"Jabberwocky" is a nonsense verse poem written by Lewis Carroll in his 1872 novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, a sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The book tells of Alice's adventures within the back-to-front world of a looking glass.
In a scene in which she is in conversation with the chess pieces White King and White Queen, Alice finds a book written in a seemingly unintelligible language. Realising that she is travelling through an inverted world, she recognises that the verse on the pages are written in mirror-writing. She holds a mirror to one of the poems, and reads the reflected verse of "Jabberwocky". She finds the nonsense verse as puzzling as the odd land she has walked into, later revealed as a dreamscape.
Origin and publication
A decade before the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the sequel Through the Looking Glass, Carroll wrote the first stanza to what would become "Jabberwocky" while in Croft on Tees, close to nearby Darlington, where he lived as a child, and printed it in 1855 in Mischmasch, a periodical he wrote and illustrated for the amusement of his family. The piece was titled "Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry" and read:
- Twas bryllyg, and ye slythy toves
- Did gyre and gymble in ye wabe:
- All mimsy were ye borogoves;
- And ye mome raths outgrabe.
The rest of the poem was written during Lewis Carroll's stay with relatives at Whitburn, near Sunderland. The story may have been partly inspired by the local Sunderland area legend of the Lambton Worm.
The concept of nonsense verse was not new to Carroll who would have known of chapbooks such as The World Turned Upside Down and stories such as "The Great Panjundrum". Nonsense existed in Shakespeare's work and was well-known in the brothers Grimm's fairytales, some of which are called lying tales or lügenmarchen. Roger Lancelyn Green suggests that "Jabberwocky" is a parody of the old German ballad "The Shepherd of the Giant Mountains" in which a shepherd kills a griffin that is attacking his sheep. The ballad had been translated into English in blank verse by Lewis Carroll's cousin Menella Bute Smedley in 1846, many years before the appearance of the Alice books. Historian Sean B. Palmer suggests that Carroll was inspired by a section from Shakespeare's Hamlet, citing the lines: "The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead/Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets" from Act I, Scene i.
John Tenniel reluctantly agreed to illustrate the book in 1871, and his illustrations are still the defining images of the poem. The illustration of the Jabberwock may reflect the contemporary Victorian obsession with natural history and the fast-evolving sciences of palaeontology and geology. Stephen Prickett notes that in the context of Darwin and Mantell's publications and vast exhibitions of dinosaurs, such as those at the Crystal Palace from 1845, it is unsurprising that Tenniel gave the Jabberwock "the leathery wings of a pterodactyl and the long scaly neck and tail of a sauropod."
'It seems very pretty,' she said when she had finished it, 'but it's rather hard to understand!' (You see she didn't like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn't make it out at all.) 'Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas---only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate'
This may reflect Carroll's intention for his readership; the poem is, after all, part of a dream. In later writings he discussed some of his lexicon, commenting that he did not know the specific meanings or sources of some of the words; the linguistic ambiguity and uncertainty throughout both the book and the poem may largely be the point. In Through the Looking-Glass, the character of Humpty Dumpty, in response to Alice's request, explains to her the non-sense words from the first stanza of the poem; however, Carroll's personal commentary on several of the words differ from Humpty's. For example, following the poem, a "rath" is described by Humpty as "a sort of green pig". Carroll's notes for the original in Mischmasch suggest a "rath" is "a species of Badger" that "lived chiefly on cheese" and had smooth white hair, long hind legs, and short horns like a stag. The appendices to certain Looking Glass editions, however, state that the creature is "a species of land turtle" that lived on swallows and oysters. Later critics added their own interpretations of the lexicon, often without reference to Carroll's own contextual commentary. An extended analysis of the poem and Carroll's commentary is given in the book The Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner.
In January 1868, Carroll wrote to his publisher Macmillan, asking, "Have you any means, or can you find any, for printing a page or two of the next volume of Alice in reverse?" This may suggest that Carroll was wanting to print the whole poem in mirror writing. Macmillian responded that it would cost a great deal more to do, and this may have dissuaded him.
