Thursday, 27 January 2011




The creator of Wonderland, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (sometimes known as Lewis Carroll) was born 179 years ago today and, in celebration, here are a couple of renditions of his most famous nonsense verse, which Alice discovered in a book on the other side of the looking-glass. I refer, of course, to...


You'll recognise Sir John Tenniel's depiction of the Jabberwock whiffling through the Tulgey Wood when you watch the following enactment of this curious saga...

And here's the Tenniel illustration that inspired the Muppets' slithy toves, borogoves and mome raths...

And in case you've ever wondered what the words in the poem's opening and closing verses mean, here's Humpty Dumpty's explanation...

"...'Brillig' means four o'clock in the afternoon--the time when you begin broiling things for dinner."

"That'll do very well," said Alice: "and

"Well, '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."

"I see it now," Alice remarked thoughtfully: "and what are

'toves' are something like badgers – they're something like lizards – and they're something like corkscrews."

"They must be very curious-looking creatures."

"They are that," said Humpty Dumpty: "also they make their nests under sun-dials – also they live on cheese."

"And what's to
'gyre' and to 'gimble'?"

"To 'gyre' is to go round and round like a gyroscope. To 'gimble' is to make holes like a gimlet."

'the wabe' is the grass-plot round a sun-dial, I suppose?" said Alice, surprised at her own ingenuity.

"Of course it is. It's called
'wabe' you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it––"

"And a long way beyond it on each side," Alice added.

"Exactly so. Well, then, 'mimsy' is 'flimsy and miserable' (there's another portmanteau for you). And a 'borogove' is a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round – something like a live mop."

"And then
'mome raths'?" said Alice. "I'm afraid I'm giving you a great deal of trouble."

"Well, a
'raths' 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, you know."

"And what does 'outgrabe' mean?"

'outgrabing' is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle: however, you'll hear it done, maybe – down in the wood yonder – and when you've once heard it you'll be quite content..."


Wendy said...

My daughter and I were just reminiscing about the Muppets rendition of ykcowrebbaJ today! And I love the Christopher Lee recitation - hadn't heard it until now. Thanks! :)

Suzanne said...

Oh my! I just love Mr Lee! Happy birthday Mr Carroll, wherever you are!

Brian Sibley said...

Wendy – What I like about the Muppet version is that Henson & Co bothered to check out what toves, borogoves and mome raths looked like (courtesy of Messrs Dumpty and Tenniel) and that they got the words right!

Sir Christopher Lee's rendition was given at the British Library around the lead-up to the release of the Tim Burton film. There is a piece of TB artwork on an easel in the background.

Suzanne – As to your comment "Happy birthday Mr Carroll, wherever you are!" I know precisely where he is: as he wrote of his young muse, Alice, and her two sisters who accompanied him on the famous river-trip when he told the tale of the realm at the bottom of the rabbit-hole...

"In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

"Ever drifting down the stream,
Lingering in the golden gleam,—
Life, what is it but a dream?"

Steven Hartley said...

I do quite like Lewis Carroll's Alice books - but I just find them complicating because I just don't understand Victorian puns well.

Although, I do enjoy the film adaptations, but not the Tim Burton version.

So, Happy Birthday Lewis - if you can see us down here.

Eric Noble said...

Wonderful post!!! This is absolutely terrific! The Christopher Lee reading of Jabberwocky is inspiring. He could make the phone interesting to listen to. Also, I never could resist a good Muppets sketch. I remember watching the episode with Brooke Shields that was completely devoted to the Alice stories. I was a wee lad back then. Good times.

Brian Sibley said...

Hi, Eric – Thanks for visiting! I love your blog!

Regarding your comment that Christopher Lee "could make the phone [book] interesting to listen to": when writing my biography of Peter Jackson, I was sitting in a pub one day when I had a memorable phone call from Mr L that lasted best part of an hour (until the battery was almost dead and buried!) during which – among other things – he sang me his cut performance from Tim Burton's film of Sweeney Todd! I love him!

By the way, The Muppet Show version of 'Jabberwocky' was from the very Brooke Shields/Alice episode you recall.