When I first flipped through The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black from Quirk Books I assumed it was just one of those pretty picture books like Dragonology or Wizardology: lots of full page illustrations, light on story and heavy on artwork.
It’s actually much, much darker than that.
The first half of the book tells the story of Spencer Black. He grew up in the 1800’s, when groundbreaking doctors would sometimes raid cemeteries for fresh corpses, since the idea of “donating your body to science” wouldn’t be around for another century. His father would have Spencer and his brother help him dig up bodies, so Spencer was never very squeamish around cadavers.
Had he stopped there he might have been okay. Even when his studies veered off into figuring out why mutations happened, he might have still had a respected career. The problem was he thought mutations could be the body remembering how it used to be, and maybe the mutation was an attempt to make the body better.
It was a controversial idea, but it didn’t become a horrible one until Spencer tried to recreate these mutations, first in dead animals, then in live ones. And then in people.
Spencer believed that mythological animals were all based in reality, and when no one believed him he joined a traveling circus and became a very popular freak-show curator, showing off the creations he’d spliced together in creepily realistic ways. An Eastern Dragon skeleton could be a popular attraction, but his centaur included the preserved body of a human, and the show could incite riots.
The second half of the book are pages of diagrams and illustrations, drawn by Spencer, of some of his creations. The descriptions of each continue his story, and give us some idea as to what happened to a few of those family members.
E.B. Hudspeth has created a lovely, slightly gory book; there’s no blood or entrails in the actual illustrations, but the descriptions of what Spencer did to some of his animals can get uncomfortably detailed.
The story itself has a great tone, it has a nicely Victorian feel to it without being overblown or hard to read. There are excerpts from letters and news articles that seem very realistic.
The illustrations are extremely detailed. Each mythological monster is shown in many different angles, with impressive attention to bone structure and musculature.
Between the disturbing story and the meticulous artwork, this is definitely a book that will stay with you for a while.