Jan 21

The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll’s magnificent 1890 nonsense poem, is now available from Evertype.

From the Foreword:

The Hunting of the Snark was first published in 1876, eleven years after Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and four years after Through the Looking-Glass. It is a master piece of nonsense and is connected to Through the Looking-Glass by its use of vocabulary from the poem “Jabberwocky”.

The Hunting of the Snark is a strangely dark poem, and some critics believe that its themes—insanity and death—are rather too adult in nature for children’s literature. We know, nonetheless, that Lewis Carroll intended the poem to be enjoyed by children: he dedicated the book in acrostic verse to his young friend Gertrude Chataway, and signed some 80 presentation copies to other young readers. Many of those inscriptions were in the form of an acrostic based upon the name of the child to whom the book was presented.

Part of the pleasure of reading this book is in the inevitable musing about what it means. Its author, often asked to explain his work, invariably replies that he does not know. In his splendid book The Annotated Hunting of the Snark, Martin Gardner cites several such replies by Carroll:

  • For all such questions I have but one answer: “I don’t know!”
  • Of course you know what a Snark is? If you do, please tell me: for I haven’t an idea what it is like.
  • “Why don’t you explain the Snark?” … Let me answer it now—“because I ca’n’t.” Are you able to explain things which you don’t yourself understand?
  • As to the meaning of the Snark? I’m very much afraid I didn’t mean anything but nonsense!
  • I was walking on a hillside, alone, one bright summer day, when suddenly there came into my head one line of verse—one solitary line—“For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.” I knew not what it meant, then: I know not what it means, now; but I wrote it down: and, sometime afterwards, the rest of the stanza occurred to me, that being its last line: and so by degrees, at odd moments during the next year or two, the rest of the poem pieced itself together, that being its last stanza.

Well… the author has told us more than thrice. So it must be true. It is therefore open to readers of the poem to decide the question for themselves…

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