Ramses: the Son of Light, by Christian Jacq

February 24, 2008

I finally finished the 5th and final volume of Christian Jacq’s dramatic recreation of the life of Egypt’s Ramses the Great, the series known collectively as Ramses: the Son of Light. This series was apparently a huge best-seller, especially overseas.

Honestly though, I don’t know why. It was interesting, but for me, hardly best-seller material. The only thing I can imagine is that the subject itself, Ramses II, the Great, is a subject so large that it couldn’t be anything BUT a best seller. The subject is one of the longest reigning, and yes, greatest, rulers in history. What he did and built represents a good part of what we recognize as Egypt today.

I realize that this series is a dramatic recreation. This usually means the author will tell the story using what is known, and make up the rest. Some characters will help the story line progress, and some situations will be heightened or changed for dramatic effect. It also means that the majority dialogue, for example, is made up too, because no one knows what was really said unless it was written down, which in Ancient Egypt, it usually was not.

Maybe the translation from French to English lost something. I mean, REALLY lost something. But the writing, and especially the dialogue, drove me bonkers. It was amateurish, sometimes cartoon-like.

There were annoying instances what I thought of as anachronistic phrasing used all through the series, but two instances stick in my head from the last two volumes.

There is a character named Saramanna, a former Sard pirate defeated in battle by Pharaoh who then becomes head of Pharaoh’s body guards. The Sard morphs into a detective attempting to investigate various crimes and plots against Ramses, and is frequently called “chief” by his employees. “He got away, Chief. Somehow he slipped away in the night.”

Argh. Whenever I read stuff like that I thought of the old television show “Dragnet.” And I kept seeing ‘Shrek’ as Saramanna!

Then there is one character who tells another, “You’re on my home turf now!” What? This is 1250 BC Egypt! “You’re on my home turf now?”

Some of the worst character interaction and dialogue occurs between Ramses and his (alleged) childhood friend Moses, who, for this purpose, was the architect behind Ramses’ new capital, Pi-Ramses. After Moses suffers a crisis of faith and sees the burning bush in the desert and thinks Yaweh has spoken to him, he seemingly loses the ability to speak intelligently. From that point on, all conversations between Ramses and Moses take on a dramatic cartoon balloon brevity, with Ramses trying to talk friendship and sense with Moses being belligerent and irrationally hard-headed while trying a series of hokey magic tricks and natural phenomena to prove that Yaweh wants the Hebrews to leave Egypt. These are quickly disproved by Ramses’ friend Setau and Ramses’ son Kha, a head priest. (Contrary to what the movie “The 10 Commandments” tried to tell us, and supported in this book series, the Hebrews were not slaves and could leave Egypt as they pleased. But by Yaweh, Moses said they needed a homeland so they could kill and sacrifice animals, so a few hundred of them went to wander for 40 odd years in the desert .) Adding subplot and complication, in this version a bad guy tries to use Moses’ faith and supply him weapons to overthrow Ramses, because the bad guy is a murdering spy from the Hittite empire who recruits a fictional older brother Ramses never had, and Ramses conniving sister, too!

I know this is a fictional and dramatic recreation, but extreme liberty is taken with known history. Unknown characters carry the story forward. Known history is discarded. Ramses was Pharaoh, considered a god on earth, but in this, he is also a mystic who can look at the sun without blinking, read minds, head off almost everything thrown at him, AND wrestle the gods for good weather.

It annoyed me.

I read the first three volumes of the series at the beginning of last year, but only came back finish the last two volumes this year.

Maybe, because I do know a little of Egyptian history, and because I’m currently listening to some very interesting lectures on Egyptian history from the Teaching Company, the liberties taken and the stilted dialogue annoyed me more than it should. I don’t know. But I’d seen and heard about these books for years and wanted to read them.

In the end, I’m glad I invested the time so I could say I did, and judge them for myself. But I was sorely disappointed.


3 Responses to “Ramses: the Son of Light, by Christian Jacq”

  1. This same effect has me addicted to the Teaching Company lectures. Everything else just seems pale in comparison. I guess there are worse things one could be addicted to!

    You may find my Teaching Company website helpful where I review all lectures from recent courses, and some old favorites:


    I hope you enjoy it,

    Doug van Orsow

  2. develite Says:

    Check out my blog for the ramses series. am a big fan of christian jacq.. have you read the latest book – manhunt

  3. Khozyain Says:

    No I have not read it. I checked Amazon, but it didn’t provide a description. What’s it about?

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