The Mummy’s “Book of The Dead” prop

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The Mummy’s “Book of The Dead” prop

We recently had a question from a reader about this prop. “Connie” wrote in wanting to know how to replicate the mechanism that, in the movie, is used to unlock The Book’s cover. Never having seen The Mummy, I went into research mode and enqueued it from Netflix. Then I watched it. Big mistake.

But, you know, to each his or her own. And “The Book of the Dead,” with its ornate clasps and intricate star-shaped key, is admittedly an awesome prop. The scene Connie is referring to, I believe, occurs at almost exactly one hour into the “Deluxe Edition” cut of the film, and shows the intrepid but remarkably foolish archeologists inserting the aforementioned star-shaped key into a correspondingly star-shaped opening in the book’s cover, turning it, and thereby releasing the spring-loaded cover clasps and, with them, all manner of unpleasant whatnot.

So I started Googling around, looking for dweebs enthusiasts that might have already built such a thing. And while I did not find any working mechanical replicas of the prop, I did discover the remarkably beautiful static replica shown in the photo at the top of this post by Jeff Stelter of Stelter Creative Woodworks.

I also found this video by YouTuber oneandonlyJadedMonk showing his working mechanical replica of the star-shaped key used to open the book. Connie, if you’re looking for a real expert, I think this might be the man to talk to.

But as for completely working cover locks, I’m afraid I have to admit defeat. Having watched the scene a few times, I’m completely confident that a suitable lockwork could be designed and built, but actually doing either is well above my pay grade. But something I’ve learned writing for this blog is what an incredible resource the MAKE readership can be, and so I’m going to throw the question out to them.

How ’bout it, folks? Anybody know how this thing works? Or know of somebody’s who has built one? Or, even better, know anything about the original prop?

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10 thoughts on “The Mummy’s “Book of The Dead” prop

    1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

      Good link, thank you!

  1. GCF says:

    From the looks of it, there is a small hole in the base of the piece with the circle. Maybe a small pin moves up into place when the box is turned one way. Then the pin is removed when the box is turned. The piece with the circle is the only piece that needs to be locked into place, because it is holding all the others in place.

  2. DJ Ir0nGruve Drinkus Partius Maximus says:

    If each arm has a short dowel length protruding into the book with a triangular recess cut into it the release mechanism can be a piece of material with a face that matches the triangular cut with a collar to hold the force of a spring that keeps the piece in contact with the dowel in the closed position. The release springs that cause the book to fly open can either be a spring built into the outside mechanism that is pushed into the dowel hole or a spring/plate mechanism in the well of the dowel hole to push it out upon release of the lock.

    A physical example of this mechanics and shapes involved is your normal household door lock. The pin/thin piece’s end would have to be shaped like a ramp to allow them to be pushed inward upon closing the mechanism. In this case the door frame is the dowel and the thin piece is the lockbolt/throwpiece.

    Then fishing line strings can be attached to the rotating keyhole (possibly with a guide right before the rotating parts) so when rotated the keyhole pulls on the string/line and the thin pieces pull inwards clearing the dowels which are then popped out by internal push/plates in the book or pre-tensioned springs on the external dowel holder clasps.

  3. rahlquist says:

    You could emulate the flying open hinges using magnets in the head of each hinge and a 4 way bar lock. Similar to

    If you were to put two magnets near the end of each bar one facing North up and the one at the tip facing South up with south facing down in the heads on the hinges. Then when you ‘locked’ the book the N-S magnets would hold shut, when you twisted the lock and the bars in the cover slid and the S pole magnet came under the S pole head it would fling it away (assuming the magnets were strong enough).

    1. rahlquist says:

      hate to talk to myself but here is a crude drawing to illustrate what I mean.

      1. Sean Michael Ragan says:

        I’d say someone has an aptitude for mechanisms.

        I think only two of the clasps need to be released. The other two, on the left, though they look similar, are just hinges. And I like the idea of a magnetic hasp. You could probably just spring-load the hinges and not have to worry about the whole repulsion thing, though, I would think.

  4. says:

    What? You don’t like The Mummy? It’s a personal favourite:) It’s a pulp, so not great art, but still a fun movie IMO.

  5. m Ford says:

    The real book from the movie is in a museum

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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