The Resurrectionist : The Lost Work and Writings of Dr. Spencer Black, Hardback

The Resurrectionist : The Lost Work and Writings of Dr. Spencer Black Hardback

3 out of 5 (54 ratings)


Philadelphia. The late 1870s. A city of cobblestone sidewalks and horse-drawn carriages.

Home to the famous anatomist and surgeon Dr. Spencer Black. The son of a "resurrectionist" (aka grave robber), Dr. Black studied 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 his humble beginnings to 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 black-and-white anatomical illustrations.

You need only look at these images to realize they are the work of a madman. "The Resurrectionist" tells his story.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 208 pages, Detailed Pencil Drawings Throughout
  • Publisher: Quirk Books
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Historical fiction
  • ISBN: 9781594746161



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Showing 1 - 5 of 54 reviews.

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Review by

This seems to be another of those books where the idea works better than the actual execution. It opens with a short biography of Dr. Spencer Black, a Victorian-era scientist who goes a little (okay, rather a lot) off the rails with his anatomical theories, concluding that mythological creatures had actually existed and could be, in a sense, resurrected. That's about the first sixty pages of the book, after which it shifts to Black's "lost work," a reprint of the <i>Codex Extinct Animalia</i>, which contains brief outlines of such species and a number of anatomical drawings for each (sphinx, siren, satyr, minotaur, ganesha, chimera, cerberus, pegasus, dragon, centaur, harpy).Quite a creepy book overall, in which the seriously deranged ideas of a troubled mind are brought to cruel fruition. But I have to say I wanted more depth, more description, more details ...

Review by

Who doesn't love a good mad-scientist-creating-conglomerate-creatures story? I know I do. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is surely the great-great-grandmother to this book, but it has more recent relations. While reading Hudspeth's The Resurrectionist from Quirk Books, I was reminded of another good read I picked up a couple of years ago at a library book sale: Lives of the Monster Dogs, by Kirsten Bakis. In both The Resurrectionist and Monster Dogs, there is the feeling of morbid fascination combined with a profound sadness that I find hard to shake. There is always a sacrifice of innocence to reach the climax of this artificial evolution. In both of these books, it is the family pet who suffers for his owner's scientific ambitions. And to me, this feels like the worst kind of betrayal, making the results of these animal-blending projects even more horrifying.

Review by

This book was immensely underwhelming and therefore frustrating. As a fan of fantasy and biology I was very intrigued by the idea of this book. There are other vibrant and colorful fantastic bestiaries out there, but to get into the bones and muscles of a Satyr or a Centaur-- that was something I hadn't seen before. But the ARC of this book that I received did not include literally half the illustrations and so I can't really comment on them. The handful that were there were very good, but aside from a detail of the mermaid's gilled lungs, they didn't really have any commentary about the anatomy.The part of the book devoted to the fictional biography was really boring. The lack of detail was purposeful since the story is supposed to be that little is known about the subject, but I can't get engaged with a text where every other sentence simply comments that no information is known. I found the story vestigial and in need of excision. It's harsh, but I really think the book would have worked better if it was just an artbook or the writing had been asemic like in the Codex Seraphinianus or the Voynich Manuscript. At least then my imagination could supply the details.

Review by

The Resurrectionist is an interesting concept with intriguing characters and artwork. At least the artwork that was present. Since the copy I have is an uncorrected proof, a lot of the artwork is missing. What is present is high-quality and full of detail although incomplete. Also incomplete is the story of Dr. Spencer Black and I really wish there was a bit more meat on the bones there. The story is presented in the formal voice of a historian or old-school journalist. It's a bit stilted and odd in places, but since the overall tale is so odd, it didn't really bother me. It does sort of plant you right into Spencer Black's childhood and adventures with dad the doctor cum Resurrection man. Nocturnal graveyard thefts and all that grisly stuff. There is a blank page for an introduction and I think given the abrupt nature of the start, it is necessary to ease the reader into the story. I wish it had been available in time for the ARC.Dr. Black's lost writings are presented as well as the story of how his descent into madness destroyed a promising medical career. Not merely interested in correcting mutations by surgery (such as amputating parasitic-twin limbs from a child), instead Dr. Black becomes consumed with what causes the mutations themselves. He is convinced that every mutation is the body's failed effort to resurrect traits present in earlier forms. This leads him to believe that the stunted arms of a little girl are really the body trying to sprout wings. In his mania he emulates Dr. Moreau (who to be fair, existed at a later date in a different fictional world) with vivisected creations he claims are models of what our bodies used to look like and could again, if only with a little encouragement.Barred from the usual halls of medicine he takes to the road with various collections and becomes a sideshow huckster. But even mingling with the craven masses isn't a safe place and he's hounded out of town after town by people convinced he's the Devil's Surgeon. During all these years of crazy dissection, vivisection, blood and misery, his family becomes more and more remote. Yeah, the guy has a family. Wife, kids, brother...all are caught up in his mania to resurrect our prior evolutionary states. A thin, but palpable sense of dread builds as first his son and then his wife succumb to his surgical nightmare. These passages reminded me of Geek Love and Todd Browning's Freaks. One of us!Then suddenly Dr. Black disappears leaving almost nothing behind. Eventually his brother sets out to find him and never returns. Dr. Black's old house stands abandoned and moldering in upon itself. His remaining son, now called The Sleepless Man, is also missing. Only odd noises are occasionally heard in the derelict house and a lone copy of his aborted book on the "lesser known species of the animal kingdom" is all that remains of his life's work. Finally, a last letter from Dr. Black to his brother Bernard appears. It is rambling and opaque and confesses fear, something we've never heard from Dr. Black."I have hidden my notes for you to retrieve. Please, brother, help me keep this from the sleepless man, my son, Alphonse."Oh how I wish for just a bit more peril. What the hell did he do to the kid to make him The Sleepless Man? Why is he afraid of him? (Shades of Frankenstein's Creature with that bit) When he confesses his miserable failure in trying to make his wife well again, what became of her? Where and how far did Bernard get in tracing his brother? Did he write to his wife or anyone else? I guess not since other letters between the brothers are presented to us. The mystery is tantalizing, but too incorporeal and flat out incomplete to really draw us in. It seems like this would have possibly made a better short story (sans artwork), maybe one Lovecraft would have written. As is, I think it needs to be longer, story-wise. The artwork certainly ups the number of pages, but I want more story. More detail. More mystery.

