At the beginning of the 21st Century monsters still roam the remote, and sometimes not so remote, corners of our planet. It is our job to search for them. The Centre for Fortean Zoology [CFZ] is - we believe - the largest professional, scientific and full-time organisation in the world dedicated to cryptozoology - the study of unknown animals. Since 1992 the CFZ has carried out an unparalleled programme of research and investigation all over the world. Since 2009 we have been running the increasingly popular CFZ Blog Network, and although there has been an American branch of the CFZ for over ten years now, it is only now that it has a dedicated blog.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


The vorpal blade went snicker-snack

Today we look at one of the most famous literary monsters of all time, the Jabberwock, invented by Lewis Carroll and featuring in a poem called Jabberwocky in his Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1872).  So famous has the word become that it has been used for actual cryptids.  Thus we find that it was used for an unidentified creature in Ohio in 1883 and for a hominid, perhaps a Bigfoot, in California ten years later.  In Maryland in 1870 the term Jabowak, an obvious derivative, was applied to a tall creature with a horrible face.

The first stanza of the poem contains a great many words made up by Carroll, which are explained by Humpty Dumpty later in the book.  However, we cannot place too much reliance on the explanations he volunteers, as he informs Alice that words mean what he wants them to mean.

The main thrust of the poem deals with the hunting of the monster, which you may see above illustrated by John Tenniel.  The quest is successful and the hero cuts off the monster's head in approved fashion.  But there is one interesting feature of Tenniel's illustration to which I would draw your attention.

The monster has all the usual monsterly attributes - claws, tail, fangs, batlike wings, but it also sports a single garment - the one which is in Britain called a waistcoat and in the United States termed a vest.  (In Britain the term vest means an A-shirt).  This garment is not alone human-worn, it was the sort of garment worn by a respectable sort of human, often part of a three-piece suit.  It had a fob for a gold watch and chain.  It was an accoutrement of a civilized man in a civilized society.

Did Carroll intend there to be something symbolic in the illustration, something which he confided to Tenniel?  Did he mean it to suggest that the human being who considered himself civilized had many bestial inclinations and appetites that stretched themselves out beyond his humanity - monstrous traits which often his respectability, as symbolized by the vest/waistcoat, failed to control and could lead to hideous consequences.  Perhaps he felt the only certain antidote to a human's vicious inclinations, of which the human might deny even to himself the very existence, was to kill the human altogether.

This is, of course, pure speculation, but Carroll was a deep one and the possibility that he had some such idea cannot be ruled out.

No comments:

Post a Comment