Lewis Carroll Tests Out Jabberwocky


The woman was packed into her black Victorian dress, her hair piled high, bearing plumes that bobbed like an exotic bird looking to attract another exotic bird for an afternoon of passion and seed.

As the audience before her clapped, she announced, "...And next, we will have a reading from Rev. Charles Dodgson, who plans quite a treat for us. He says he's been writing a bit in his spare time, and today will recite a poem of his very own creation. I haven't heard it yet myself, so we'll all be surprised and delighted together. Welcome, Rev. Dodgson. I expect your poetry to enlighten and inspire us all."

Young Charles Lutwidge Dodgson stepped to the podium, and felt the sweat bead up around his starched collar. He hadn't shared this with anyone yet, and he knew it was a little risky.

Normally, at these sorts of functions, he just stood up and read Tennyson's Lady of Shalott and was done with it. But there had already been three Lady of Shalotts today. The lady could only die so many times in one afternoon. The moment begged variety.

And variety he would give them.

"Um, thank... thank you," he said. "It's a pleasure to be with you all today. I... I've been working on something new. Er, different, I think. And I... Um... I'm not sure how... Well, you see, this piece was... was... Well, maybe it's just best I begin."

The room grew quiet. He cleared his throat.

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

He paused for effect, but could hear the murmurs in the crowd. "What language is that?" whispered one.

"Native Australian. They've borogoves in the Outback," responded another, more informed gentleman.

"I had slithy toves in my garden once," mumbled someone near the back. "Dreadful pests. Had to use lyme on them."

"What part of the Bible is this?" murmured a lady in gray flannel, flipping unsettled through her pocket Bible. "Book of Isaiah?"

The Bird of Paradise at the front of the room flushed, looking like the pressure building up might shoot her clear from corset and all. "Shhh, everyone. Please... Oh, I am sorry, Rev. Dodgson, please do go on."

Charles Dodgson gave her a tight smile and cleared his throat again.

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

In the crowd eyebrows were raised. Cheeks were pale. Eyes were wide. He caught a vague, "What did he say?"

"Gloomius band of snatch, I think."

"Well, that hardly sounds appropriate for mixed company! And from a clergyman, too."

An old lady who'd only heard half of it, shouted, "Is this not The Lady of Shalott, then?"

Dodgson tugged at his collar, which was damp and wilting now, but he determined to proceed on. Perhaps the problem was he just needed to give it a bit more energy for it to really grip:
"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."

"Who's the fellow with the purple sword again?" hissed a lady in the front row to her sister.

"I don't know. But he's fighting someone who speaks Manx."

Dodgson decided that maybe louder was the way to go, now, and upped the volume.

"But, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock with eyes of flame
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood
And burbled as it came!"
"Isn't Tulgey somewhere near Cheshire?"

"Devon, I think. Is this fellow quite all right?"

"Always heard he was a bit strange."

Desperate to get through the poem with any degree of success, Dodgson grabbed up a nearby lady's parasol and swept it aloft like a mighty broadsword. He knew he should have brought some props, but this would just have to do.
"One, two! One, two! And through and through,
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!..."

"He's having a fit!" a woman cried, standing up in her concern.

"Someone help the poor man!"

The lady with all the plumes had gone completely crimson now, and rushed to his side-- just as the parasol accidentally popped open, sending a second potential assistant backwards into the front row.

The Bird of Paradise took his arm and made soothing sounds, patting him. "There, there, Rev. Dodgson." She was leading him from the podium now, while someone picked up Mr. Evans from row one.

"I'm fine, honestly," the young clergyman insisted. "It...It's just a bit of nonsense, really, I—"

"Alice, dear, fetch Rev. Dodgson a glass of water, would you?... There's a good girl."

"It's for children, you know," he persisted. "There were just so terribly many Shalotts and—"

"Mad as a hatter, that one," someone whispered.

"Mad as a march hare," agreed someone else sadly. "Completely off of his head."

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16 comments:

Unfinished Rambler said...

