12

Are the unfamiliar creatures in Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" as transcribed in Alice through the Looking Glass (p. 15-16, chapter I, looking-glass house) of his own creation, or are they preexisting mythological/fantastical creatures in a nondescript form? The wording is ambiguous.

Later, in Chapter VI, these things are explained to Alice. Were/are these words real?

`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.

22

Yes, the words are all made up. The Jabberwock, Bandersnach, and Jubjub Bird are all Carroll's creations. However, some of these words (notably "galumphing") have begun to enter actual usage, and "vorpal" is an adjective often used to describe bladed weapons in games such as D&D (though this usage was again taken from Carroll's poem). Some of these words, though made up, do have legitimate etymologies: for instance, "gyre" means "to spin", and is derived from the same Greek root as the words "gyroscope" and "gyration". "Slithy" is likely a portmanteau of "lithe" and "slimy". Many of the words are similar enough to actual English words that their meanings can be guessed from the context and from other similar-sounding words.

5
  • This is explained in humpty dumpty but did they ever have a previous mythology, all names aside. Dec 14 '14 at 3:07
  • @VinceScalia So is what you're actually asking are the three creatures mentioned intended as renamed versions of creatures from other mythology? I seem to have misinterpreted your question. Dec 14 '14 at 3:08
  • Yeah two people typed it. Editing accordingly. Sorry about that Dec 14 '14 at 3:09
  • ISTR "galumphing" turning up in one of the Swallows and Amazons books, where it was a kind of skipping gait good for going down hill rapidly. Mar 2 at 21:03
  • 1
    Should be noted that in the story Humpty Dumpty actually says that "slithy" is derived from "lithe" and "slimy", with the comment "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."
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 2 at 23:02
9

Yes, the words are all made up. If the subject interests you, you MUST find a copy of "The Annotated Alice". You'll find an amazing variety of information, such as a summary of the chess game which the entirety of Alice's adventures through the looking glass represent, and about 6 pages on "Jabberwocky". Discussion of every made-up word. Even versions of the poem in French and Latin.

"As-tu tue le Jaseroque? Viens a mon coeur fils rayonnais!

Oh jour frabjeais! Calleu! Callai!" Il cortule dans son joie.

Although the internet has in some senses surpassed the book - see http://www.waxdog.com/jabberwocky/translate.html for 50 versions in 23 different languages (including Esperanto and Klingon - although the scansion is lost in the Klingon).

2

Carroll himself tells us that many of the Jabberwocky words are portmanteaus, or two words (in Carroll’s case usually two rare or old words) stuck together. If we follow his lead and begin separating his words into their components, we may get a good idea of what he meant to say in his poem.

For example “jabber” means to talk indistinctly, voluminously, or in a language not easily understood by the listener. The word “wock” is a variant of “wauchle” - To puzzle, perplex - “Ppl.adj. wauchled, perplexed, bewildered, confused, muddle-headed” (Dict. of the Scots Language). Thus we have a working meaning for Jabberwocky, or a puzzle about hard to understand language (a very good description of the Poem).

The word Bander meant “mouth,” while snatch continues to mean “to grab.” Thus, for readers of Lewis Carroll, at least those who know he was a stutterer and a writer of “nonsense,” the above two related portmanteaus will begin to make some sense.

The rest of the difficult words in Carroll’s famous poem can all be deciphered along the same lines as above, by splitting them into their constituents and then by looking these up in dictionaries.

2
  • Welcome to the site. This is a nice answer, but you could improve it a little by providing sources for your claims to make it a great answer.
    – bob1
    Mar 2 at 21:15
  • I thought to include those definitions that may have proven difficult for readers to find, while keeping in mind Carroll’s “I never put things into people’s hands - that would never do- you must get it for yourself.” (TtL-G, near the end of Chapter 5). Mar 2 at 21:22

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.