In the author's note to the Christmas 1896 edition of Through the Looking-Glass Carroll writes, "The new words, in the poem Jabberwocky, have given rise to some differences of opinion as to their pronunciation, so it may be well to give instructions on that point also. Pronounce 'slithy' as if it were the two words, 'sly, thee': make the 'g' hard in 'gyre' and 'gimble': and pronounce 'rath' to rhyme with 'bath.'" In the Preface to The Hunting of the Snark, Carroll wrote, "[Let] me take this opportunity of answering a question that has often been asked me, how to pronounce "slithy toves." The "i" in "slithy" is long, as in "writhe", and "toves" is pronounced so as to rhyme with "groves." Again, the first "o" in "borogoves" is pronounced like the "o" in "borrow." I have heard people try to give it the sound of the "o" in "worry." Such is Human Perversity."
Possible interpretations of words
- Bandersnatch: A swift moving creature with snapping jaws, capable of extending its neck. A 'bander' was also an archaic word for a 'leader', suggesting that a 'bandersnatch' might be an animal that hunts the leader of a group.
- Beamish: Radiantly beaming, happy, cheerful. Although Carroll may have believed he had coined this word, it is cited in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1530.
- Borogove: Following the poem Humpty Dumpty says, " 'borogove' is a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round, something like a live mop." In explanatory book notes Carroll describes it further as "an extinct kind of Parrot. They had no wings, beaks turned up, made their nests under sun-dials and lived on veal." In Hunting of the Snark, Carroll says that the initial syllable of borogove is pronounced as in borrow rather than as in worry.
- Brillig: Following the poem, the character of Humpty Dumpty comments: " 'Brillig' means four o'clock in the afternoon, the time when you begin broiling things for dinner." According to Mischmasch, it is derived from the verb to bryl or broil.
- Burbled: In a letter of December 1877, Carroll notes that "burble" could be a mixture of the three verbs 'bleat', 'murmer', and 'warble', although he didn't remember creating it.
- Chortled: "Combination of 'chuckle' and 'snort'." (OED)
- Frabjous: Possibly a blend of fair, fabulous, and joyous. Definition from Oxford English Dictionary, credited to Lewis Carroll.
- Frumious: Combination of "fuming" and "furious". In Hunting of the Snark Carroll comments, "[T]ake the two words 'fuming' and 'furious'. Make up your mind that you will say both words, but leave it unsettled which you will say first. Now open your mouth and speak. If your thoughts incline ever so little towards 'fuming', you will say 'fuming-furious'; if they turn, by even a hair's breadth, towards 'furious', you will say 'furious-fuming'; but if you have the rarest of gifts, a perfectly balanced mind, you will say 'frumious'."
- Galumphing: Perhaps used in the poem a blend of 'gallop' and 'triumphant'. Used later by Kipling, and cited by Webster as "To move with a clumsy and heavy tread"
- Gyre: "To 'gyre' is to go round and round like a gyroscope." Gyre is entered in the OED from 1420, meaning a circular or spiral motion or form; especially a giant circular oceanic surface current. However, Carroll also wrote in Mischmasch that it meant to scratch like a dog. The g is pronounced like the /g/ in gold, not like gem.
- Jabberwocky: When a class in the Girls' Latin School in Boston asked Carroll's permission to name their school magazine The Jabberwock, he replied: "The Anglo-Saxon word 'wocer' or 'wocor' signifies 'offspring' or 'fruit'. Taking 'jabber' in its ordinary acceptation of 'excited and voluble discussion,'"
- Jubjub bird: 'A desperate bird that lives in perpetual passion', according to the Butcher in Carroll's later poem The Hunting of the Snark. 'Jub' is an ancient word for a jerkin or a dialect word for the trot of a horse (OED). It might make reference to the call of the bird resembling the sound "jub, jub".
- Manxome: Possibly 'fearsome'; A portmanteau of "manly" and "buxom", the latter relating to men for most of its history; or relating to Manx people.