Review by
Summary: The Resurrectionist is two books in one. The first is a biography of Dr. Spencer Black, a physician in the late nineteenth century. Dr. Black was born the son of a grave robber, but his interest in anatomy and skill in medicine won him much acclaim. But he became obsessed with the pursuit of a hypothesis: that the mythological creatures, such as mermaids, minotaurs, and centaurs, were not the stuff of legend, but were real creatures, and in fact represented the ancestors of humankind. As he became more and more single-minded in response to proof of this hypothesis, he withdrew from the public eye, and began a series of surgical experiments, the likes of which had never been seen before, and has not been seen since, since Dr. Black vanished in mysterious circumstances before he could fully realize his life's work. The second book is a reproduction of Black's work The Codex Extinct Animalia, which contains detailed anatomical drawings and notes for eleven of these presumedly mythological creatures.Review: This is a very, very cool idea for a book. This is also a very, very attractive book (as are all of the books from Quirk publishers, at least in my experience.) There were a lot of things I liked about this book, but there were also a few things I didn't.The first was that the two halves of this book didn't really fit together, but they also would have been incomplete without one another. The biography of Black was interesting, and I think it gave a very evocative image of the state of medicine in the late 1800s. However, it was somewhat short, and more problematically, ended somewhat abruptly. The cause of the disappearances of Black and his family are not revealed, nor is the true nature of his final experiment. I was okay with that at the time, figuring that things would become more clear as I kept reading through the second part of the book. There are certainly some hints, but if there was a fuller message, or an answer to the puzzle, hidden in the anatomical diagrams or the text that accompanied them, it was too subtle for me to parse out, and so made the narrative feel incomplete and unsatisfying. The illustrations, on the other hand, are absolutely gorgeous. They're also - and this was what really caught me - anatomically accurate (or I guess I should say anatomically plausible.) I have spent a lot of time looking at anatomical diagrams like these (albeit of non-mythological organisms), and Hudspeth clearly knows his anatomy; to give you an example, he gets the right number of vertebrae for the neck of each head of the chimaera, although I think the snake head may be labelled incorrectly. (That may also give you an example of a) how big of a geek I am, and b) how closely I was reading the back half of this book, because yes, of course I counted.) I could tell that he thought about things like how the scapulas would interact for organisms that have both wings and forelimbs, and the extra musculature that would be needed to support the weight of a minotaur's head. (I'm still a little bit skeptical that the muscles of most of the winged creatures would be sufficient to power flight, however.) So, yes, the biologist side of me geeked out hard over this book, although it did bug me a bit that his classifications weren't taxonomically unique: the sirens can't belong to Order Caudata within the Class Mammicthyes (which is fake) if the dragons belong to Order Caudata within Class Amphibia (which is real; Caudata are the salamanders, although if that's the case, his dragon probably shouldn't have had claws.) So the second part of the book, apart from a few quibbles that no one but me cares about, was great. I don't know if it would have worked independently of the first part of the book, although I suspect that it would - with a few touches, and maybe some more internal anatomy diagrams to complement the skeletal/musculature diagrams that are the main focus, the back half of this book would maybe a lovely coffee-table-type book (at a very strange coffee house, mind.) But as it was, the two halves of this book felt a little disjointed, and that detracted a bit from my enjoyment of it as a whole. 3.5 out of 5 stars.Recommendation: The first half of the book's forgettable, but the back half is lovely and extraordinarily well done. And I don't think it's just med students and biology nerds who will like the illustrations; they're lovely, and should appeal to anyone who likes the history of medicine and has an fondness for fantastic creatures and an appreciation for the macabre.

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