The Resurrectionist (E.B. Hudspeth) is an unusual work of illustrative fiction that enticed my dark sensibilities and commanded my senses at first glance. The cover, which is black and silver, depicts a medical illustration of a skeleton from a mythological creature known as a Harpy, a winged and taloned flying creature with a woman’s head. Ornate, baroque-style end-paper and attractive typography compliment The Resurrectionist’s feeling of Victorian antiquity and opulence, an aesthetic I always appreciate.
The tale of The Resurrectionist is told in two parts. The first tells the story of the Blacks, a prominent Philadelphian medical family whose father takes his two young sons, Spencer and Bernard, grave robbing (hence the title The Resurrectionist) and then of how those sons become doctors in their own right. It is the younger son, Dr. Spencer Black, whose story is primarily told and whose illustrations make up the second part of the book. The storyline follows the downward spiral of Spencer and his descent into supposed madness. The beginning of the end for the mad Doc starts with being exiled from the medical community and joining the freak show carnival circuit as a presenter of gaffs. His freak show creations are the examples that support his controversial theories regarding evolution: that mutations are not accidents (but the body attempting to grow what it grew naturally thousands of years ago) and that mythological creatures were the manifestation of these mutations. Eventually we find Dr. Spencer Black holed up in a makeshift laboratory, Doctor Frankenstein-style, attempting to sew different species of animals together.
In the second part of the book we find Dr. Black’s lost work The Codex Extinct Animalia: A Study of the Lesser Known Species of the Animal Kingdom, a meticulously illustrated menagerie of eleven mythological beasts including Sphinx, Siren, Satyr, Pegasus, and (my favorite) Canis Hades, the three headed hellhound. The drawings are anatomical in nature, and while they are obviously fantastical, they have the feeling that they could be found in Albert Seba’s Cabinet of Natural Curiosities. (review) I enjoyed my time spent with The Resurrectionist and would recommend the title to anyone with an interest in medical history, mythology, and the macabre.