Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll

Vorpal sword.
The hero of "Jabberwocky" slays the best with a vorpal sword.

"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll is a famous nonsense poem that was written in the mid-1800s. In the work, an unnamed character becomes a hero by slaying the violent and dangerous Jabberwock, a fictional monster, with a sword. Although Carroll is best known for authoring Alice in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, of which "Jabberwocky" was originally part, the poem is his next most famous work.

"Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll

"Jabberwocky" is unique in that it appeals almost equally to both children and adults. On a base level, it has much of what children enjoy most in poetry: rhyme, nonsense words, and a gripping plot. However, the depth of the poem and dozens of potential interpretations leave it with lingering value for adult readers and literary scholars as well.

Summary

"Jabberwocky" is just 28 lines long, and its story is rather simple. The narrator begins by describing the setting and surroundings, which seem tranquil and in order. In the next stanza, the narrator moves on to warn the hero about the Jabberwock, Jubjub bird, and Bandersnatch.

Following that, the hero goes in search of the Jabberwock, taking his vorpal sword along. He can't seem to find the monster, so he sits by a tree and rests for a time to contemplate his next move. However, before he can decide what to do, the Jabberwock finds him and attacks. The two fight, and the hero wins swiftly with an expert couple of jabs from the vorpal blade.

The poem wraps up with the hero heading home to the narrator, Jabberwock's head in hand. The narrator rejoices at the hero's triumph, and the two celebrate. The last stanza of the poem is the same as the first, repeating information about the tranquil setting.

Characters

Possibly Jabberwock. The Jabberwock has "jaws that bite."
  • Narrator - It's unclear who the narrator of Carroll's poem is, although some speculation says that he's the father of the poem's hero, since he refers to the hero as "my son." However, that could simply be a term of address and may not be meant in a literal sense.
  • Hero - Carroll also offers scant knowledge about the hero of the poem, but readers do get the impression that he has a fighter's nature, as one line states, "Long time the manxome foe he sought." Further evidence points to the conclusion that the hero was experienced in battle, as he slays the Jabberwock quickly even after the monster surprises him, and he returns to the narrator with the creature's head as a trophy.
  • Jabberwock - The Jabberwock is the primary antagonist of Carroll's poem and is described as having "jaws that bite" and "claws that catch." It's implied to be an imposing monster.
  • Jubjub bird - Very little description of the Jubjub bird is provided in "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll, but the author does give readers some idea of the creature's danger by warning the hero to "beware" the bird, implying that it may be especially large or aggressive.
  • Bandersnatch - The Bandersnatch is another fictional monster in the poem's world and is described as being "frumious." Context suggests that the Bandersnatch may not be quite as threatening as the Jabberwock, as the narrator simply urges the hero to "shun" it rather than "beware" it.

References

Over the decades since "Jabberwocky" was first released, it's been translated into a variety of languages and become wildly popular. Other artists often take a crack at giving it a new interpretation; below are some of the best-known results.

  • Jabberwocky is a 1977 movie that stars Michael Palin as a young man who is tasked with defeating the monster.
  • In 2007, children's author Christopher Myers released a new imagining of the famous poem with "Jabberwocky," which illustrates a fantastic battle on the basketball court between a monster-like player and an underdog.
  • Tim Burton's 2010 film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland treated an adult Alice as the title character in the poem "Jabberwocky" and built to a climax wherein she killed the monster with the vorpal sword.
Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll