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Literature / Sylvie and Bruno

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He thought he saw an Elephant
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
'At length I realize,' he said,
'The bitterness of Life!
First stanza of "The Mad Gardener's Song" note 

One of the lesser-known works of Lewis Carroll, Sylvie and Bruno runs two parallel plots, one in something like the real world and one in Elf-land, both accessed by the First-Person Peripheral Narrator. The Elf-land plot involves the King standing down, for obscure reasons, in favour of his Most Definitely Not a Villain brother and "Sub-Warden", and his chancellor, leaving his two kids, the titular Sylvie and Bruno, as Heart Warming Orphans. The sort-of-real world plot involves a romance slightly complicated by a third party and oddly unaffected by the presence of a visitor from another planet/plane called Mein Herr, who is for some reason German-accented.


This work contains examples of:

  • Airport Novel: Lady Muriel discusses the Victorian equivalent: "the little thrilling romances, where the Murder comes at page fifteen, and the Wedding at page forty".
  • Aliens Speaking English: Played with for Mein Herr.
  • Blue Blood
  • Character Filibuster: Most of the dialogue, especially involving Arthur or Mein Herr, is a veiled discourse on some social or moral issue.
  • Children Are Innocent
  • Closer to Earth: Sylvie and Lady Muriel.
  • Crusty Caretaker
  • Divided for Publication: Carroll originally intended the story to be published as a single novel, but due to its length it was decided that it should be published in two volumes.
    • And there are releases adressed for children that only contain the Elf-land plot.
  • Doting Parent
  • Dream Land: "Outland"
  • Evil Chancellor: Somewhat unusually, he is only The Dragon to Sibimet.
  • Evil Is Petty: Tabikat is most gratified to find that Sibimet has entirely removed "Item: We shall be kind to the poor" from the text of the agreement he made with the King.
    Why, of course, my dear! We shan't bother with those wretches!
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  • Evil Uncle: Sibimet
  • Gossip Evolution:
    "And what reasons have you heard of for breaking off the engagement?"

    "A good many," Arthur replied, and proceeded to count them on his fingers. "First, it was found that she was dying of—something; so he broke it off. Then it was found that he was dying of—some other thing; so she broke it off. Then the Major turned out to be a confirmed gamester; so the Earl broke it off. Then the Earl insulted him; so the Major broke it off. It got a good deal broken off, all things considered!"

    "You have all this on the very best authority, of course?"

    "Oh, certainly! And communicated in the strictest confidence! Whatever defects Elveston society suffers from, want of information isn't one of them!"
  • Hollywood Atheist: Played straight with Eric Lyndon. He's an agnostic at first, but is converted, or near to, at the end after Arthur is revealed to be alive.
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  • How Do You Like Them Apples
  • Humans Are Morons: Mein Herr and the fairies both tend to agree on this.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Eric Lindon. He is in love with his cousin Muriel, and they are engaged at the beginning of the story; however, after they break up and she falls in love with — and marries — Arthur, he puts his own life at risk to save Arthur's, for her sake.
  • Inelegant Blubbering
  • Informed Kindness: In long poem "Peter and Paul", the rich Paul agrees to lend his poorer friend Peter some money, never actually gives it to him, then starves him by calling in the loan. Paul is referred to as "noble", "kind" and "honest" throughout.
  • In Harm's Way
  • It Was a Gift
  • Karmic Transformation: Uggug becoming a porcupine.
  • King Incognito
  • Ludicrous Precision: Bruno, asked how many sheep there are in a field, answers "About a thousand and four." On further examination, it turns out the four are near enough for him to count; the thousand, he's not quite so sure about.
  • Malaproper: Bruno, e.g. "disadvantages" becomes "lizard bandages".
  • Nice to the Waiter
  • Non-Idle Rich
  • Offered the Crown
  • Our Ghosts Are Different
  • Powder Keg Crowd
  • The Professor: Actually called the Professor. Also has a friend who is The Professor.
  • The Promise
  • Promotion to Parent: Sylvie is in charge of Bruno — particularly his lessons.
  • Punny Name: Tabikat.
  • Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated:
    • The Vice-Warden arranges for a false report of his brother's death.
    • Arthur is reported dead after taking up the position of doctor in the fever-stricken harbour town. It later turns out, however, that Eric Lindon retrieved him, brought him to the hospital and helped nurse him back to health, but was forbidden to tell anybody — even Arthur's wife — that he was alive, for fear that any shock to his brain could kill him instantly.
  • Royal Blood
  • Royal Brat
  • Sand In My Eyes
  • Schrödinger's Butterfly:
    "So, either I've been dreaming about Sylvie," I said to myself, "and this is the reality. Or else I've really been with Sylvie, and this is a dream! Is Life itself a dream, I wonder?"
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Subverted. The narrator uses the Outlandish Watch to prevent an accident he witnesses, but the changes snap back when he returns to the present.
  • Shout-Out: To one of Carroll's previous works: At one point, the Professor asks "Do you know what a Boojum is?"
  • Significant Name: Sibimet is Latin for "to them themselves", fittingly for a character who is concerned only for himself and his Unholy Matrimony partner - he doesn't even seem to like his own child much.
  • Sommelier Speak: Parodied. The narrator, hearing a wine snob describe his favourite vintage, finds himself imagining the group using similar language to describe jam flavours.
    "A strange dream!" I said to myself as we trooped upstairs. "Grown men discussing, as seriously as if they were matters of life and death, the hopelessly trivial details of mere delicacies, that appeal to no higher human function than the nerves of the tongue and palate! What a humiliating spectacle such a discussion would be in waking life!"
  • Spoiled Brat and Royal Brat: Uggug, who also serves as a Spear Counterpart of an ugly step-sister.
  • Take That!: Sibimet the Sub-Warden is believed to be based on Dean Liddell, father of Alice, whom he had by this point effectively cut Carroll off from seeing.
  • They Call Me Mister Tibbs
  • Time Machine: The Outlandish Watch is an early literary example, allowing the user to travel up to a month into their past and return to the present. It also allows its user to experience events backwards for an hour.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Memorably parodied by the fake demonstrators organized by Sibimet and the Chancellor, who can't remember whether their slogan is "More Bread, Less Taxes", or vice versa.
  • Unholy Matrimony: Villain couple Sibimet and Tabikat, complete with cutesy couple names for each other (Sibby and Tabby), and a Spoiled Brat child (Uggug). Albeit Tabby is significantly less bright than Sibby, who is also not deluded about Uggug's unpleasantness.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show


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