A Mine of Serpents
by Shena MacKay
A Mine of Serpents by Shena MacKay is a story about a landlord, Gerald Creedy, who is being manipulated by one of his tenants, Madame Alphonsine, by means of a wax puppet in which she introduces small needles. He is presented as a rather selfish and grumbling man, who likes to tease small children and make fun of the others.
(1) A Mine of Serpents. The title says much and nothing. A mine of serpents could be a large excavation made in the earth full of serpents, but then, snake nests are not that large in order to fill a mine. In the mind of the reader, this phrase cannot be visually represented because it defies the natural logic of things. Even so, it is exactly this awkwardness that stirs the reader's imagination, making him or her part of the imaginative process of the story.
As opposed to snake, the word "serpent" in The New Oxford Dictionary of English (edited in 1998) has several meanings, such as: 1.a large snake; 2.a dragon or other mythical snake-like reptile; 3.a biblical name for Satan (see Gen.3, Rev.20); and 4.a sly and treacherous person. Yet, in the mind of the reader, the literal meaning of the word "serpent" prevails over the figurative one, because the latter is derived from the former. Even if the title has no verb, the motion, the agitation and the jostling suggested by this image is implied by the plural form of the noun "serpents", because they seem to be trapped in a mine, since, generally speaking, they are solitary reptiles.
The incipit of the story: (2) "Gerald found two burnt-out rockets in the front garden when he went to check that the dustman had replaced the lids properly" is simple and...