“Jabberwocky” & the Value of Nonsense

`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, has 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.


“Jabberwocky” finds its original home in Lewis Carroll’s 1871 book Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.  During an early scene in this sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Alice discovers a book written in a sort of backwards type, forcing her to use a mirror to read it.  Of course, even with the mirror, the verses make little sense to her.

Though largely nonsensical, “Jabberwocky” still manages to delight the imagination through Carroll’s playful and strangely vivid language.

Only a few nights ago, I read this poem to my own children for the first time.  I must admit that I only read it to take their minds off my previous reading of Shel Silverstein’sThe Giving Tree.  That, by the way, is a horrid idea of a bedtime story; way too emotionally charged.  Word to the wise.  So, I quickly picked up a book of poems in desperate attempt to undo my moment of terrible fathering and began reading “Jabberwocky” to stop the crying and painful questions about stumps and seemingly thoughtless boys.

I had them at “slithy toves.”

As the poem progressed, my kids laughed at the silliness of the words, but I could see their minds trying to grasp what was going on.  What is a Jabberwocky?  Is it dangerous?  Was it like a dragon?  Should the “son” have killed it?  Should the father have celebrated this?  They are used to stories about knights and dragons that need slaying, but they also know that sometimes dragons are Eustace in the midst of repenting.

Though only a small part of a larger story, it is easy to see how “Jabberwocky” took on a life of its own, outside of Through the Looking Glass.  I have seen it enjoyed by little ones, high school students, groups of teachers, and other folks of varying ages and backgrounds.  I have witnessed its usefulness in teaching parts of speech and their function (An excellent idea!  What does “mimsy” mean?  Is it a noun or an adjective?), to start a debate (Should the boy have killed the Jabberwock?), to stir the imagination (Could you draw a Jabberwock?  What would it look like?), to cause a laugh (He said “frumious”), and to delight.

Sometimes a little nonsense goes a long way.

My post, reprinted from The CiRCE Institute


Reflections from Archenland: Some Thoughts for Leaders

The Horse and His Boy, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia series, tells of Prince Cor’s return to Archenland.  The long lost prince began his nostos in Tashbaan, proceeded through the desert, and finally arrived in Anvard, the Archenland capital.  But, much like Odysseus, the celebration of Cor’s return is delayed by fierce battle against enemies who threaten his home and kingdom.

When the dust of battle settles, Cor is more properly reunited with his father, King Lune, and hears the news that he will one day be king of Archenland.  Cor’s reply is one of fear and even apology to his twin brother, Corin.  “Oh dear,” said Cor.  “I don’t want to at all.  And Corin – I am most dreadfully sorry.  I never dreamed my turning up was going to chisel you out of your kingdom.”

Corin, however, immediately rejoices, saying, “Hurrah!  Hurrah!  I shan’t have to be King.  I shan’t have to be King.  I’ll always be a prince.  It’s princes have all the fun.”

King Lune, who is previously described as “the kindest-hearted of men” answers Prince Cor with both honesty and grace: “And that’s truer than thy brother knows, Cor.  For this is what it means to be a king; to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

Some long for leadership positions for what it can give them.  Others understand leadership.

My post, reprinted from The CiRCE Institute

Quotable: 5 Great “Chestertonisms”

G.K. Chesterton, the great writer, Christian apologist, lay theologian, literary and cultural critic, poet, and more, might be the most “quotable” writer in history. While it is difficult to narrow down a few favorites, I will begin by offering five (a very few) of my favorites:

1 – “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” – from What’s Wrong with the World

2 – “When domesticity, for instance, is called drudgery, all the difficulty arises from a double meaning in the word. If drudgery only means dreadfully hard work, I admit the woman drudges in the home, as a man might drudge at the Cathedral of Amiens or drudge behind a gun at Trafalgar. But if it means that the hard work is more heavy because it is trifling, colorless and of small import to the soul, then as I say, I give it up; I do not know what the words mean. To be Queen Elizabeth within a definite area, deciding sales, banquets, labors and holidays; to be Whiteley within a certain area, providing toys, boots, sheets cakes. and books, to be Aristotle within a certain area, teaching morals, manners, theology, and hygiene; I can understand how this might exhaust the mind, but I cannot imagine how it could narrow it. How can it be a large career to tell other people’s children about the Rule of Three, and a small career to tell one’s own children about the universe? How can it be broad to be the same thing to everyone, and narrow to be everything to someone? No; a woman’s function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.” – from What’s Wrong with the World

– “Always be comic in a tragedy. What the deuce else can you do?” – from The Man Who Was Thursday

– “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” – from Orthodoxy

– “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” – from Alarms and Discursions

So, readers, let me know what you think.  Is there another more “quotable” writer than G.K. Chesterton?  What are some of your favorite “Chestertonisms”?


Reprinted from the CiRCE Institute, with permission

Vintage Conversation Rules for Gentlemen


From http://www.artofmanliness.com:

Editor’s note: The excerpt below comes from a book published in 1875: A Gentleman’s Guide to Etiquette by Cecil B. Hartley. Hartley’s rules may be over 100 years old, but they’re just as true today as they ever were. There are some real gems here — some of which truly gave me a chuckle.

1. Even if convinced that your opponent is utterly wrong, yield gracefully, decline further discussion, or dexterously turn the conversation, but do not obstinately defend your own opinion until you become angry…Many there are who, giving their opinion, not as an opinion but as a law, will defend their position by such phrases, as: “Well, if were president, or governor, I would,” — and while by the warmth of their argument they prove that they are utterly unable to govern their own temper, they will endeavor to persuade you that they are perfectly competent to take charge of the government of the nation.

Read the rest of this excellent post at “The Art of Manliness“!