Philadelphia, the late 1870s. A city of gas lamps, cobblestone streets, and horse-drawn carriages - and home to the controversial surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a grave robber, young Dr. Black studies at Philadelphia’s esteemed Academy of Medicine, where he develops an unconventional hypothesis: What if the world’s most celebrated mythological beasts - mermaids, minotaur's, and satyrs - were in fact the evolutionary ancestors of humankind?
The Resurrectionist offers two extraordinary books in one. The first is a fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black, from a childhood spent exhuming corpses through his medical training, his travels with carnivals, and the mysterious disappearance at the end of his life. The second book is Black’s magnum opus: The Codex Extinct Animalia, a Gray’s Anatomy for mythological beasts - dragons, centaurs, Pegasus, Cerberus - all rendered in meticulously detailed anatomical illustrations. You need only look at these images to realize they are the work of a madman. The Resurrectionist tells his story.
Author E.B. Hudspeth, has, through journals, newspaper reports, diaries and letters, made this pseudo-history seem almost real. Thanks to an unconventional youth as a grave-robbing ghoul, Spencer Black was destined to become a scientist, obsessed with reanimation. Parents eh? Black’s father unwittingly started something that would consume his son for a lifetime with tragic consequences.
This book charts a talented doctor and scientist’s descent from sanity, respectability and professionalism to obsession and madness, all sadly at the expense of his wife and children.
Hudspeth has cleverly juxtaposed a story about ghouls and mythology with the puritan values of nineteenth century America. Couple the story of the first part with the anatomical artwork and this is a very clever idea expertly executed.
It is a little thin on story, but that is perhaps a deliberate ploy to make Black more enigmatic and mysterious. Suffice to say, I read this quickly and was hooked throughout. This is a Gothic, tragic, and at times, shocking work of fiction. The artwork is beautiful as well as thought provoking; Hudspeth should be applauded for tackling a controversial subject of vivisectionist work and science against the backdrop of a highly moralistic society. Genius to madness has been covered before, but this is a moving and understated work where the realms of myth and fantasy meet the real world.
The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth
Published 2013 by Quirk Books
Review by Daniel Cann
8/10 from 1 reviews
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