You outdo yourself again. When is your book coming out again? You need to do a book like Rob(ert) Kroese, first from your blog, and then a novel (on which I've heard you're working). When is it coming out anyway?

Rethoryke said...

I completely flummoxed a student two weeks ago by informing him of the spoof poem "Jerseywocky", which takes town names from our native state and splices them into Carrol's style:

http://keithlim.com/jabberwocky/parodies/jerseywocky.html

"The Belmar blade went Hackensack!" etc.... ;-)

Jenn Thorson said...

Rambler- Heh, thanks for the support. I'm going to try to finish the novel first before I even consider compiling any blog posts into a book; I need to get back to focusing on it, actually, and wind it up. I'm in the home stretch.

Rethoryke- I didn't know about that one myself. Love the "Hackensack" usage. :) Now I'm thinking of the Jabberwock like the Jersey Devil, living in the Pine Barrens. :)

lifeshighway said...

Hilarious. I am a huge Lewis Carrol fan. Through the Looking Glass was always my favorite.

Jenn Thorson said...

Life's Highway- Yay! Glad to have a fellow Lewis Carroll appreciator aboard!!

Mark said...

Loved this Jenn! And I agree, you can only have so many shallots before they disagree with you.

Jenn Thorson said...

Mark- :) You don't know HOW right you are about that, either-- as prior to publishing I looked at the post and realized I'd initially spelled Shalott as "Shallot" the whole way through! :) That would have been VERY hard to digest.

Frank Lee MeiDere said...

*Applause* Excellent. I always start my grammar lectures with The Jabberwocky, and the reactions of my students are not dissimilar to those of the poor Victorian audience. (I leave out the umbrella, however.)

Knucklehead said...

You know, I once knew a woman who had spread so much syphilis that the entire state of New Jersey bandersnatch.

Jeez, I crack myself up.

Jenn Thorson said...

Frank- Just as well. We don't want personal injury lawsuits, now do we? :)

Knucklehead- :) Heh, now we know why you have to write under a pseudonym. :)

madtexter said...

Having been raised the son of Baptist minister, I completely got the visual, and imagined my dad up there blurting out that poem. And those gawd-awful church ladies and their 'assumptions' and poo-pooing of overthing and everyone.

Great story!

Jenn Thorson said...

MadTexter- Hey, thanks-- having just re-read Jane Eyre, I was ready for one of those successful parlor-type performances to go a little awry. :)

Count Sneaky said...

Wonderful piece! The Jabberwock is my favorite nonsense poem of all,excepting a few Burma-Shave signs. Carroll, in a few words, held the seriousness of the English language up for a few thrusts fom his vorpal sword, and publically paddywhacked the pachydermous, philistine, potsticker, producing profuse pandemonium and phlashbacks. My best, Count Sneaky

Sarah said...

Hi Jenn,
What a great story! I'm the editor of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America's (http://www.lewiscarroll.org) Knight Letter magazine. May we reprint your story in our next issue (probably May or June 2010)? Since we are a non-profit, we are unable to reimburse you, but will send you as many copies of the issue as you would like. (Also, we expect a lot of visibility on this next issue due to some movie coming out in March...)
~ Sarah

Jenn Thorson said...

Sarah- I would be absolutely delighted if you used it for your newsletter. I've been a fan of the Alice stories for years, and got to see the original manuscript in the British Library, so this topic is quite dear to my heart. (Even if my Jabberwock tale is wholly unhistorical.) :) You've made my day!

Ian C - My Twist News said...

Congratulations on getting this jibber-jabber published. I can relate to this tale having once found myself in a similar situation to the great Reverend.
Alone before the blue rinse brigade presenting a prepared speech on the wonders of wine.
I may as well have been spouting Carrollian nonsense judging by the glazed faces staring back at me. Then I discovered the vorpal verb that slayed the generational Jabberwocky of disinterest.
Sherry.
Anytime you need to melt the ice with an octogenarian, sherry is the ultimate antique antifreeze. Never go to a family Christmas without some.