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CHAPTER 2: THE JABBERWOCK KEY
“I was most curious to discover the complete details of the case of Alice and her sisters from the perspective of Mr. Dodgson. What had led this evidently intelligent and respectable man to become a target for slings and arrows of the London press?
Accordingly I sent a letter of introduction and inquiry to Mr. Dodgson by post. Within several days I received confirmation through the post that an interview had been agreed upon. I set out upon a brisk, clear morning of the appointed day to meet the gentlemen in person. I chose to travel by road, rather than by rail through Bicester, so that I might stop along the way. As I passed along Marylebone Road in the coach I hired for this rather long journey to Oxford from London, I pondered whether or not my travels would be productive of anything more than a mild amusement.
When I arrived at his small, sparsely furnished quarters at Christ Church, I discovered a man about six feet tall, slender, with curling brown hair and blue-grey eyes. He carried himself rather stiffly, on account of a knee injury.
Initially I found Mr. Dodgson to be somewhat shy in his demeanor, which I attributed to the nature of my visit, rather than to his usual character. However, once I had made the intention of my visit perfectly transparent to him, he relaxed visibly and became a cordial host. Only a few minutes of our conversation were required to dispel the sensationalized newspaper report, which proved, in fact, to be fallacious in the extreme.
By the time we had taken our tea in the afternoon our acquaintance and conversation had surpassed that trivial incident and travelled into more relevant and meaningful subjects of interest. I stayed through the evening meal, after which Mr. Dodgson was gracious enough to invite me to stay in his small quarters, so that I did not have to seek lodgings in the village.
This accommodation I found quite suitable as it afforded me leisure time with which to discuss a variety of matters and to become more well acquainted with the gentleman. Although we did not establish an abiding friendship or continuing correspondence my visit would prove to be a great good fortune to me in the course of time.
Our conversation, although charmingly absorbing, was slightly encumbered in that he was deaf in one ear and by his “hesitation”, or stammer, which he acquired in early childhood.
The most conspicuous features of his environment would lead one to assume instantly that the man was a photographer, rather than a mathematician. The photographic paraphernalia, chemicals and chords from which photographs were suspended, together with various cameras and tripods, made an immediate impression that the man had more than a casual interest in the art. Indeed, one of the photographs he displayed was of the very girl, Alice, of whom the newspaper had written.
“Did you take this photograph during your recent excursion with the Liddell family?”, I asked him.
“No, the young lady came to the office which I use for indoor photography. As you can see, the backdrop is staged to appear to be out of doors”, he replied. He handed the photograph to me for so I might examine it more closely.
Photography was an awakening art form in Europe, one at which Mr. Dodgson was already well accomplished, in addition to his various other activities of teaching and writing.
After some preliminary discussion with Mr. Dodgson of the matter reported in the Times, I discovered, not surprisingly, that the entire issue had been dispensed with during the intervening several days since the publication of the alleged scandal. Apparently, the entire family, including the three young girls and their mother, had traveled to the office of the editor of the Times, demanding a full retraction of the article, and a that a formal apology be published.
Indeed, the reporter who contributed the article to the Times had never visited the site, nor had he spoken with any of the parties involved. Rather, the report was fabricated entirely from a brief interview with a matronly passerby whose name was not revealed and whose identity is not known.
They demanded that the reporter in question be disciplined for submitting such an unjustifiable piece of slanderous gossip! After threats that legal proceeding would be filed against the Times, if immediate restitutions were not made, the entire matter was resolved. Indeed, a withdrawal, and apology, were published in due course in the Sunday Edition of the following week.
Having satisfied myself that the allegations made by the press were unfounded, and indeed, wildly inflammatory, I was pleased to realize that Dr. Watson had inadvertently caused my introduction to a man who might become a profound friend, but rather proved to be the source of a series of most enigmatic revelations!
My new adventure began, innocently enough, with a fantastical story about Alice In Wonderland told by Charles to his young friends as an amusing pastime. The superficial trappings of the stories of rabbits, caterpillars, dodo birds, mice, and mad hatters, proved to become far more fascinating to me when I began to discover, from their author, the intricate extent of their hidden, metaphorical meanings.
After we had taken our supper, I sat by the fire enjoying my Calabash pipe, due to the cooling effect it made upon the smoke while circulating through the gourd. This was my favorite amongst a small collection of pipes with which I traveled. The majority of my pipes were of briar root.
As I searched the local newspaper for items of interest or amusement, Charles, pondered a notebook at his desk, upon which he wrote meticulously from time to time.
