November 11, 2022

#08-255: Jabberwocky

The Jabberwock

Note: Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky" is a great example of nonsense literature--or is it? Find the sense underlying this "nonsense"!

Get Ready: What kind of person does the word "jabberwock" make you think of? If someone called you a jabberwock, would you be flattered? Why or why not?

Like Edward Lear (see Lesson #08-210), Lewis Carroll wrote nonsense verse, but of a much higher caliber than Lear's.

"Jabberwocky" is a mock epic in which an unnamed hero defeats a fearsome (but imaginary) beast named the Jabberwock. It was included in Through the Looking-Glass, the sequel to Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

Here's the first stanza:

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

Before you reach for your dictionary, let me tell you that the main words--nouns, verbs, and adjectives--are all made up by Carroll. One of the great pleasures of reading this poem is trying to figure out the "sense" in these "nonsense words."

"Brillig" sounds a little like "brilliant," but the character Humpty Dumpty says that it "means four o'clock in the afternoon--the time when you begin broiling things for dinner." When Alice asks about "slithy," Humpty says it's a combination of "lithe" and "slimy," just as "mimsy" is "flimsy and miserable."

Also, according to Humpty, several of the words--"toves," "borogove," and "raths"--are imaginary animals.

More helpfully, "gyre" is to go around "like a gyroscope," and "to gimble" is "to make holes like a gimlet," a kind of drill.

The rest of the poem is just as strange (see below), but you can easily follow the story: an unnamed speaker--perhaps the hero's father--tells him to "Beware the Jabberwock" and "the Jubjub bird," and to "shun The frumious Bandersnatch"--all imaginary creatures.

The hero then takes out his "vorpal sword" and seeks "the manxome foe" before resting "by the Tumtum tree." But while he stands thinking, the Jabberwock "Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, And burbled as it came!"

The hero kills it and takes its head triumphantly; the father-figure praises his "beamish boy," before the opening stanza is repeated.

Delightfully, some of Carroll's manufactured words have entered common usage, including "burbled, " a sound between a bleat, a murmur, and a warble; "chortled, " a type of laughter that combines a chuckle and a snort; and "galumphing, " something like galloping triumphantly (though perhaps awkwardly).


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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. broiling
  2. caliber
  3. flimsy
  4. galloping
  5. gyroscope
  6. lithe
  7. miserable
  8. mock
  9. shun
  10. slimy

  1. going at a horse's fastest speed
  2. wispy; not very solid
  3. flexible; agile
  4. cooking in an oven under the heat source
  5. very unhappy
  6. avoid; stay away from
  7. quality; class
  8. yucky; covered in something disgusting
  9. a rotating device used for maintaining balance
  10. parodic; making fun of

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for November 11, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. g; 3. b; 4. a; 5. i; 6. c; 7. e; 8. j; 9. f; 10. h