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Literature / The Hunting of the Snark

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They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care;
They pursued it with forks and hope;
They threatened its life with a railway-share;
They charmed it with smiles and soap.

"The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits)" is a Narrative Poem by Lewis Carroll with illustrations by Henry Holiday, telling the story of a group of unnamed adventurers as they search for the elusive Snark, a vaguely-described creature which lives on a remote island.

The poem may be considered a Spiritual Successor to "Jabberwocky" from Through the Looking Glass, and contains several of the same creatures that are mentioned in "Jabberwocky".

Worth noting is how the poem was constructed - the last line was the first line that Carroll thought of. The rest of the poem was made to build up to it.

Douglas Adams gave a Shout-Out to the poem in the original radio version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by titling the episodes "Fit the First" etc.

You can read it on Wikisource..

This poem provides examples of:

  • Arc Number: 42 has significance at several points.
  • The Alibi: The Barrister dreams that the Snark is defending a pig against the charge of deserting its sty. The Snark argues that the pig has proved an alibi: in other words, the pig didn't leave the sty empty because it wasn't there at the time.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: One illustration portrays the crew with two goddesses, who are supposed to represent Hope and Care.
  • Author Avatar: According to Martin Gardner's The Annotated "Hunting of the Snark", the Baker is an avatar of Carroll himself. One early line is "A dear uncle of mine, after whom I was named..."; Carroll's full name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and he had an uncle whose last name was Lutwidge.
  • Bit Character: The Billiard Marker, Broker and Bonnet Maker really don't do much during the whole story. One member of the crew, the Boots, could well be The Ghost; he's mentioned twice, but doesn't even appear in any illustrations.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: All the crew, to a certain degree, but the Butcher especially. He's described as someone who "looked an incredible dunce", but is able to teach the Beaver "more in five minutes far more than all books would have taught it in seventy years."
  • The Captain: The Bellman.
  • Downer Ending: Over the course of the journey, the Banker goes insane after meeting a Bandersnatch, while the Baker disappears after finding a Snark that is a Boojum. We don't know what happened to the rest of the crew, but given that they are still at the mercy of the Boojum, which they did not prepare to encounter, it couldn't be much good.
  • Eldritch Abomination:
    • The Bandersnatch. We don't get much of a description, but it is stated to be wickedly fast, has snapping, sharp-toothed jaws and is capable of extending its neck. Its Eldritch Abomination status is proven by the effect it has on the Banker; merely being in its presence is enough to drive the poor banker insane.
    • The Snark itself, which, if a Boojum, is capable of completely erasing people from existence.
  • Feathered Fiend: The Jub-Jub Bird. It's described as having a "shrill and high scream" like a pencil squeaking on a slate, and significantly scares those who hear it, including the Beaver who "turned pale to the tip of its tail" and being desperate and in a constant state of passion. There are also some Snarks that "have feathers and bite".
  • Fire-Forged Friends: The Butcher and the Beaver initially don't get on, but their encounter with the fearsome Jub-Jub leads to them becoming close friends for life.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: As well as several mentions in the text, it's notable that the Bellman's bell is in almost every single illustration.
  • Funny Animal: The Beaver.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The Banker loses his sanity after being attacked by a Bandersnatch.
  • Good with Numbers: The Butcher, who is able to give the Beaver a rather detailed lesson in mathematics.
  • Hey, You!: Played with, due to the Baker having forgotten his own name:
    He would answer to "Hi!" or to any loud cry,
    Such as "Fry me!" or "Fritter my wig!"
    To "What-you-may-call-um!" or "What-was-his-name!"
    But especially "Thing-um-a-jig!"
    His intimate friends called him "Candle-ends,"
    And his enemies "Toasted-cheese."
  • Hypocritical Humor: The Bellman- Mr. "What I tell you three times is true"- scolds the Baker for repeating himself.
  • Killed Mid-Sentence: "It's a boo—"
  • Lame Pun Reaction: The Bellman has this:
    The Bellman perceived that their spirits were low,
    And repeated in musical tone
    Some jokes he had kept for a season of woeŚ
    But the crew would do nothing but groan.
    • Also, snarks look grave at them.
  • The Musical: One was made of it in The '80s.
  • Name Amnesia: The Baker has "wholly forgotten his name."
  • Nameless Narrative: Every character in the poem is only known by their professions. The Baker is the only one stated to have a proper name, but no-one knows what it actually is... not even himself.
  • No Body Left Behind: What happens to you if you find out that the Snark you're hunting was a Boojum. This is the eventual fate of the Baker.
  • No Sense of Humor: Snarks have a hard time understanding jokes, as the Bellman explains:
    The third is its slowness in taking a jest.
    Should you happen to venture on one,
    It will sigh like a thing that is deeply distressed:
    And it always looks grave at a pun.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Carroll asked his illustrator not to include a picture of the Boojum, because "all his descriptions of the Boojum were quite unimaginable, and he wanted the creature to remain so".
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: The Baker and the Butcher perform no baking/butchery during the entirety of the adventure, due to each only being able to bake/kill one thing, which for some reason is unavailable. The Bit Characters actually mostly manage to avert this- The Bonnet-maker plans "a novel arrangement of bows", the Billiard-marker applies pool chalk to the tip of his nose, and the Boots is mentioned in an introduction written by Carroll for later editions to have undertaken the task of shining the Baker's 3 pairs of boots. The Broker, however, despite having been ostensibly brought "to value their goods", is never mentioned doing anything related to his trade.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The story follows a crew of 10 people (or, rather, 9 people and one Beaver) of vastly different backgrounds and skills.
  • Rule of Three:
    "Just the place for a Snark!" the Bellman cried,
    As he landed his crew with care;
    Supporting each man on the top of the tide
    By a finger entwined in his hair.

    "Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
    That alone should encourage the crew.
    Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
    What I tell you three times is true."
  • Tastes Like Purple:
    "Let us take them in order. The first is the taste,
    Which is meagre and hollow, but crisp:
    Like a coat that is rather too tight in the waist,
    With a flavour of Will-o'-the-wisp.
  • Team Chef: Subverted. Two of the crew members (The Baker and the Butcher) have occupations relating to the making of food, however, both reveal once the trip is well underway that they can only prepare one specific thing from their areas of "expertise", which, for one reason or another, is not an option. (The Baker can only bake wedding cake, which the ship does not have any ingredients stocked for, and the Butcher can only kill beavers, the only one of which around is a sapient fellow crew member.)
  • Theme Initials: Everyone's appellation starts with a B.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: The Snark has several. The complete list is thimbles, care, forks, hope, railway shares, smiles, and soap.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: The Baker teases hyenas and walks with bears without a hint of fear, and his "perfect" courage is specifically referenced by the Bellman as the quality that makes him an ideal Snark-hunter, but the mention of a Boojum is enough to make him pass out.
  • World of Chaos

For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.