Monday, February 25, 2013

Year of the Snake

2013 is the Chinese Year of the Snake. The view of the snake in Asian culture is conflicting. On one hand, snakes are venerated and considered wise and one of the twelve honored animals of the zodiac--it's considered unlucky to injure a snake in your house. On the other hand, the snake is also one of the five noxious animals in the Day of Five Poisons and treacherous people are considered to have a "snake heart."

And the view of the snake in fantasy literature is also conflicting.  Sometimes portrayed as wise, sometimes portrayed as evil--snakes are at the roots of many mythologies. Here are some famous snakes in literature:

 Basilisk& Nagini in the HARRY POTTER series:  Snakes in the JK Rowling's world were definitely on the evil side. Who can forget the enormous snake Harry battled in Chamber of Secrets? The Basilisk was the "King of Serpents," who could turn people to stone by staring at them was born from a chicken egg hatched by a toad.  And Nagini, the snake that was both Voldemort's pet and horcrux!

Madame White Snake: Famous in Eastern culture but virtually unknown in the West, is the story of a white snake who turns herself into a beautiful woman, falls in love with a man, makes him rich and bears him a child. He, turns on her after finding out she is a snake, causing tragedy. In most tellings of the story, the white snake is portrayed with sympathy.

Charm in Clare Dunkle's Hollow Kingdom books (suggested by inkie Amy Greenfield): The golden snake who protects the Goblin King's wives (even from themselves). curls around Kate's neck, flattening into the skin like a tattoo, and delivers marvelously snaky quips. A creepy but oddly appealing companion.

The Queen of Underland in The Silver Chair: CS Lewis has many biblical references and allegories in his  Narnia series, so it's no surprise that a snake/serpent would be the embodiment of evil--the anti Aslan! In The Silver Chair, the Queen of Underland actually turns into a green snake and tries to kill Prince Rilian.

There is also a significant snake in fellow Inkie Katherine Catmull's Summer and Bird: A World Snake, is gnawing at its roots of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. The snake doesn’t always stay at the roots. Sometimes it slides up the trunk to the very top of the World Tree, to see what it can see and when Summer and the snake meet...

Louise the Larger in The Wind in the Door and other Madeline L'Engle books: Louise is a "teacher" who lives in the wall of the Murray's garden and is Sandy and Dennys' pet. Louise is definitely portrayed as wise--one of the more positive depictions of snakes!

What other snakes are there?


  1. loved the naga snake demon in sarwat chadda's The Savage Fortress! great topic, grace, one that is close to my heart, as current duology features a serpent demon.

    i've always been inspired by medusa, as well.

  2. One of my favorite snake stories is Rikki Tikki Tavi. The scene where Rikki pursues the enraged mother cobra Nagaina into her underground nest, knowing full well that she'd have the advantage in battle but doing it anyway for the sake of his human family, just blows my doors off. So heroic. Look, I'm getting goosebumps just thinking about it...

    1. Ooooh, yes! That's a great snake story. I read it when I was small, and I just heard a version on the radio here in the UK -- my daughter and I were completely gripped!

  3. I have to admit I'm not a snake fan in real life, so I seem to block them out of my fantasy reading. I put spiders and a snake in the book that's coming out in August (TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD) hoping that I could write my way out of my irrational fears, but I just got worse. (I had to watch a python attack a rabbit for research. Yrggg.)

    I will say, the Hollow Kingdom one sounds intriguing. Maybe I'll try that one.

  4. I do love that the snake in Asian culture is both honored and condemned. It's acknowledging the good side of the more difficult personalities.

  5. I just finished reading MIRAGE by Jenn Reese which had snake/human hybrid people--they were so cool!

  6. Fascinating post, Grace! I feel rather mixed about snakes myself, so it's interesting to hear that stories and tales in which the snake has both good and bad sides.

  7. I love the snake in the Sword in the Stone! A minor character, but memorable and endearing.


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