A pun to hand in Wonderland

On this day (27 January) 178 years ago, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born in Cheshire, England. Better known as Lewis Carroll, he became a mathematician and author, among other things. Today he is remembered chiefly for the playful and protean prose he penned, especially his Alice books, and for his enduring nonsense verse, such as The Hunting of the Snark.

In honour of his birthday I offer a clutch of Carrollian clippings, beginning with an excerpt from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which inspired the title of this blog.

“Let the jury consider their verdict,” the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.
“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”
“Stuff and nonsense!” said Alice loudly. “The idea of having the sentence first!”
“Hold your tongue!” said the Queen, turning purple.
“I wo’n’t!” said Alice.
“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice.

Commenting on this much-beloved book, Carroll wrote:

I think a child’s first attitude to the world is a simple love for all living things. And he will have learned that the best work a man can do is when he works for love’s sake only, with no thought of fame or gain or earthly reward.

Speaking of rewards, Carroll knew well the satisfaction of a good pun, incorporating many of them into his books and puzzles. Here is one of the latter:

John gave his brother James a box:
About it there were many locks.

James woke and said it gave him pain;
So gave it back to John again.

The box was not with lid supplied,
Yet caused two lids to open wide:

And all these locks had never a key—
What kind of box, then, could it be?


And last, some links,
for laughs and thinks:

Solution to the puzzle above.
A useful and instructive poem.
Eight or nine wise words about letter writing.
Centenary exhibition at the Harry Ransom Center.
Jabberwocky translations, parodies, and explanations.
Lewis Carroll at the Victorian Web, including: Through Bergson’s Looking-Glass and “Lewis Carroll”: A Myth in the Making.
John Tenniel’s illustrations for the Alice books.
Other artists’ illustrations of Wonderland.
The Lewis Carroll Society.
Wikipedia page.

6 Responses to A pun to hand in Wonderland

  1. Claudia says:

    Happy Birthday, Lewis!

    My favourite lines from Alice, (written years ago, in a notation book now falling apart):

    “There is no use trying,”she said.”One can’t believe imposible things.”
    “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

  2. wisewebwoman says:

    I’ve always tried to incorporate into my life his philosophy of just loving what one is doing and forgetting the possibility of monetary reward.

    Happy birthday, Lewis, we will forget about your failings today.


  3. Stan says:

    Claudia: That’s one of my favourite passages too. To keep an open mind in the face of absurdity is unusual advice, coming from a homicidal Queen, but its subtle and witty delivery cannot fail to impress children — and adults if they are lucky.

    WWW: It is a noble philosophy indeed. Being motivated by money lends it undue importance, and when pronounced surely corrupts. Whereas you can’t put a value on simply loving what you are doing, whatever it happens to be.

  4. I love the six impossible things before breakfast. MMM now I fancy breakfast at Miliways! I must go back and read Cadrroll again

  5. Sean Jeating says:

    A wonderful birthday-homage!

  6. Stan says:

    Jams: It’s always a treat a read Carroll, especially if you haven’t done so for a while. Just be careful which side of the mushroom you nibble from.

    Sean: Glad you enjoyed it! Carroll packed a great deal of sense into his nonsense, whether it ends up inside or outside one’s head.

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