Remember when I participated in that Book Tour a while back for C.S. Johnson’s The Birth of Gemini? Well, much like musicians get hooked on the feel of it (and then spend lots of time working day jobs while unleashing musical transcendence for their audiences into the wee hours every night), I’m back on tour baby! This time I’ll be offering my thoughts on Johnson’s The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars. So let’s crank up the amps, buckle ourselves in, and get this show started.
Welcome to The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars blog tour! Read on to learn more about this beautifully illustrated graphic novel by C.S. Johnson, and a chance to win a copy for yourself!
The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars
Publication Date: November 7th, 2018
Genre: Manga Style/ Graphic Novel
Length: 30 Pages
A tiresome task.
A deceptive dragon.
A prince that changes everything.
Ophiuchus is a celebrated warrior of the Celestial Kingdom and a warrior among the Stars. He has been always been a dutiful servant of the Prince of Stars. So when the prince asks him to watch over the crafty serpent, Naga, Ophiuchus agrees. But as time passes and discouragement—both from Naga and others—Ophiuchus wonders if the Prince of Stars was right in asking him to take on the burdens of his task.
Will Ophiuchus honor his duty, or give into his heart’s weariness?
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MY THOUGHTS: As a kid, I was always into fantasy stories. (Why would I say “as a kid”? I love them just as much now!) So when I saw the cover for The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars, I got excited. I saw Ophiuchus holding a sword and the serpent Naga coiled behind him. Naturally, I thought it was going to be a story of sword-wielding hero versus an oh-so-evil dragon. But then I read the summary and realized this was going to be far more subtle, far more nuanced than that. Then I read the story itself. And as someone who’s spent his entire higher education and professional life studying and teaching theology, this graphic novel offered me a lot of theological themes to consider. Obviously, no major spoilers will follow.
The story begins with Ophiuchus arriving at a party thrown by the Prince of Stars, with the serpent Naga wrapped around his neck. Soon, the signs of the zodiac begin talking to him and expressing a clear discomfort with Ophiuchus being there. I did a little research (once I realized my spell check wasn’t flagging Ophiuchus) and I learned “Ophiuchus” is a constellation of the zodiac. The reason I didn’t recognize him as I would Cancer or Sagittarius or Gemini is there are both signs of the zodiac (the ones we are most familiar with) and constellations of the zodiac. I thought dropping a personified constellation of the zodiac into a party full of (also personified) signs of the zodiac and using that as a springboard into tension and questions of belonging was a clever move.
As the story continues it becomes obvious Johnson is doing more here theologically and narratively than just having the zodiac signs chat up a constellation. The story becomes a very personal reflection on suffering, the burdens we carry, and even the question of the place of evil in the world. There are clear Christological themes running throughout but two of the most unique theological points I found came care of Naga.
First, the name surprised me. “Ophiuchus” comes from the Greek, literally meaning, “serpent-bearer.” However the serpent with Ophiuchus in the night sky is the constellation Serpens. Obviously “Naga” gave me a little bit of a Harry Potter-vibe but, upon further research, I found that naga is a serpent-deity in Buddhism, often associated with protecting Siddhartha Gautama as he sat under the Bodhi tree seeking the Enlightenment that would lead him to become the Buddha. Naga is also seen as a serpent-deity in Hinduism and Jainism. A little Buddhism shout-out was an unexpected surprise! (Also, any story that results in me pulling my religions of the world/ancient mythology textbooks off the shelf as I read to figure out the significance (and perhaps symbolism) of a name or event is my kind of a good time :).)
Second, during a scene where Ophiuchus is lamenting his burden of carrying the serpent (despite his being called by the Prince to do so), Naga tells him, “It is just as I told the others: death resides in me, and all of life is just an attempt to keep death at bay. And you will not succeed. Even if I go out along with you, I will have the final victory in the end.” With a story drawing religious analogies and utilizing religious terms, names, and themes so frequently in a relatively short narrative this is HUGELY significant. The earliest evidence we have of human religious thought comes in the form of graves discovered in the Neanderthal period. We know these graves (the oldest we’ve yet to discover) signify religious thought because there would be no reason to bury someone with weapons, food, sacrifices, etc. if there was no belief in something more. Second, the question of death – why it happens, where we go when we’re gone, why we can only survive by consuming other life (even vegetarians consume life, it’s just not sentient) – is the ground from which all original religious thought grew. All creation stories across traditions address these questions and the issue of death. Bringing this into the conversation in a story so clearly anchored in religious thought, particularly the issues of struggle and suffering, was an essential move. To try and wrestle with these issues, let alone to try and get your readers to engage with the ideas of suffering, struggle, and evil in a religiously-minded way without touching on death would have felt hollow.