- Mome rath: Humpty Dumpty says following the poem: "A 'rath' is a sort of green pig: but 'mome" I'm not certain about. I think it's short for 'from home', meaning that they'd lost their way". Carroll's notes for the original in Mischmasch state: "a species of Badger [which] had smooth white hair, long hind legs, and short horns like a stag [and] lived chiefly on cheese" Explanatory book notes comment that 'Mome' means to seem 'grave' and a 'Rath': is "a species of land turtle. Head erect, mouth like a shark, the front forelegs curved out so that the animal walked on its knees, smooth green body, lived on swallows and oysters." In the 1951 animated film adaptation of the book's prequel, the mome raths are depicted as small, multi-colored creatures with tufty hair, round eyes, and long legs resembling pipe stems.
- Outgrabe: Humpty says " 'outgribing' is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle". Carroll's book appendices suggest it is the past tense of the verb to 'outgribe', connected with the old verb to 'grike' or 'shrike', which derived 'shriek' and 'creak' and hence 'squeak'.
- Slithy: Humpty Dumpty says: " 'Slithy' means 'lithe and slimy'. 'Lithe' is the same as 'active'. You see it's like a portmanteau, there are two meanings packed up into one word." The original in MischMasch notes that 'slithy' means "smooth and active" The i is long, as in writhe.
- Tove: Humpty Dumpty says " 'Toves' are something like badgers, they're something like lizards, and they're something like corkscrews. [...] Also they make their nests under sun-dials, also they live on cheese." Pronounced so as to rhyme with groves. They "gyre and gimble," i.e. rotate and bore.
- Tulgey: Carroll himself said he could give no source for Tulgey. Could be taken to mean thick, dense, dark.
- Uffish: Carroll noted "It seemed to suggest a state of mind when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish".
- Vorpal: Carroll said he could not explain this word, though it has been noted that it can be formed by taking letters alternately from "verbal" and "gospel".
- Wabe: The characters in the poem suggest it means "The grass plot around a sundial", called a 'wa-be' because it "goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it". In the original MischMasch text, Carroll states a 'wabe' is "the side of a hill (from its being soaked by rain)".
Linguistics and poetics
Although the poem contains many nonsensical words, English syntax and poetic forms are observed, such as the quatrain verses, the general abab rhyme scheme and the iambic meter. The linguist Lucas believes the "nonsense" term is inaccurate. The poem relies on a distortion of sense rather than "non-sense", allowing the reader to infer meaning and therefore engage with narrative while lexical allusions swim under the surface of the poem. 
Parsons describes the work as a "semiotic catastrophe", arguing that the words create a discernible narrative within the structure of the poem, although the reader cannot know what they symbolise. She argues that Humpty tries, after the recitation, to "ground" the unruly multiplicities of meaning with definitions, but cannot succeed as both the book and the poem are playgrounds for the "carnivalised aspect of language". Parsons suggests that this is mirrored in the prosody of the poem: in the tussle between the tetrameter in the first three lines of each stanza and trimeter in the last lines, such that one undercuts the other and we are left off balance, like the poem's hero.
Carroll wrote many poems parodies such as "Twinkle, twinkle little bat", "You are old, father William" and "How doth the little crocodile?" They have become generally more well known than the originals they are based on, and this is certainly the case with "Jabberwocky". The poems' success do not rely on any recognition or association of the poems they parody. Lucas suggests that the original poems provide a strong container but Carroll's works are famous precisely because of their random, surreal quality.  Carroll's grave playfulness has been compared with that of the poet Edward Lear, though there is no evidence that Carroll knew of his work. There are also parallels with the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins in the high use of soundplay, alliteration, created-language and portmanteau. Both writers were Carroll's contemporaries.
