The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black

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fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. HudspethThe Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth

The first 65 pages of The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth is a fascinating “biography” of the titular doctor, a man who believed that the creatures of mythology actually existed at one time and could be reborn into our world with the proper surgical technique. It’s a tragic tale of a medical prodigy who had already completed medical school with high honors at the age of 20. Black was a man of intense curiosity who reveled in dissecting every type of animal, including humans (which he had dug up from their graves for his father’s scientific work when he was a child, hence the “resurrectionist” label). But his curiosity took a tragic turn when he began his work of recreating mythological creatures, starting with the grafting of wings onto his beagle. His brother describes the scene in his journal, making one remarkable note that passes without acknowledgement: “The animal flinched in response to Spencer’s voice; its wings flapped as it tried to stand.” The wings were functional? Wow.

I could have used much more of this story, in much greater detail; that is, I’d have loved a fully-fledged novel. But Hudspeth’s imagination apparently tends more toward images than the written word. The bulk of this book is a copy of a fictional Codex Extinct Animalia, allegedly written and drawn by Black. Only six copies were ever printed, Black’s “biography” explains, because for some reason Black withdrew it at that point. This is a copy of one of those six extant volumes, we are told. It is full of remarkable artwork, with drawings of the bones and musculature of various types of mythological creatures, from the sphinx to the harpy. I would have liked more explanation of how the animals worked, anatomically. For instance, how does the centaur’s musculature work to support the human portion of the body? The drawings lead me to believe that the animals would always suffer from severe back pain, and that remaining upright would be excruciating. Similarly, how can the back of a cerberus support three heads without upper back and neck aches? It seems to me that if an artist is going to draw the musculature of these creatures, there should be some narrative that explains them.

Still, this oversized volume (not a coffee table book, but larger than the average) is a worthy addition to the libraries of those who enjoy fantastical artwork. It brings to mind the early work of Wayne Barlowe (particularly his Guide to Extraterrestrials and Guide to Fantasy), and similarly rewards plenty of gazing.

Publication Date: May 21, 2013 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, minotaurs, 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.

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TERRY WEYNA, on our staff since December 2010, would rather be reading than doing almost anything else. She longs to be a full-time reviewer, critic, scholar and writer, but nonetheless continues to practice law as a civil litigator in California. Terry lives in Northern California with her husband, professor emeritus and writer Fred White, the imperious but aging Cordelia Louise Cat Weyna-White, and a forever-growing personal library that presently exceeds 15,000 volumes.

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