Nathan (vovat) wrote,

Snark Week

Recently, I finished reading The Annotated Hunting of the Snark, edited by Martin Gardner. When I was a kid, reading The Annotated Alice was one of the highlights of visiting my grandparents, so I was glad to see Gardner's take on another work of Lewis Carroll's. The poem is, of course, much shorter than the Alice books, but this volume contains not only an introduction and Gardner's own annotations on the work, but also a few additional materials. One is a humorous interpretation on the poem as an allegory for the search for the Absolute, and another an essay by illustrator Henry Holiday. While Gardner tends to eschew strictly allegorical interpretations, he does suggest that the poem is, at its core, about the inevitability of death, as represented by the Boojum. He also provides a good argument that the Baker, effectively the tragic hero of the tale, is a representation of Carroll himself. The Baker's forty-two boxes that were left behind on the beach could represent the fact that Carroll was forty-two years old when he wrote Snark, but this was obviously a number he quite liked anyway, as proven by its appearance in other works (the King of Hearts' Rule Forty-Two, for instance). I believe that Douglas Adams has claimed that his identification of forty-two as the Answer to the Ultimate Question was not influenced by Carroll, even though the episodes of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio program, like the cantos of Snark, were referred to as "fits." Carroll's frequent usage of the number can perhaps more accurately be compared to the appearances of the number twenty-seven in "Weird Al" Yankovic's work. Al said that the mentions of the number in his earlier works were coincidental, but he eventually started putting them in on purpose. Incidentally, the number twenty-seven also appears quite frequently in Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano. And L. Frank Baum used the number forty-seven in several of his books (Queen Zixi of Ix, Dot and Tot of Merryland, The Magical Monarch of Mo, and Sky Island come to mind), although I can't recall its appearing in any significant capacity in the Oz series.

Getting back to Snarks, Carroll himself identified the island where the crew goes Snark-hunting is "no doubt the very island where the Jabberwock was slain," which would explain the presence of the Jubjub and the Bandersnatch. No actual Jabberwocks are anywhere to be seen, but maybe there was only one of them. That begs the question as to how it came to exist in the first place, but I suppose you might as well ask how Typhon and Echidna had so many different sorts of monsters as offspring. Snarks themselves come in a few different varieties, according to the poem.

I also had to wonder if there's any connection between Carroll's Snark and the term "snark" for sarcasm, but apparently there isn't. The word "snarky," used in the sense of "rudely sarcastic," comes from the Dutch meaning "snort" or "snore." Actually, when I see people on the Internet refer to "snarkiness," I don't think it means rude sarcasm (although it certainly CAN be rude) so much as sarcasm that's supposed to be funny. And we know that Carroll's Snarks can be identified by "slowness in taking a jest," so I guess they're not related.

By the way, happy birthday to listenesmerelda!
Tags: books, douglas adams, lewis carroll, monsters, oz

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