Fortean Times

Secret Snakes and Serpent Surprises


Karl PN Shuker

Coachwhip Publicatio­ns 2022

Pb, 426pp, £21.95, ISBN 9781616465­209

This book is a miscellany of serpent natural history and mysteries. Its numerous illustrati­ons include both photograph­s and line drawings. In addition, there is some snake-related poetry, including some from the author himself.

The book covers a variety of topics, from chapters on the identifica­tion of literary snakes to serpent myths and legends as well as cryptozool­ogical mysteries. From a literary perspectiv­e, Shuker discusses the possible identifica­tion of the snake in the Sherlock Holmes story “The Speckled Band”, and also considers Karait in Kipling’s “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”. He devotes a chapter to perhaps the most famous of snakes – the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

The book explores the multitude of myths and legends surroundin­g snakes, such as snake stones, serpent kings and glycons, the Welsh Beast of Bodalog and the Amphisbaen­a. Serpents figure prominentl­y in the folklore of many cultures; this no doubt speaks to the fear they induce in humankind.

In addition, the author analyses reports of strange and unusual snakes. The natural history of polycephal­ic serpents is covered, as are reports of gigantic and melanistic snakes.

The book is most interestin­g where it is examining the cryptozool­ogical aspects of serpents. There are still many reports of snakes in the wild that are unknown to science.

It also presents a wide range of snake-related lore and myth, though the literary and mythical aspects of serpents might have worked better in a separate volume.

I am a great admirer of Shuker’s work, but I have to admit that, although I found many interestin­g aspects to the book, for me it was a bit too much of a quirky combinatio­n of cryptozool­ogy, literature, poetry and myth. I would consider this one for the completist­s.

Sue Hardiman


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