"Jabberwocky" has been translated into many languages. It becomes a difficult task because the poems holds to English syntax and many of the principal words of the poem are invented. Translators have generally dealt with them by creating equivalent words of their own. Often these are similar in spelling or sound to Carroll's while respecting the morphology of the language they are being translated into. In Frank L. Warrin's French translation, "'Twas brillig" becomes "Il brilgue". In instances like this, both the original and the invented words echo actual words of Carroll's lexicon, but not necessarily ones with similar meanings. Translators have invented words which draw on root words with meanings similar to the English roots used by Carroll. Douglas Hofstadter noted in his essay "Translations of Jabberwocky", the word 'slithy', for example, echoes the English 'slimy', 'slither', 'slippery', 'lithe' and 'sly'. A French translation that uses 'lubricilleux' for 'slithy', evokes French words like 'lubrifier' (to lubricate) in order to give an impression of a meaning similar to that of Carroll's word. In his exploration of the translation challenge, Hofstadter asks "what if a word does exist, but it is very intellectual-sounding and Latinate ('lubricilleux'), rather than earthy and Anglo-Saxon ('slithy')? Perhaps 'huilasse' would be better than 'lubricilleux'? Or does the Latin origin of the word 'lubricilleux' not make itself felt to a speaker of French in the way that it would if it were an English word ('lubricilious', perhaps)? ".
Hofstadter also notes that it makes a great difference whether the poem is translated in isolation or as part of a translation of the novel. In the latter case the translator must, through Humpty Dumpty, supply explanations of the invented words. But, he suggests, "even in this pathologically difficult case of translation, there seems to be some rough equivalence obtainable, a kind of rough isomorphism, partly global, partly local, between the brains of all the readers".
In 1967, D.G. Orlovskaya wrote a popular Russian translation of "Jabberwocky" entitled "Barmaglot" ("Бармаглот"). She translated "Barmaglot" for "Jabberwock", "Brandashmyg" for "Bandersnatch" while "myumsiki" ("мюмзики") echoes "mimsy". Full translations of "Jabberwocky" into French and German can be found in The Annotated Alice along with a discussion of why some translation decisions were made.  Chao Yuen Ren, a Chinese linguist, translated the poem into Chinese by inventing characters to imitate what Rob Gifford of National Public Radio refers to as the "slithy toves that gyred and gimbled in the wabe of Carroll's original". Satyajit Ray, a film-maker, translated the work into Bengali and concrete poet Augusto de Campos created a Brazilian Portuguese version. There is also an Arabic translation by Wael Al-Mahdi, and at least two into Croatian.. Multiple translations into Latin were made within the first weeks of Carroll's original publication.
According to Chesterton and Green and others, the original purpose of "Jabberwocky" was to satirize both pretentious verse and ignorant literary critics. It was designed as verse designed to show how not to write verse, but eventually became the subject of pedestrian translation or explanation and incorporated into classroom learning. It has also been interpreted as a parody of contemporary Oxford scholarship and specifically the story of how Benjamin Jowett, the notoriously agnostic Professor of Greek at Oxford, and Master of Balliol, came to sign the Thirty-Nine Articles, as an Anglican statement of faith, to save his job. The transformation of audience perception from satire to seriousness, was in a large part predicted by G. K. Chesterton, who wrote in 1932, "Poor, poor, little Alice! She has not only been caught and made to do lessons; she has been forced to inflict lessons on others."
It is often now cited as one of the greatest nonsense poems written in the English language, the source for countless parodies and tributes. In most cases the writers have changed the non-sense words into words relating to the parodied subject, as in Frank Jacobs's "If Lewis Carroll Were a Hollywood Press Agent in the Thirties" in Mad for Better or Verse. Other writers use the poem as a form, much like a sonnet, and create their own words for it as in "Strunklemiss" by S. K. Azoulay or the poem "Oh Freddled Gruntbuggly" recited by Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a book which contains numerous other references and homages to Carroll's work. 
Oh freddled gruntbuggly thy micturations are to me
As plurdled gabbleblotchits on a lurgid bee.
Groop I implore thee my foonting turlingdromes
And hooptiously drangle me with crinkly bindlewurdles,
Or I will rend thee in the gobberwarts with my
blurglecruncheon, see if I don't!
