Serpent Men

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For other uses, see Snake man.
Serpent Men
Home world Earth
Base of operations Valusia (initially)
Official religion The Snake Cult

Serpent Men are a fictional race created by Robert E. Howard for his King Kull tales. They first appeared in "The Shadow Kingdom," published in Weird Tales in August 1929.

They were later adapted for the Marvel Comics Conan comics by Roy Thomas and Marie Severin. Their first Marvel Universe appearance was in Kull the Conqueror vol.1 #2 (September, 1971). They were used in the 1992 Conan the Adventurer animated series, and were also adapted into H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos by writers like Lin Carter and Clark Ashton Smith.

Origin and society[edit]

In Robert E. Howard's King Kull stories, the serpent people worship a god known as the Great Serpent. Later writers would identify the Great Serpent with the Great Old One Yig and with the Stygian serpent god Set from Howard's Conan stories.

The Serpent Men were created untold aeons ago by the Great Serpent. At some point the Serpent Men group split, with one group becoming the Man-Serpents- these creatures, unlike their kin and predecessors, have the bodies of giant serpents and the heads of human beings, with smaller snakes for hair like Medusa. A Man-Serpent is the titular being in the Conan story "The God in the Bowl". Man-Serpents have hypnotic gazes and lethally venomous bites, as well as terrible crushing strength.

The seat of the First Empire of the serpent people, during the Paleozoic era, was Valusia. Valusia is a fictional country in the Kull stories of Robert E. Howard and his stories tell, among other things, of Serpent Men trying to conquer the world once again, around 20,000 years ago, where Kull from Atlantis reigned over the Valusia Kingdom, located on the west coast of the main continent of Thuria. The ancient serpent empire was based on sorcery and alchemy, but collapsed with the rise of the dinosaurs about 225 million years ago during the Triassic era. The Serpent Men originally ruled over humans in Valusia but were defeated and almost wiped out in humanity's battle for survival against the "elder things" that predated them. Over time, humans dominated Valusia and the Serpent Men became a legend. The Serpent Men, one of the few surviving "elder things", infiltrated human society and ruled from behind the scenes for a time but were again discovered, defeated and cast out in a secret war. However, they later repeated this tactic but added the front of a Snake Cult religion, which gained power and influence within Valusia while they also used their abilities of disguise to murder and replace each reigning monarch. Their power is eventually broken by King Kull, formerly an Atlantean barbarian who had recently conquered Valusia, and the Pict Brule the Spear-Slayer, whose society was aware of the Serpent Men's infiltration.[1]

After the destruction of Valusia, the serpent men escaped to Yoth, a cavern beneath K'n-yan in North America (ironically, the Pictish Isles of the Kull stories). They built subterranean cities, of which only ruins remain in the modern age. Explorers from K'n-yan visited Yoth frequently to learn more of the serpent men's scientific lore. Their next downfall came when they brought idols of Tsathoggua from N'kai and abandoned their patron deity Yig to worship their new god. As retribution Yig placed his curse upon them, forcing his few remaining worshipers to flee to caverns beneath Mount Voormithadreth[2]

Appearance and abilities[edit]

Serpent Men are humanoids with scaled skin and snake-like heads. They possess magical abilities, the most common of which is the use of illusion to disguise themselves as a human. In some stories, the ghost of someone killed by a Serpent Man becomes the Serpent Man's slave. Due to the shape of their mouths, Serpent Men cannot utter the phrase "Ka nama kaa lajerama." Howard's character Kull uses the phrase as a shibboleth in the story The Shadow Kingdom.[1]

Cthulhu Mythos[edit]

Lin Carter and Clark Ashton Smith adapted the race for inclusion in the Cthulhu Mythos, inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's short story "The Nameless City", which refers to an Arabian city built by a pre-human reptilian race. Lovecraft's story "The Haunter of the Dark" explicitly mentions the "serpent men of Valusia" as being one-time possessors of the Shining Trapezohedron. However, the Cthulhu Mythos were already connected to the works of Robert E. Howard (a contemporary and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft as well as a direct contributor to the Mythos itself). In this case, the Serpent Men were created for the very first Kull story, the character of Kull later made an appearance in a Bran Mak Morn story, Kings of the Night, while in another such story, Worms of the Earth, Bran Mak Morn explicitly refers to Cthulhu and R'lyeh. Many Conan stories by Howard are also part of the Mythos.

Conan[edit]

The fictional settings of King Kull and Robert E. Howard's other creation, Conan the Barbarian, are linked through Howards essay The Hyborian Age. This states that Valusia, and its Thurian Age, existed in some time before Conan's Hyborian Age (the land was reshaped in between the story cycles by an undefined cataclysm). The Serpent Men did not, however, appear in any Conan story written by Robert E. Howard himself.

In 1971, the Serpent Men appeared in a comic book adaptation of the King Kull stories, published by Marvel Comics. Since then they have been imported into the Conan comics, as well as other adaptations and Conan pastiches. The Serpent Men were the main antagonists, personified by the wizard "Wrath-Amon", in the animated series Conan the Adventurer. This retained the Serpent Men's ability to infiltrate human society in disguise (in the cartoon, this disguise failed in the presence of meteoric "star metal", contact with which also sent a Serpent Man back to "the Abyss").

Marvel Comics[edit]

Serpent-Men
Publication information
Publisher Marvel Comics
First appearance Kull the Conqueror vol. 1, #2 (September 1971)
Created by Roy Thomas
Marie Severin

Serpent-Men have also appeared in the Marvel Comics universe.

The original Serpent-Men were a race of reptilian semi-humanoids who were created by the demon Set and who ruled areas of prehistoric Earth. Due to the efforts of Kull and Conan, the original Serpent-Men became extinct about 8,000 years ago. However, since then, numerous human worshippers of Set and his demonic progeny such as Sligguth have taken on reptilian characteristics to different extents. Some, like the people of Starkesboro,[3] are only partially transformed. Others become hosts for the spirits of long-dead original Serpent-Men, who transform their bodies into duplicates of their own, complete with their power to take the form of any human.

Some modern Serpent-Men encountered Spider-Man in the modern era.[4]

The Serpent Men appeared in the video game Marvel Heroes.

He-Man's Snake Men[edit]

Persistent but unverified claims suggest that the He-Man franchise was originally intended as a Conan toy line. If this is true, the equivalent to the Serpent Men in that franchise would be the Snake Men.

As with Howard's work, the Snake Men come from the distant past and fought against the character He-Ro/Lord Grayskull (who would be equivalent to Howard's character Kull). As with the Conan the Adventurer animated series, the Snake Men were banished to another dimension in the past and were attempting to return to power in the present.

The Spider[edit]

In the Spider short story "Fear Itself" (published in The Spider Chronicles by Moonstone Books in 2007) by Joel Frieman and C.J. Henderson, an occult expert named Guicet enlists the Spider's aid in defeating a group of Serpent Men who acquire a duplicate of the Cobra Crown from Conan the Buccaneer. In The Phantom Chronicles, worshippers of Set appear, but no Serpent Men.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b The Shadow Kingdom by Robert E. Howard
  2. ^ Harms, "Yoth", The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, pp. 348.
  3. ^ Marvel Premiere #4
  4. ^ Marvel Team-Up #111
  • Harms, Daniel (1998). "Serpent people". The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed. ed.). Oakland, CA: Chaosium. pp. 263–4. ISBN 1-56882-119-0. 
—Ibid, "Valusia", pp. 314–5.

External links[edit]