The Snake’s Pass is one of those pseudo-minor classics that would have been forgotten if it were not the first novel written by the author of Dracula, one of the greatest of the nineteenth century novels. The book was published in 1890, only seven years before Dracula, yet it is a long way from Stoker’s masterpiece in plot and form. A fan of Dracula may not enjoy it, but a literary or Bram Stoker scholar definitely would. It is actually better written than Lair of the White Worm, a later Stoker novel, but not up to the quality of The Jewel of the Seven Stars.
What sets the novel off the most from Stoker’s other Gothic works is a real lack of the supernatural in the novel. There is a legend of a snake king driven from Ireland by St. Patrick in the book, but nothing supernatural ever actually occurs in the novel’s pages. The mysterious shifting bog is not supernatural at all, and frankly, the dullest part of the novel since Stoker goes into great detail of the measuring and study of the bog, which is being analyzed to determine where a lost treasure may be found. The conflict exists between the villain, Murdock, who is willing to do anything to find this treasure, and Arthur Severn and his friends. Arthur falls in love with Nora, whose father is cheated by Murdock to gain control of his land which may have the hidden treasure on it.
The first half of the book is bogged down with descriptions of the bog until Arthur falls in love with Nora, and then a tender, but not terribly exciting love story occurs. The book picks up speed halfway, yet still moves relatively slowly until the dramatic ending scene during a storm where Murdock and the protagonists struggle to find the treasure. This final scene makes the book worth reading, both for itself, and as an example of the talent Stoker had already developed for pacing and drama which he would use consistently in Dracula.
The book is not for the general reader, but I would recommend it to anyone interested in the history of the British or Irish novel—it is the only novel Stoker set in his native Ireland. One wishes Stoker, as a more mature writer, had written another novel of Ireland, perhaps with vampires included.
Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.