Jabberwocky Variations
JV Top : The Poem : Made More Stir Than Anything Else

Made More Stir Than Anything Else

Eleanor Graham

"Jabberwocky", the strange nonsense poem printed in Looking-Glass characters, made more stir than anything else in the book and some wild assertions were made about its origin. The truth was, however, that Dodgson had made up the first verse years before, as a young man in his early twenties, when he had printed it in his private magazine, Misch-Masch, as "A Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry". He printed them both in Anglo-Saxon and modern characters, with a glossary, ending with a literal translation of the passage into crude English. The meanings in that glossary were a little different from those in Through The Looking Glass, so the translation read: "It was evening, and the smooth active badgers were scratching and boring holes in the hill-side, all unhappy were the parrots and the grave turtles squeaked out".

Dodgson added to it a few years later during a verse-making game played with his cousins when he was staying near Sunderland one summer holiday.


There is no reference in Through The Looking Glass to their Anglo-Saxon origin. These verses are simply presented as being in looking-glass language.

Graham, Eleanor. "Lewis Carroll and the Writing of Through The Looking Glass", Introduction to Through The Looking Glass. In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland/Through The Looking Glass, Puffin Books: Great Britain, 1981.

Eleanor Graham's description of "Jabberwocky" as being of "Anglo-Saxon origin" and being written in Anglo-Saxon characters is extremely misleading. It may be a mistaken belief on her part or an unfortunately lack of clarity in description, but whatever the reason, it is just not accurate.

While Dodgson certainly called his original verse "A Stanza of Anglo-Saxon Poetry", that is as far as the characterisation goes. It was entirely a product of Dodgson's creativity, and does not follow Anglo-Saxon poetry style, nor use Anglo-Saxon syntax and grammar. The 'Anglo-Saxon characters' he printed it in aren't; they are simply the letters of the current English alphabet written in an unusual style (which however, does have the 'look' of Anglo-Saxon script).

Almost certainly, Dodgson did not mean to mislead anyone, and the verse was written and passed off as "Anglo-Saxon" in the spirit of fun; as a parody, if you like. As Graham noted, there is no mention of the poem's supposed origin in Through the Looking Glass, the verses are simply presented 'as is'.

In The Real Alice, Anne Clark points out the inappropriateness of Dodgson's description of his verse as "Anglo-Saxon", even while calling "Jabberwocky" the "most important of the poems"


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JV Top : The Poem : Made More Stir Than Anything Else