Jabberwocky facts for kids

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"Jabberwocky"

’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.

from Through the Looking-Glass, and
What Alice Found There
(1871)

"Jabberwocky" is a nonsense poem written by Lewis Carroll about the killing of a creature named "the Jabberwock". It was included in his 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The book tells of Alice's adventures within the back-to-front world of Looking-Glass Land.

In an early scene in which she first encounters the chess piece characters 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 verses 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 passed into, later revealed as a dreamscape.

"Jabberwocky" is considered one of the greatest nonsense poems written in English. Its playful, whimsical language has given English nonsense words and neologisms such as "galumphing" and "chortle".

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"

The concept of nonsense verse was not original to Carroll. Nonsense existed in Shakespeare's work and was well known in the Brothers Grimm's fairytales, some of which are called lying tales or lügenmärchen. 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 Victorian obsession with natural history and the fast-evolving sciences of palaeontology and geology. The works of Darwin and the models of dinosaurs at the Crystal Palace Exhibition helped feed the interest. Perhaps it is not so surprising that Tenniel gave the Jabberwock "the leathery wings of a pterodactyl and the long scaly neck and tail of a sauropod".

The poem is particularly interesting because, although it contains many nonsensical words, the structure is perfectly consistent with classic English poetry. Many of the words in the poem are playful words of Carroll's own invention, without special meaning. When Alice has finished reading the poem she gives her impressions:

'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'

In Through the Looking-Glass, the character of Humpty Dumpty explains to her the nonsense words from the first stanza of the poem. However, Carroll's personal commentary on several of the words differ from Humpty's. An analysis of the poem and Carroll's commentary is given in the book The Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner.

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