Title of the work
Country of the First Edition
First Edition Date
First Edition Details
Gary Crew, The Serpent’s Tale. Sydney: Lothian Books, 2010, 32 pp.
Magic realist fiction
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Author of the Entry:
Margaret Bromley, University of New England, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Elizabeth Hale, University of New England, email@example.com
Lisa Maurice, Bar-Ilan University, firstname.lastname@example.org
, b. 1947
Gary Crew, was born on September 23, 1947 in Brisbane, Australia. As a child he suffered from chronic illness, forcing him to stay home from school, during which time he read a lot of adventure stories. Isolation from his peers and the “stifling” religiosity of his upbringing did, however, fuel his love of literature. (McKenna and Pearce, 1999, p.9). At sixteen he left school to take up a cadetship as a civil engineering draftsman. After graduating from the Queensland Institute of Technology, he worked in a drawing office as a design draftsman for ten years.
Gary Crew became a high school teacher in 1974 after undertaking a Masters of Arts in English. He began writing for children in 1985, deliberately targeting a broader audience of contemporary teenage readers. He taught at high schools in Queensland for eighteen years before becoming a full time writer.
Crew has collaborated with several Australian illustrators, including Peter Gouldthorpe, Steven Woolman, and Shaun Tan to produce picture books for older readers that offer a crossover for young adult readers. He has won multiple awards for his young adult fiction and picture book collaborations, including the Australian Children’s Book of the Year Award four times.
Gary Crew is Associate professor of Creative writing, Children’s and Adult Literature at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland.
Bio prepared Margaret Bromley, University of New England, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
, b. 1965
Matt Ottley was born in 1962 in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. His father was an engineer, his mother a landscape artist. They emigrated to Australia in 1974. Ottley received training in fine arts from the Julian Ashton School of Fine Arts (graduated 1982), and a BA in music composition from the University of Wollongong, New South Wales (1986). He worked for many years as a stockman in the Australian Outback, before returning to study.
An accomplished flamenco guitarist, Matt Ottley is a multi modal artist and writer working across the fields of music, visual arts and literature. He has won multiple awards for his picture books which are created for both children and adults. His picture books include subtextual themes, enabling multiple layers and meanings.
Official website (accessed: June 26, 2018).
Bio prepared by Elizabeth Hale, University of New England, email@example.com, and Margaret Bromley, University of New England, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
In a Medieval market a boy demands that his mother buys him an amulet, at a fair in the town square. The amulet is a bracelet, in the form of a snake chasing its own tail, in an endless circle, an ouroboros, an ancient image of eternity. The boy sees it as a charm that holds the secret of a story that he wants to write.
Time is short, for the priest warns that there could be an attack. The vendor is glad to be rid of the amulet and refuses to take any money for it.
Ottley’s depiction of the vendor is a portrait of a middle eastern man, dressed in colourful exotic clothing, accompanied by a sinister looking monkey. He is apparently selling rugs and fabrics, out of which a serpent slithers. The townspeople pass by, glancing suspiciously at the foreigner, while the boy and his mother hastily retreat from the square.
Alone in his attic room, the boy is unable to write his story. Holding the amulet he falls asleep and the snake comes alive to haunt his dreams.
The text, “As he slept the story came invading his dreams with a timeless tale…”, superimposed on a surreal image of the amulet floating above the earth’s circumference in a galaxy of indistinct formation (Crew and Ottley 2010), suggests the ouroborus as a symbol representing the Milky Way.
His mother is unable to wake him to warn him of the invasion that had come. As he sleeps, the invaders attack the town and rob their house. A girl is rescued from the attic window opposite. The visions of his dreams include dramatic scenes of violence and conflict, images of battlefields, Tiananmen Square, a nuclear attack, and finally, a fantastic futuristic world. Taking it as a bad omen, the boy throws the amulet away.
The question lingers as to whether the boy believed the amulet would bring him good luck or ward off evil.
This is a multilayered picture book for a range of reading interests and abilities, which uses the ancient Egyptian image of the ouroboros, an image of the snake eating its own tail, as a motif to reflect on the repeating cycles of violence in human history. Its dark subject suggests an older readership. Thematic concerns of eternal evil, violence and the irreconcilable powers of creation and destruction imply a spiritual interpretation.
Crew’s sparse text offers an open ended narrative, while the pictures offer another level of interpretation. The snake suggests that human conflict is timeless, eternal and repetitive. Crew suggests that “The serpent is a metaphor for the never ending narrative where the snake chases its own tale: the ouroboros. In great narratives there is never an ending” (Raffidi, 2013, p.19).
The text, “As he slept the story came invading his dreams with a timeless tale…”, superimposed on a surreal image of the amulet floating above the earth’s circumference in a galaxy of indistinct formation (Crew and Ottley 2010), suggests the ouroborus as a mythological symbol representing the Milky Way.
The ouroborus, an image which enters Western culture through Egyptians and later the Greeks, evokes negative and positive connotations of the serpent. As a charm with magic power, worn as an amulet, it could bring good fortune to the wearer or protect against evil, disease and unhappiness.
Ottley’s illustrations imply the universality of the amulet, beginning with the vendor of Middle Eastern, (Egyptian?) appearance who gives the boy the amulet. The shadow of the serpent lurks throughout the pages, including the images of post apocalyptic and futuristic worlds.
McKenna, Bernard and Pearce, Sharyn, Strange Objects: The Works of Gary Crew, Sydney, Hodder, 1999.
Raffidi, Mark, “Gary Crew” in Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: insights from Australia’s great picture book authors and illustrators, Ulladulla, New South Wales, Shore Drift, Harbour Publishing House, 2013.
Raffidi, Mark, “Matt Ottley” in Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: insights from Australia’s great picture book authors and illustrators, Ulladulla, New South Wales, Shore Drift, Harbour Publishing House, 2013.
encyclopedia.com (accessed: July 20, 2018).