climax.
As much as I loved it I did have a slight issue with the first part of the story. Even though the writing is phenomenal and as I said it paints a vivid picture I did think it wan on for a bit longer than it should have. But that could be due to the fact that he wanted to make the protagonist as innocent seeming as possible, unaware of the horrors that the universe has to offer.
Final verdict: 7/10
Fun fact: He actually ghostwrote this story for Houdini himself who greatly praised it. To thank him for his work, Houdini gave Lovecraft a signed copy of his 1924 book A Magician Among the Spirits.