Literature: Jabberwocky

A humorous nonsense ballad by Lewis Carroll, by its original intent supposedly a parody of overwrought and poorly-written yet seriously-intended poems. It appeared in Through the Looking-Glass, the second of Carroll's Alice books.

Nevertheless considered an excellent poem despite its nonsensicality. In fact, some of the nonsense words invented by Carroll for the poem — like "vorpal" and "chortle" — have entered usage and become semi-official words.

Be aware that, while "Jabberwocky" is the name of the poem, the eponymous monster is the Jabberwock.

It is also said to have been inspired by a tree. Make of that what you will.

In 1977, Terry Gilliam made a movie adaptation, also titled Jabberwocky.

In 1999, prog rock keyboardists Clive Nolan and Oliver (son of Rick) Wakeman recorded a Concept Album based on the poem, with Wakeman Sr. reading bits of the poemnote  between the songs.

The poem contains examples of:

The movie contains examples of:

  • Ax-Crazy: The guy with the "diamonds", aka a bunch of rocks.
  • Black Comedy: Mild-mannered Dennis allows himself to be sent off to defeat the monster and succeeds, winning the hand of the beautiful princess who adores him, but he does it all for the love of ugly, greedy, unpleasant Griselda who is barely aware that he exists and who only notices him when it's too late. Well, it's a Terry Gilliam film.
  • Black Knight: The city merchants hire one to ambush the king's champion, and winds up fighting the monster himself.
  • Bloody Hilarious: The jousting scene. We never see the impact of the combatants, only the royal box and its inhabitants (the King, his chancellor and the princess) getting increasingly splattered with gore.
    • Also the monster's method of killing people which leaves just a horribly grimacing head attached to a skeleton, exactly like the remains of a fish eaten by a human.
    • ...The whole film, really.
  • The Cameo: Terry Gilliam himself shows up as an Ax-Crazy guy who thinks he's found a diamond mine (really, he's just found a pile of rocks). Terry Jones turns up as a trapper who's the first on-screen victim of the Jabberwock.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: Mr. Fishfinger and his family are very rude to Dennis after he saves them from bandits
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: The merchants of the city think the monster is the best thing to happen for business, so they'd rather it not be killed.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: It was released in some areas as Monty Python's Jabberwocky, despite half of the group having no involvement.
    • Although Neil Innes, sometimes called the seventh Python, does appear.
  • The Dung Ages
  • Funny Background Event: while the princess is fawning over Dennis, thinking he's a prince come to rescue her, an actual prince tries to climb up to her tower, only to fall to his death as soon as he gets to the top
  • Jerkass: Griselda, Mr. Fishfinger, the merchants
  • Nothing Is Scarier: the monster is never seen until the very end
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: One of the king's heralds doesn't use overly complicated words, but does use something like 20 words when 5 would suffice. The king eventually has him summarily executed out of pure annoyance.
  • Toilet Humor: Dennis gets pissed on several times over the course of the movie.
  • Too Dumb to Live: When the king discovers that his land is threatened by the Jabberwock, he holds a contest to find the strongest knight in the land, by having all the knights battle each other to the death. Simply putting all his knights together into a single army, with all of them alive, apparently just wasn't done back then.
  • Visual Pun: The knight selected as the King's champion who is killed by the Black Knight before he can fight the Jabberwock has a red fish on his helmet. In other words, he's the Knight of the Red Herring.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Dennis' dad takes the opportunity of being on his deathbed to tell Dennis how much he despises him.
    Dennis: Dad's delirious, I'm afraid.
    Neighbour: No he's not!
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: One of the princess' nuns is apparently a man in disguise. No explanation is given for this.

Elements of this poem appear in:

  • Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland.
  • Disney's Alice in Wonderland has the Cheshire Cat singing the first verse and also features a cameo by the mome raths.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The vorpal weapon property derives its name from the poem's vorpal sword. In D&D, such a weapon automatically decapitates its target on a critical hit/natural 20.
    • A pair of tongue-in-cheek adventure modules that Gary Gygax wrote, based on the Wonderland books, included not only the Jabberwock, but also the bandersnatch (whose name is taken literally: it grabs opponents and ties them up) and jub-jub bird.
  • In the short story "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" by Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore (writing under the joint pseudonym of Lewis Padgett), the poem turns out to have been dictated by Lewis Caroll's young daughter after she received some Sufficiently Advanced toys from the far future, and is a secretly-coded instruction manual for how to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence.
  • Larry Niven's Known Space universe has an alien species called the frumious bandersnatch.
  • The Jabbewock is a kind of monster — one of the most powerful in the game — found in the original Rogue.
  • Nethack, a Spiritual Successor to Rogue, also contains a Jabberwock, as well as a Vorpal Sword (which indeed goes "snicker-snack" when attacking).
  • The first game in The Bard's Tale Trilogy contains both a wolf-like bandersnatch and a dragon-like Jabberwock (who guards a Sword of Plot Advancement).
  • The children in Swallows and Amazons seem to be fans of the poem, as they decide "galumphing" is the best way of quickly returning after visiting the charcoal-burners.
  • In Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts, there's a fictional brand of breakfast cereal called Snicker-Snacks.
  • American McGee's Alice features the Jabberwock, now a clockwork cyborg, as a major antagonist.
  • It's also a monster in the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay bestiary, almost identical to the one in John Tenniel's original illustration for the poem.
  • In Pathfinder, the Jabberwock is among the most powerful statted creatures- more powerful than (almost) any dragon. It's a monstrous fey creature whose only purpose is to spread destruction and chaos. Naturally, it has an instinctive aversion to vorpal weapons. The jub-jub bird and the bandersnatch also make appearances here.
  • Milny's Vorpal Sword in Planescape Survival Guide goes Snicker-Snack when decapitating a Slaadi (giant frog monsters).
  • In the Young Justice episode "Earthlings", Adam Strange recites stanzas of it to distract alien enforces on the planet. It works.
  • Being heavily influenced by Alice in Wonderland, the Pandora Hearts manga features Jabberwocky as one of the most powerful chains in the series.
  • The seventh book of The Chronicles of Amber has a scene set in Wonderland (or a world very much like it), and the Jabberwock makes a brief but violent appearance.
  • In a non-storyline strip of Exterminatus Now, Rogue's laser sword beheads a dragon and makes the Unsound Effect "snicker-snak".
  • At the beginning of each stage in eXceed 3rd - Jade Penetrate, a Doujin Soft shmup, the poem is faintly visible underneath the text displaying the stage name and number.
  • The Japanese version of Breath of Fire IV, of all places, has this. The dragon forms called the Behemoth, Weyr, and Peist in the English version were originally called the Bandersnatch, Jubjub, and Jabberwock, respectively.
  • In the Dynasty Warriors and Warriors Orochi series, weapons can have the 'vorpal' element applied to them, which typically gives the weapon a chance to One-Hit Kill weaker enemies.