Some of the words that Carroll created such as "chortled" and "galumphing" have entered the English language and are listed in the Oxford English Dictionary. The word "jabberwocky" itself has come to refer to non-sense language.
A song called "Beware the Jabberwock" was written for Disney's Alice in Wonderland, to be sung by Stan Freberg with the Rhythmaires and Daws Butler. Written by Don Raye and Gene de Paul, it was a musical rendition of the "Jabberwocky" verse. The song was not included in the final film, but a demo recording was included in the 2004 and 2010 DVD releases of the movie.
- ^ a b Carroll, Lewis (2010) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass pp 64-65 Createspace ltd ISBN 1-4505-7761-X
- ^ a b Gardner, Martin (1999). The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company. "Few would dispute that Jabberwocky is the greatest of all nonsense poems in English."
- ^ a b Rundus, Raymond J. (October 1967). ""O Frabjous Day!": Introducing Poetry". The English Journal (National Council of Teachers of English) 56 (7): 958–963. doi:10.2307/812632. JSTOR 812632.
- ^ A Town Like Alice's (1997) Michael Bute Heritage Publications, Sunderland
- ^ Alice in Sunderland (2007) Brian Talbot Dark Horse publications.
- ^ Carpenter (1985), 55-56
- ^ a b c d "Jabberwocky back to Old English: Nonsense, Anglo-Saxon and Oxford" by Lucas, Peter J. in Language History and Linguistic Modelling (1997) p503-520 ISBN 978-3-11-014504-5
- ^ a b Hudson, Derek (1977) Lewis Carroll: an illustrated biography. Crown Publishers, 76
- ^ Martin Gardner (2000) The Annotated Alice. New York: Norton p 154, n. 42.
- ^ "Hamlet and Jabberwocky" Essays by Sean Palmer 21 Aug 2005
- ^ Carroll makes later reference to the same lines from Hamlet Act I, Scene i in the 1869 poem "Phantasmagoria". He wrote: "Shakspeare [sic] I think it is who treats/Of Ghosts, in days of old,/Who 'gibbered in the Roman streets".
- ^ a b Prickett, Stephen (2005) Victorian Fantasy Baylor University Press p80 ISBN 1-932792-30-9
- ^ a b c Parsons, Marnie (1994) Touch monkeys: nonsense strategies for reading twentieth-century poetry University of Toronto Press pp 67 -73 ISBN 0-8020-2983-3
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Carroll, Lewis (2010) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass p96 Createspace ltd ISBN 1-4505-7761-X
- ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Carroll, Lewis (Author), Tenniel, John (2003) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass Penguin Classics pp328-331 ISBN 0-14-143976-9
- ^ Carroll, Lewis (2005) Through the Looking Glass. Hayes Barton Press p. 4 ISBN: L99970160
- ^ a b c d e f Lewis Carroll (2006) . The Annotated Hunting of the Snark. edited with notes by Martin Gardner, illustrations by Henry Holiday and others, introduction by Adam Gopnik ("Definitive Edition" ed.). W. W. Norton. ISBN 0393062422.
- ^ a b c d e Carroll, Lewis (2009) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass "Explanatory notes"; Editor: Hunt, Peter. OUP Oxford. p283 ISBN 0-19-955829-9 References the Oxford English Dictionary (1530).
- ^ a b Lewis Carroll, Letter to Maud Standen, December 1877
- ^ The Merriam-Webster new book of word histories (1991) Merriam Webster p247 ISBN 0-87779-603-3
- ^ From the preface to Through the Looking-Glass.
- ^ Gardner, Martin, ed. (1971) . The Annotated Alice. New York: The World Publishing Company. pp. 195–196.
