Eye of Newt and Toe of Frog, Adder’s Fork and Lizard’s Leg: The Lore and Mythology of Amphibians and Reptiles

Marty Crump. Univ. of Chicago, $35 (304p) ISBN 978-0-226-11600-6
Conservation-minded herpetologist Crump (The Mystery of Darwin’s Frogs) looks back on the ways in which humans around the world have historically understood reptiles, using as a framework James Serpell’s model: that human perceptions of a species are based upon emotional reactions to it combined with a sense of whether it is beneficial or harmful. To address the emotional factors, she moves through ancient, aboriginal, and modern cultures, thematically sorting myths and stories into themes, including water and creation; good and evil; and transformation, resurrection, and renewal. As she examines utility, Crump surveys traditional Chinese medicine (which often uses animal parts), Western pharmaceuticals, folk magic, and culinary uses for amphibians. She concludes with musings on the ethics of whether researchers should try to debunk myths in the hope of saving particular species, making more explicit her message that fear of these species means the world risks losing them. The text is heavily illustrated with attractive photographs of wildlife and artifacts, supplemented by sometimes awkward line drawings. Crump covers snakes, frogs, and salamanders as well as less commonly known species such as tuataras and caecilians, but there’s a bland broadness to this compendium that may hamper her efforts to inspire readers. Color photos. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 08/31/2015
Release date: 12/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
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