Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Jabberwocky

Go To
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Jabberwocky excerpt, Through the Looking Glass

What you just read was the first stanza of a nonsense ballad by Lewis Carroll to parody overwrought and poorly-written yet seriously-intended poems. It appeared in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, the second of Carroll's Alice books. In it, Alice finds the poem right upon entering the Looking-Glass, and, more than confused by its words, asks for Humpty Dumpty's help to decipher it after meeting him later on.

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.

Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark is a Spiritual Successor to this poem, and features several of the same creatures, though not the Jabberwock itself.

In 1977, Terry Gilliam made a very, very loose 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:

  • 24-Hour Trope Clock: Brillig is four o'clock in the afternoon, just when you start to broil things for dinner.
  • Absurdly Sharp Blade: The Vorpal Sword, which decapitates the Jabberwock in two slices.
  • Achilles in His Tent: Briefly. The Hero stops to rest by a tree, and then stands there for a while in "uffish thought" (basically, sulking).
  • All There in the Manual: Carroll created definitions for his nonsense words. The first stanza is explicitly translated by Humpty Dumpty when Alice meets him later in the Through the Looking Glass.
  • Ambiguously Evil: It can be easily inferred from the story that the Jabberwock eats people, but we aren't given any information as to whether the creature is malevolent or simply an animalistic predator. The fact that it's for whatever reason drawn wearing a waistcoat would imply it at least has the sapience required for the former, though.
  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: The Jabberwock's death elicits this reaction.
  • Audible Sharpness: "The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!"
  • Big Bad: The Jabberwock is one of three feral beasts mentioned by The Hero's father, and the one he sets out to slay.
  • Bookends: The first and last stanzas are identical.
  • Do Not Do This Cool Thing: In-Universe. the boy's father tells him to beware several dangerous monsters, and his immediate response to these warnings is to grab a weapon and go out to kill one. Downplayed, in that the father is very much proud of his son after his success.
  • The Dreaded: The Jabberwock, considering the fact that the whole town cheers when it's slain.
  • Feathered Fiend: The Jubjub bird is mentioned to be a dangerous creature.
  • Makes Just as Much Sense in Context: Unless you've read Carroll's definitions, the entire poem is an amalgamation of nonsensical words jumbled together that vaguely tell the story of a boy who slays a monster. Alice finds it more incomprehensible than she is willing to admit, and even Humpty Dumpty, who declares himself to be able to explain every poem ever written and many that haven't been written yet, thinks its words are rather difficult.
    Alice: "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don't exactly know what they are! However, somebody killed something: that's clear, at any rate."
  • Neologism: A lot of them — 25 words in the poem are ones that Carrol just made up.
  • No Name Given: Neither The Hero nor his father are mentioned by name.
  • Off with His Head!: How the Jabberwock dies, being decapitated with the Vorpal Sword.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: The Jabberwock roughly resembles a dragon in the illustration, although the prose's description of it is rather vague.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: Carroll filled his poem with words that did not exist at the time (vorpal, tulgey, galumphing...)
  • Portmanteau: Many of the made-up words take this form - "slithy", "mimsy", "galumphing" and "chortled". It is a little harder to trace the etymology of "frumious", "whiffling", "burbled" and "frabjous", though these may all be corrupted portmanteaux as well.
  • Public Domain Artifact: The Vorpal Blade is in many Tabletop Games and Video Games as a sword that tends to chop heads off.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: When the Jabberwock attacks the boy, he is described as having "eyes of flame".
  • So Proud of You: "And hast thou slain the Jabberwock? Come to my arms, my beamish boy!"
  • Unsound Effect: The Vorpal Sword goes Snicker-Snack.
  • Waistcoat of Style: John Tenniel's illustration depicts the Jabberwock wearing one.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The Jubjub bird and the Bandersnatch that the hero’s dad warns about never appear in the poem.
  • Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe: The first stanza was originally published alone as a parody of old English verse where almost all the words have fallen out of use.