The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E. B. Hudspeth. Source: Quirk Books. Format: Hardcover, 192 pages, Quirk Books, 2013.
If you go into this book blind without reading the blurb, you may very well believe that Dr. Spencer Black was a real person who pushed scientific boundaries in immoral ways during his lifetime. While this book is a work of fiction, the biography of Dr. Black certainly is believable and historically plausible. Alas, it only lasts for 65 pages, making it easy to read in one sitting–which I did. (Though it took until page 34 for me to get hooked. But then I was hooked. And then I was quite distraught to discover I was already halfway through the whole “story” by then.)
The biography of Dr. Spencer Black chronicles his life and career, his projects and ideas. Born in Philadelphia in 1851, he was the son of a resurrectionist–“an exhumer and stealer of corpses”, a.k.a. a grave robber. Spencer Black later became a different sort of resurrectionist from that of his father–he became “one who revives or brings to light again”. Spencer was once a highly respected doctor–a surgeon, an anatomist–who went through the best medical schools. But he was a man obsessed with the notion that humans may have evolved from mythological beasts, and that traces of our ancestry were still present in rare cases. Dr. Black lived an exciting, strange, and ultimately challenging life in which he traveled with carnivals in order to study deformed specimens after his academic peers turned on him, disgusted by his unorthodox methods and pursuits. He became estranged from his brother, and his wife spiraled into her own hell after Dr. Black’s work went irreversibly too far.
The biographical portion of E. B. Hudspeth’s book (which I constantly have to remind myself is fictional) is consuming and cringe-worthy, at times horrifying and gut-churning. Much of the text is comprised of excerpts from Dr. Black’s own writings: his journal entries, his scientific notes, his letters. It did take me until Dr. Black’s first real encounter with a strangely malformed body that looked eerily like a faun or satyr to get 100% invested–and that was, not surprisingly, also the turning point in the doctor’s life that sparked his (arguably unethical) fixation.
Before disappearing seemingly from the face of the Earth in 1908, Dr. Spencer Black published a mere six copies of his magnum opus: The Codex Extinct Animalia. This anatomical reference manual is the true star of the book: it showcases eleven species Dr. Black studied, some of which he very likely created himself…
The Codex is sensational, featuring numerous detailed diagrams of the sphinx alatus, siren oceanus, satyrus hircinus, minotaurus asterion, ganesha orientis, chimaera incendiarius, canis hades, pegasus gorgonis, draconis orientis, centaurus caballus, and harpy erinyes. (The siren, dragon, and harpy are my favorites.) Dr. Black’s notes on each species are fascinating and descriptive–and very brief; I could have read pages and pages on each creature. The artwork is gorgeous, simplistic but stunning, offering many examples of different viewpoints and muscular and skeletal layers. Scroll down to the end of this review to look at some examples from this book. (Images are borrowed from E. B. Hudspeth’s website.)
While I half wish The Resurrectionist was at least twice its length (a man of such notorious status should seemingly have more information compiled by others throughout his lifetime), the other half of me is content with the mysteries left unsolved about Dr. Black’s disappearance. It is a fabulous macabre book with elements of horror and that contains twists and turns. It is definitely not for the faint of heart–you have been warned! ♦
Have you read The Resurrectionist?
If so, what did you think of it?
What do you think of the illustration it has?
If you have not read it, do you think you’d want to?
Comment below letting me know!
*I received this book from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This in no way affects my review; all opinions are my own. Thank you, Quirk Books!
About E. B. Hudspeth:
E. B. HUDSPETH is an artist and author living in New Jersey. This is his first book.