‘The Essex Serpent’ is a period drama series that follows Cora Seaborne (Claire Danes), a wealthy woman who, after the death of her abusive husband, embarks on a journey to uncover the truth about a mythical serpent. During her quest, Cora meets Will Ransome (Tom Hiddleston), the vicar of the village of Aldwinter, and they form a close bond. The show’s Victorian England setting and themes of science and faith will undoubtedly make viewers curious about its inspiration. If you are wondering whether ‘The Essex Serpent’ is based on a true story or a book, here is everything you need to know!
Is The Essex Serpent Based on a Novel?
‘The Essex Serpent’ is not a true story but is based on a novel. The series is an adaptation of author Sarah Perry’s 2016 novel of the same name. It has been adapted for television by writer Anna Symon. The series follows the book’s plot while making a few changes to the story. The book is set in 1893 and deals with themes such as freedom, abusive relationships, science, skepticism, and faith. The plot revolves around Cora’s search for a mythical beast who is said to be haunting the fictional town of Aldwinter.
Perry, who is a lifelong native of Essex, chose to set the story in the county as it is reportedly considered one of the most unglamorous places in the UK. Perry revealed that she was taking a trip with her husband when she learned that a great beast had been seen near the village of Henham on the Mount around 1669. Perry then developed the idea of the beast returning to haunt the villagers in an era where debates over science and faith and superstition and rationality were common among small-town residents. Therefore, she set the story in Victorian-era England in the year 1893.
Perry has also stated that she was excited to tell the story in a Victorian setting because the era’s women were considered modern. She wanted to portray women in her story as strong and independent individuals with their own ideas and opinions. Perry noted that women worked in fields generally dominated by men, such as medicine, maths, and engineering, during the Victorian era.
Perry has revealed that the concept of the mystical serpent is representative of how we as humans deal with our fears. She explained that humans are used to nourishing their fears to suit their own needs. Therefore, facts and statistics that might prove their fears wrong are generally unwelcome. The same is true for the villagers of Aldwinter, who believe in the mythical serpent’s existence. According to Perry, one of the book’s most important themes is friendship, and the story deals with the variety of friendships in life and different forms of love through Cora’s relationships with Luke, Will, and Martha.
While the television series is mostly a faithful adaptation of Perry’s novel, it does make a few changes to the story. For example, in the series, Cora travels to Essex after learning about the serpent sightings through a newspaper. However, in the book, she learns of the Essex Serpent while on vacation in Colchester, Essex. Nonetheless, ‘The Essex Serpent’ retains most of the thematic notes of its source material and tells a spellbinding and complex tale.
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