Friday, April 11, 2008


'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

When I was in the seventh and eighth grade, I walked to school each morning with Mick, who was four years older than I. We both shared a love of science fiction and similar stuff, so the age difference was not as much a factor in our friendship as it first might appear, although it was a bit of a downer when he graduated, just as I entered my freshman year.

Donelson High School, where we both attended, was what would now be called a combined middle and high school, I guess, housing grades 7-12. The 7th and 8th graders were primarily situated in what was a newer addition to the school, judging from the construction. The upper grades were in the part of the building that had a pretty old feel too it.

Mick taught me Jabberwocky on the way to school one morning. Maybe it took a couple of mornings, but I doubt it was more than two. My memory was pretty awesome in those days.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

I'd already heard the opening verse of Jabberwocky, of course, because it was sung by the Cheshire Cat in the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. But the whole poem has more weight to it, and besides, it's cool to recite.

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought --
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought

There's a science fiction story entitled, "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" written by "Lewis Padgett, a pseudonym for Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore. In it, a scientist from the future sends some toys back in time, one batch landing in the 19th Century and the other in the 20th. The 20th Century children who find them play with them and begin to have their thinking transformed. The transformations frighten their parents, who take away the toys. But this action is too late, as the children find the missing information about how to travel into other dimensions by hearing a poem written by a friend of the girl who found a similar toy in the 19th Century. The friend and the girl were Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

Night of the Jabberwock was a mystery by Fredric Brown, a prolific author of both SF and mysteries. The protagonist is a small town newspaper editor who complains about there not being enough news. He is also a Lewis Carroll fan, and the story combines nearly surreal events (somewhat enhanced by alcohol) and complex plotting. It's a pretty wild ride.

One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

My senior year in college I moved into an apartment that had been previously occupied by a couple of friends of mine. They did not completely clean the place before they left (do any college students ever do that?) and one of the things they left behind was an issue of the Chicago Seed, an "underground newspaper." That particular issue had a double page spread of the Tennille illustration of Jabberwocky.

I knew that the newsprint would fade; in fact it was already yellowing. So I got some tracing paper and traced the entire print, then pinned that on the wall. I must have had some time on my hands.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

I was driving with Ben a couple of days ago, and I forget which one of us began spontaneously to recite Jabberwocky. No matter. Both of us remembered the whole thing.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.


black dog barking said...

Rev Dodgson certainly had a gift for mapping the inexpressible into language. Compelling language even.

Managed to rack up a pretty impressive CV and capture mind-share generations after his death. Quite a few of us grew up with Disney Alice, asked Alice when she was ten feet tall, and later found ourselves dealing with bits of Symbolic Logic as mapped onto silicon.

Didn't know anything about the possible kiddie-porn elements that wiki hints at. Sure there seem to have been a few bees loose under his bonnet but nothing creepy I've detected. If he liked the company of young girls maybe it is because there are a few years in the growing up process where the magic they see in the universe visibly radiates from them. Hell, half the new movies I've seen in the past year prominently feature a young girl precisely for that vibe.

(Today's captcha code - nakwvvzb - seems a little creepy. I know they're trying to trick scanners (the w and the vv are almost indistinguishable) which is also creepy — who sends machines out to spy on human conversation. Evil bastards, that's who.)

James Killus said...

I believe that the conventional wisdom has it that Dodgson was simply afraid of sex so his interactions with females had to be with those who were pre-sexual.

There are similar theories about J. M. Barrie and young boys. One man's sublimation is another's great literature.