Ragnar's Saga

The Story Behind the Story

The Myth of the Serpent

Posted by Christopher Hivner on April 5, 2011 at 1:42 PM

The construction of The Myth of the Serpent started one day at work when I had gone out for lunch. When I got back I pulled into a parking space and just sat there for a few minutes staring at the sky. I didn’t want to go back to work that day. What I was doing was boring me out of my mind and it was a beautiful spring day; the sky was that perfect blue that you get lost in when you stare at it and all your problems melt away. There were only a few strips of clouds slashing across the sky, but the one right in front of me was long and serpentine. It looked like a giant snake descending on the parking lot, ready to strike.


The image of a ponderous serpent coming out of the sky stayed with me so I began formulating what I could do with it in the context of a short story. If you read enough of my work you’ll notice a prevailing theme of characters searching for something in there life. This was never a conscious conceit on my part but it gives you a clue into my own psyche as pieces of a writer’s own thoughts and desires show up in everything we write, even when we don’t notice it ourselves. The human mind is sneaky that way.


To take the idea of a life-altering search even further, I have used in previous stories or poems the existence of a creature or process that would allow you to wipe the slate clean, to wash away everything bad in your life and start anew. We have all done things we wish we could change. If only someone would finally invent that time machine where we could go back and re-live that fateful moment when stupidity took over our minds and bodies and we screwed everything up.


In The Myth of the Serpent, my giant snake is a creature you can call and it will come to cleanse your flesh of all the grime that life leaves behind so you can begin to live again sans the burden of your past mistakes. The lesson in the end, though, is that the serpent can give you a second chance, but it’s up to you what you make of it and if you’re the same screwed-up mess inside, it won’t matter how you feel on the outside.


With the basic plot conceived I needed to devise how my main character was going to “call” the Serpent. I have a keen interest in medieval and dark-age history, especially the Vikings. I have a set of runes, the alphabet that the Northmen used to predict their future and inscribe messages on tribute stones. I picked out the one that represents “rebirth” and had my character use it to signal the Serpent of Heaven that he needed help.


Because I was using a symbol from an ancient European religion I decided to make my character from that area. I chose to make him German only because I had taken German language classes in high school and still remembered a few words and some about conjugation so I could integrate actual German words and sentences into the story for added realism. Bertolt’s personality had to be depressed or at least disaffected. To provide the proper psychology Bertolt grew in my mind to nearly 7 feet tall with an absentee father whom he resented. All these factors groomed him to live a quiet, unfulfilling life, repressing his anger, and when something happens to his mother, the only person he has a relationship with, he knows he needs to start over.


I really enjoyed writing The Myth of the Serpent; Bertolt is one of my favorite characters. I sent it out to a few publications without success so its debut was in my book The Spaces between Your Screams. Most of the rejections I got were form letters, no opinion on the story given. There was one editor though who commented that the reason it was rejected was that his associate editor, who was an expert on Norse/Germanic mythology, was unfamiliar with the myth of the serpent. This just made me shake my head. One of the definitions of “fiction” from dictionary.com:


something feigned, invented, or imagined; a made-up story


You’d think someone who called themselves an “editor” would know the definition of “fiction”.




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