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The Serpent and the Spirit: Glenn Summerford's Story

Overview

“A snake handler convicted of the attempted murder of his wife by means of serpent bite is serving ninety-nine years in prison. The reader is gradually pulled into an increasingly complex story as Thomas Burton allows the many individuals involved in this event to tell their stories. Readers are less likely to find themselves concerned with what “really” happened than with larger issues they too will become involved in. this is more than a story about the headline ‘preacher tries to murder wife – with rattlesnakes!” it is a story of individuals

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Overview

“A snake handler convicted of the attempted murder of his wife by means of serpent bite is serving ninety-nine years in prison. The reader is gradually pulled into an increasingly complex story as Thomas Burton allows the many individuals involved in this event to tell their stories. Readers are less likely to find themselves concerned with what “really” happened than with larger issues they too will become involved in. this is more than a story about the headline ‘preacher tries to murder wife – with rattlesnakes!” it is a story of individuals struggling with their faith and their fate under the steady gaze of their God.” —Ralph W. Hood Jr., winner of the American Psychological Association’s William James Award in the psychology of religion

In this comprehensive, multilayered set of narratives, the story of Glenn Summerford’s fall from grace is told by its participants, through interviews, court documents, and other primary sources. Free of either prejudice against or romanticizing about the snake-handling Holiness religion, this book presents an absorbing story of a fascinating group of people, while allowing the reader to draw his or her own conclusions about Summerford’s guilt or innocence. The Serpent and the Spirit is a startling commentary on truth and its representation, religion and its expression, humanity and its flaws.

Thomas Burton is professor emeritus of English at East Tennessee State University. He is the winner of the Appalachian Consortium Laurel Leaves Award.
 

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Burton (Serpent-Handling Believers) sets out to uncover the facts of the Scottboro, AL, criminal case of snake-handler preacher Glenn Summerford and leads us on a journey through the complexity of the human condition. In 1991, thinking she was going to die from the snake venom coursing through her veins, Darlene Summerford asked her sister to call an ambulance. Suicide notes were found at her house, but her husband, the head preacher at the Church of Jesus with Signs, was accused of forcing his wife, at gunpoint, to thrust her hand into a rattlesnake cage kept in the shed behind the house. Glenn, a previously convicted felon, was sentenced to serve 99 years in prison. Through a series of monologs from individuals involved in the trial and other information from the court proceedings, Burton drags the reader through the heavy drinking, infidelities, and troubled lives of the characters, and we are asked to ponder whether justice was done while relying on the faded memories of the participants. Eventually, this story of attempted murder through the snake-handling Holiness tradition made national headlines, but this text does not help clarify the issues. An optional purchase for legal and larger religious collections.-L. Kriz, West Des Moines P.L., IA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781572332461
  • Publisher: University of Tennessee Press
  • Publication date: 6/28/2004
  • Pages: 280
  • Sales rank: 1,352,167
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas Burton is professor emeritus of English at East Tennessee State University. He is the winner of the Appalachian Consortium Laurel Leaves Award.

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Table of Contents

Preface xi
"Holy Ghost Falling" xv
The Serpent 1
Glenda Darlene Collins Summerford: Glenn's Second Wife at the Trial 5
The Court Reporter: Trial Transcripts (Abstract) 17
D. Kennamer, B. Davis, C. Bolte, T. Flippo, L. Peace, S. Ingram: Witnesses at the Trial 23
District Attorney Dwight Duke and Gary W. Lackey: Lawyers at the Trial 33
Captain David Kennamer, EMT-P, and Janette Green, RN: Medical Practitioners 39
Charlotte Colon Corroborated by Jose Colon: Glenn's Half Sister and Brother-in-Law 47
David Brewer and William Bynum: Newsmen 53
Glendel B. Summerford: In Earlier Years 61
Doris Holcomb Summerford: Glenn's First Wife 83
Reverend Glenn Summerford: In Church 93
Dorothy Dyal: A Convert 113
Glenn: In Turmoil 125
Junior and Virginia Peace Summerford: Glenn's Oldest Son and Daughter-in-Law 141
Bill Summerford: Glenn's Second Son 149
J. L. and Martha Lewis: Longtime Friend and His Wife 161
Willie Southard: Converted Antagonist 173
Marty Summerford: Glenn and Darlene's Son 183
A Friend of the Family 195
Bobbie Sue Lynn: Faithful Helper 201
Junior Blair, Josie Blair, Ruby Berry, Carl Porter: First One, Then 'Nother 213
Summerford AIS 098070: In Prison 223
A Law Clerk: The Litigation 241
Scott Pratt: A Criminal Lawyer on the Potential of the Witness Pool 249
The Spirit 255
Index 261
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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2004

    The Serpent and the Spirit

    Using a narrative technique he attributes to Robert Browning's Renaissance murder mystery The Ring and the Book, Thomas Burton has put together a tale of marital infidelity, alcohol abuse, chaotic family life, and convicted attempted murder -- all most strikingly in the context of the practice of handling serpents in which some Christians demonstrate their obedience to God. A series of monologues presented from court records and transcribed interviews replace a traditional narrator, and the semi-documentary format adds to the dramatic effect. Reverend Glenn Summerford's wife Darlene, whose past is as confused and checkered as her husband's, accused him of forcing her hand into a box of poisonous snakes at their home. She was bitten and hospitalized. Glenn's case was rushed through the Jackson County court system, and he was sentenced to ninety-nine years in prison. Since witnesses to the alleged event do not exist, Burton gathered not only the official documents, but also the off-record testimony of family, church members, acquaintances, medical attendants, local journalists, and lawyers in an attempt to reveal 'the truth' of the matter. What is fascinating about the tale is that it reveals just how infinitely complex are the factors which make up our own lives, and how little control any of us has when we are swept up in tragic events. The book is a compelling read and a 'must' for sensitive observers of the human condition. --Michael Davenport

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