James Bond vs. The Snake Eater

Open spoilers for a James Bond book about forty years old. You have been warned.

Ok, near the end of The Man With the Golden Gun, (the book, not the move with Christopher Lee), Scaramanga the MWtGG has been shot and/or wounded by the explosives on the train track. James Bond jumps off before the explosion, and is hunting tMWtGG because it is his mission to kill him.

Scaramanga is lying down, and a non-poisonous snake crawls up to him. Scaramanga then pulls a knife out of his boot, kills the snake, skins it, and eats it raw. My question is, why?

If I were trapped in the jungles of Jamaica, with (the author says) a broken rib and coughing up blood, my first reaction would not be to start chowing down on reptiles. There is nothing in Scaramanga’s character in the first part of the book to give him motivation to do such a thing. All we know in the book is that Scaramanga has three nipples, bounces every morning on a trampoline, carries a fancy firearm, and some intelligence analyst in MI-6 thinks Scaramanga is a latent homosexual because he cannot whistle. (Another unanswered question - how the dickens does MI-6 know he can’t whistle?)

But what is up with the snake eating? Is this some voodoo thing? Scaramanga does not appear to be starving to death, since it has been only a few minutes to an hour since he was wounded, and he is lively enough to shoot Bond and then jump to his feet immediately and try to finish Our Hero off with the knife. So basically, WTF? Whatever possessed him to start craving Snake Snacks?

Any thoughts are welcome. Especially if I am missing something.


It’s normal for people losing blood to feel very thirsty, especially in the hot temperature of Jamaica. Scaramanga was trying to sate his thirst on the snake’s blood. I see it as a grim survival gambit, rather than having any ritual significance.

Admittedly, Fleming didn’t go into a lot of detail on Scaramanga’s motivation. Rather, he wanted a way to show him as wounded but still dangerous.

Thanks for the response. I am still wondering why, if Scaramanga can jump to his feet immediately after shooting Bond (with a bullet dipped in cobra venom :eek: ), he is eating snakes instead of heading for water. They are in a mangrove forest; there should be water somewhere. Or head back to the hotel.

And he is eating the flesh too, not just drinking the snake’s blood.

But your explanation makes sense, in a sort of “what can Scaramanga do that is weird and sort of macho” way.

The other part that bothered me was the reaction of the first police officer on the scene. Confronted with two bodies, he blows his whistle twice, sits down on a stump, and begins writing his report. No idea of first aid or anything like that.

More of the off-handedly offensive implied racism Fleming probably didn’t even realize he was pushing. ISTM.


I think that pretty much nails it. Fleming went for the weird villains, a la Dick Tracy.

It’s worth noting, as well, that The Man With the Golden Gun was Fleming’s last book. He managed to finish it not long before his death. He did not get a chance to edit it, as he normally did. Bond fans have long noted that this book is rough, raw, and has an unfnished feel to it. Fleming may have excised this bit, or provided a more believable explanation for itr, had he had the opportunity to.

Well, Scaramanga is wounded, coughing up blood. He was saving his strength, trying to get some fluid in him by eating the snake, and when Bond show up, he stalls by asking for time to say his prayers, gathers his strength, shoots Bond with a derringer and then jumps to his feet, only to get plugged. I can buy that Scaramanga is running on pure adrenalin at this point, and had he survived, he would at best have to limp and stagger to find water and/or help.

Well, that’s probably being generous to Fleming, who I bet just wanted to play up the “wounded animals are the most dangerous” angle.

The weakest aspect of the book is Bond not simply killing Scaramanga which is his primary mission despite several earlier chances to do so, because it wouldn’t be sporting.

Quite possibly, but at the beginning of the scene, Scaramanga is lying down as if half dead and, as you say, coughing up blood. Then the snake crawls up to him and gets eaten. As if Scaramanga is too weak to hunt it down, but strong enough to kill a snake with one stab and jump up after shooting Bond.

As you say, perhaps a lack of editing, as CalMeacham mentions.

Actually, that part sort of worked for me. Bond is not a cold-blooded killer, and he has been sent on this straight assassination mission to atone for trying to shoot M (with the cyanide squirt gun) and prove himself.

In the first book, Bond describes the way he earned the double 0, by killing two people - one with a sniper shot, one with a knife. And one is led to believe that this kind of cold-blooded killing on orders bothers Bond. (See “From a View to a Kill” for another example - the short story, not the movie.) Bond doesn’t usually kill, except in self-defense or revenge or hot blood. Even his participation in the Krilenko shooting in From Russia With Love bothers him.

In a way, this sort of brackets the first and last Bond books. He does not start out, nor develop, into a sociopath.

Still trying to figure out what Mary Goodnight’s physical flaw was in TMWtGG. All the Bond women seemed to have one - broken nose, one leg shorter than the other, bad haircut.


True, but early on even Bond reflects on how foolish he’s being for deciding not to kill Scaramanga after meeting him at the whorehouse. I can understand feelings of regret or distaste, but Bond becomes almost Hamlet-like in his hesitation. It does drag the book out until (what a coinki-dink!) he runs into Felix again.

It’s a good book, just not Fleming’s best.

Fleming should have rewritten the whorehouse scene to emphasize that Bond needed to figure out why Scaramanga needed a bodyguard, and that the meeting he was faciliitating between the Mafia and the USSR was important enough to delay the assassination while Bond figured out what was up.

But you are right, Bond could have picked him off while he was bouncing on the trampoline, in the whorehouse, or at a number of other times. Like you say, not Fleming’s best. Nothing to compare to From Russia With Love, my favorite of the Bond books (and movies).