My only qualm with the story is the use of “Naga” as the serpent’s name. It becomes clearer as the story progresses that Naga is an allegorical stand-in for the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Drawing on this story makes perfect sense in a work exploring suffering and evil because the Garden is the story of temptation and fall in the Judeo-Christian tradition. While the serpent plays the role of the tempter in Judaism, the serpent is associated with the Devil in Christianity. Given the predominance of Christianity in the western world – both in practicing believers and as a lens through which we’ve culturally learned to look at the world – I think it’s religiously problematic to use the name of a sacred entity in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism for a character that represents the archetypal “Evil One” for many potential readers. This could prove misleading at best and needlessly damning to other religions at worst, depending on how deeply readers choose to look into the significance of the names in the story and read into its symbolism. I get no sense that was Johnson’s intention in choosing the name, but it could happen all the same.
That aside, I certainly found the story interesting. I mean look at how much I’ve written here! It’s simultaneously an intimate reflection on the problem of suffering and evil in our lives while also presenting A WHOLE LOT for a theology nerd like myself to sink his teeth into. I mean I pulled six different reference books off my shelf to understand different points in this story better as I read it! How much fun is that?!? But I can assure you, even if you’re not a theology nerd like yours truly, The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of the Stars is still a nice meditation on struggle, belonging, responsibility, and faith. And as such, it’s certainly worth your time. We can all do with reflecting on these issues a little more deeply and a little more often in our daily lives.
 Bruce McClure, “Born under the sign of Ophiuchus?,” August 16, 2017. Accessed July 22, 2019. https://earthsky.org/astronomy-essentials/born-between-november-29-and-december-18-heres-your-constellation
 Kevin Trainor ed., Buddhism: The Illustrated Guide. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 36.
 Ibid., 130.
 Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth. (New York: Anchor Books, 1991), 89-90.
 Ibid., 50.
Available on Amazon!
About the Author
C. S. Johnson is the award-winning, genre-hopping author of several novels, including young adult sci-fi and fantasy adventures such as the Starlight Chronicles, the Once Upon a Princess saga, and the Divine Space Pirates trilogy. With a gift for sarcasm and an apologetic heart, she currently lives in Atlanta with her family. Find out more at http://www.csjohnson.me
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For a chance to win your own copy of The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars, click the link below!
Blog Tour Schedule
Reads & Reels (Spotlight) http://readsandreels.com
I Smell Sheep (Review) http://www.ismellsheep.com/
Tsarina Press (Spotlight) https://www.tsarinapress.com
I Love Books and Stuff (Spotlight) https://ilovebooksandstuffblog.wordpress.com
Quirky Cats Fat Stacks (Review) https://quirkycatsfatstacks.com/
Perspective of a Writer (Review) http://perspectiveofawriter.com/
Breakeven Books (Review) https://breakevenbooks.com
Jessica Belmont (Review) https://jessicabelmont.wordpress.com/
Tranquil Dreams (Review) https://klling.wordpress.com/
B is for Book Review (Spotlight) https://bforbookreview.wordpress.com
Books Teacup and Reviews (Spotlight) https://booksteacupnreviews.wordpress.com/
Graphic Novelty2 (Review) https://graphicnovelty2.com/
Bri’s Book Nook (Review) http://brisbooknook.wordpress.com
The Faerie Review (Review) http://www.thefaeriereview.com
I’m All About the Books (Spotlight) https://imallaboutbooks.com/
My Comic Relief (Review) https://mycomicrelief.wordpress.com/
The Bibliophagist (Review) http://thebibliophagist.blog/
Adventures Thru Wonderland (Review) http://adventuresthruwonderland.blogspot.com/
Where Dragons Reside (Review) https://kernerangelina.live/
Sophril Reads (Spotlight) http://sophrilreads.wordpress.com
Triquetra Reviews (Spotlight) http://www.triquetrareviews.blogspot.com
J Bronder Book Reviews (Review) https://jbronderbookreviews.com/
The Magic of Wor(l)ds (Review) http://themagicofworlds.wordpress.com
Dash Fan Book Reviews (Spotlight) https://dashfan81.blogspot.com/
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7 thoughts on “The Serpent-Bearer and the Prince of Stars – A Narrative Rich in Theological Reflection”
I knew you’d have a lot to say on the theological themes found in the story!
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Right?? There was SO MUCH to think about and deconstruct here! I was impressed such a relatively short work could weave in so many different themes and facets of different traditions while still telling such a real, personal story.
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Wow! I’m floored! I knew it was going to be good but your review kicked ass! I know, so eloquent lol! Really though, it was excellent! Thanks so much Mike!
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Hahaha, I can’t believe I never responded to this! I thought I did! I did in my head at least XD. Oh well, what can I say? It was a laid back summer :). But yeah, I had so much fun breaking this story apart! I’m glad you enjoyed the piece and thanks for the inclusion on this tour. It was great!
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Ha ha! Not a problem! You’re welcome any time! Tour or guest post 😁
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I will take you up on that! I’ll let you know when a good idea strikes me :). Also I want to eventually do one of the tours for an actual novel too! These comic ones have been so fun but I’ve also always wanted to try one for a regular book. I know I’ve been saying it for years but I’ll get there sooner or later.
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That would be awesome! Just keep an eye out for any that interest you!
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