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.