- ^ Gross and McDowell (1996) Sound and form in modern poetry By p15 The University of Michigan Press ISBN 0-472-06517-3
- ^ For a full linguistic and phonetic analysis of the poem see the article "Jabberwocky back to Old English: Nonsense, Anglo-Saxon and Oxford" by Lucas, Peter J. in Language History and Linguistic Modelling (1997) p503-520 ISBN 978-3-11-014504-5
- ^ Lim, Keith. Jabberwocky Variations: Translations. Accessed 2007-10-21.
- ^ a b Hofstadter, Douglas R. (1980). "Translations of Jabberwocky". Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. New York, NY: Vintage Books. ISBN 0394745027. http://www76.pair.com/keithlim/jabberwocky/poem/hofstadter.html.
- ^ M. Gardner, ed., The Annotated Alice, 1960; London: Penguin 1970, p. 193f.
- ^ Chao, Yuen Ren (1969). "Dimensions of Fidelity in Translation With Special Reference to Chinese". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Harvard-Yenching Institute) 29: 109–130. doi:10.2307/2718830. JSTOR 2718830
- ^ Gifford, Rob. "The Great Wall of the Mind." China Road. Random House. 2008. 237.
- ^ Robinson, Andrew (2004) Satyajit Ray. I.B. Tauris p29
- ^ Wael Al-Mahdi (2010) Jabberwocky in Arabic
- ^ "Priča o Hudodraku, Karazubu i Jabberwockyju" (in Croatian). Kulturtreger / KK Booksa. http://www.booksa.hr/specials/3. Retrieved date=2011-09-24.
- ^ Vansittart, Augustus Arthur (1872). "Mors Iabrochii". In Zaroff, Ruth Ann (in Latin). Jabberwocky. London. http://www.ruthannzaroff.com/wonderland/jabberwocky.htm.
- ^ Green, Roger Lancelyn (1970) The Lewis Carroll Handbook, "Jabberwocky, and other parodies" : Dawson of Pall Mall, London
- ^ Prickett, Stephen (2005) Victorian Fantasy Baylor University Press p113 ISBN 1-932792-30-9
- ^ Chesterton, G. K (1953) "Lewis Carroll" in A Handful of Authors, ed. Dorothy Collins, Sheed and Ward, London
- ^ Jacobs, Frank (1968) Mad, for better or verse N.A.L
- ^ Strunklemiss
- ^ a b "Lewis Carroll in cyberspace" Guardian 12 August 2001
- ^ "Oh Freddled Gruntbuggly" by Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz. In Adams, Douglas (1988) Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy Pocket Books p65 ISBN 0-671-74606-5
- Carpenter, Humphrey. (1985). Secret Gardens: The Golden Age of Children's Literature. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-35293-2
- Alakay-Gut, Karen. "Carroll's Jabberwocky". Explicator, Fall 1987. Volume 46, issue 1.
- Dolitsky, Marlene (1984) Under the tumtum tree: from nonsense to sense, a study in nonautomatic comprehension. J. Benjamins Pub. Co. Amsterdam, Philadelphia .
- Gardner, Martin (1999). The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition. New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company.
- Green, Roger Lancelyn (1970) The Lewis Carroll Handbook, "Jabberwocky, and other parodies" : Dawson of Pall Mall, London
- Hofstadter, Douglas R. (1980). "Translations of Jabberwocky". Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid. New York, NY: Vintage Books. ISBN 0394745027. http://www76.pair.com/keithlim/jabberwocky/poem/hofstadter.html.
- Lucas, Peter J. (1997) "Jabberwocky back to Old English: Nonsense, Anglo-Saxon and Oxford" in Language History and Linguistic Modelling ISBN 978-3-11-014504-5
- Richards, Fran. "The Poetic Structure of Jabberwocky." Jabberwocky: The Journal of the Lewis Carroll Society. 8:1 (1978/79). 16-19.
- Essay: "Translations of Jabberwocky". Douglas R. Hofstadter, 1980 from Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid ISBN 0-394-74502-7, Vintage Books, New York, NY
- BBC Video
- Poetry Foundation Biography of Lewis Caroll
- The Lewis Carroll Journal published by The Lewis Carroll Society.
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