Pabkins’ One Liner: Marvelously done anatomical drawings of creatures of myth, but a stale fictional biography.
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.
The Resurrectionist was written for a very specific audience – who that audience is I’m not exactly quite sure. It’s definitely not one that I can think of anyone right on hand to recommend it to. Perhaps those that enjoy fictional biographies, somber crazed scientists but in an overall droll package? This is the second fictional biography/autobiography I’ve read and it was interesting to see how this was done. I definitely prefer the autobiography approach more so than the biography. Perhaps if it had been written as such Spencer Black would have been more dynamic and gripping of a character. I think it has a pretty accurate flavor of the time period right of the 1850’s to early 1900s. Of the 208 pages, really only the first 65 of those pages are the biography. The remaining portion of the book is made up of ‘The Codex Extinct Animalia’ which is exactly what it is but being of completely mythological and or creatures of legend. Every few pages you’ll see a different creature along with the notes about that creature from Spencer Black.
The pictures were fascinating, and even some of the details about the creatures – They were gorgeously drawn, even considering your saw the musculature of them. Students with an Art Major I think would appreciate it. This was indeed the reason why I decided to read it, because I love art. Everything else in the Resurrectionist was rather stale and flat. I was expecting sensationalism, pizazz! – a mad lunatic doctor that performs experiments and was reminiscent of perhaps Dr. Frankenstein – but alas that isn’t what I got. I think there could have been more done to really connect you to Spencer Black to make the reader more interested in his life and then also his work. I think perhaps by keeping the tone of the work so close to what perhaps the time period was, and also too closely to that of a medical or research account of things that it left me as the reader no real desire to know about him or at time to even continue reading. There were also some gruesome scenes of animal experimentation that may not suit all readers. I didn’t mind that because I have a medical background. Also, I believe the blurb on the back gives ample warning of what you can expect by “Deliciously macabre and beautifully grotesque.”
Admittedly I really didn’t know how to describe my feelings for this one – I’d have to settle on ambivalent.
The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black