“Are you preparing lessons for your students”?, I queried, thinking these must be mathematic problems of some complex and obscure nature.
To my surprise he replied that he was indeed working on lessons, but not of the sort I would have ever imagined from a lecturer in mathematics at a prestigious university.
“Have you ever heard of portmanteau, Mr. Holmes?”, he replied.
“It is a French term, is it not? I believe it is a leather traveling bag”, I said.
“Yes, that is one meaning of the word. The definition I refer to is that of a portmanteau word. It is used in poetry to mean a blend of two (or more) words, or morphemes, and their meanings into one new word. I have created a method of demonstrating to my students that there exists a relative or associative values of numbers, as in language. It is a convenient tool for my class in Symbolic Logic.
The exercise of creating and deciphering morphemes stimulates them to “unlearn” the fixed concepts which they have incorrectly learned in early studies. My intention is not to train students in mathematical dogma, like tricks to a dog, but to incite them to create applications of mathematics to solving problems in life.”
I thought this a rather keen notion, though I did not quite comprehend what he was getting at as yet.
“For example, this is a portmanteau poem I am writing to demonstrate the concept to my students”, he said. It is called “The Jabberwock”.
Mr. Dodgson passed a sheet across the desk to me. It read as follows:
“’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! and through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”
After reading this very odd poem, I passed it back across to him.
“I find it very clever, in meter and rhyme, but must admit that I don’t understand any of it. What purpose would this serve for your students?”, I asked him.
I am working on writing down the “key” for the poem. The “key” defines the morphemes. This is precisely the point of the poem, and of the mathematical exercise: every word in our language can be assigned an arbitrary value. Likewise, mathematical symbols are assigned an arbitrary value. If one employs the value of words or numbers previously defined by others, the extent of their ability to construct a new reality, or to conceive new ideas, is thereby limited.
The exercise is precisely this: create a set of words or numeric values, assign a definition or value to them, and from these, construct a problem and a corresponding solution. In the case of “The Jabberwock” the words are arranged in a poetic fashion to which the aesthetic attributes of meter, rhyme and rhythm are added. My application of morphemes has been used to construct a poem with a hidden meaning. However, it is obvious that many other applications of this simple mechanism might be contrived to serve mathematics, logic or literature.
A “key” is required as a component of the exercise in order to make the problem, or poem or “reality” understandable to others. The key is a list of definitions of the words or symbols contained in the poem or a mathematical hypothesis”, he said. As he spoke, Charles passed over his notebook for me to examine.
“Another lesser known use of a portmanteau I did not discover until I began my tenure here at Christ Church.” he explained. “During one of my several visits to the Royal Academy, I had the privilege of reviewing several unpublished notebooks written by Sir Isaac Newton. His studies of mathematics and optics have influenced my own study of photographic lenses.
However, I was most intrigued by Newton’s postulate of an invisible force able to act over vast distances. This notion led him to the criticism by his contemporaries that he was introducing “occult agencies” into science. However, he observed the phenomena implied a gravitational attraction though he did not indicate its cause.
As I am sure you are aware, Mr. Holmes, it is both unnecessary and improper to frame a hypotheses of things that are not implied by the observed phenomena. His expression for this was “Hypotheses non fingo“, which meant that he did not feign hypotheses.
In other words, for whatever is not deduced from the phenomena must be called a hypothesis; and hypotheses, whether metaphysical or physical, or based on occult qualities, or mechanical, have no place in experimental philosophies. Propositions are inferred from the phenomena, and afterwards rendered general by induction”, Mr. Dodgson concluded.
“I must agree thoroughly”, I replied. “I myself have discovered, through a series of practical experiments in criminal investigation, that it is a capital mistake to theorize before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgment.”
“Did you know that Sir Isaac also made an extensive study of alchemy and hermeneutics?” Mr. Holmes, he asked.
“Yes. However, I cannot say that I understand anything more than the rudiments of alchemy. And, of hermeneutics, I know nothing whatever”, I said. I withheld from him the fact that I had spent many years of my life intensely studying the subject of chemistry, the empirical descendent of alchemy.
As he continued with his most intriguing diatribe regarding his studies of the works of Sir Isaac Newton, I reclined into a chair near the fireplace to refill my pipe. He did not object to my smoking a pure mixture of my favorite black Latakia tobacco. The odor is quite pungent, but the flavor is more delicious than the finest culinary delicacy.
“A subject of which I knew little” he continued, “in spite of my ecclesiastical training, was that of Biblical hermeneutics. There are many similarities between this study, and the portmanteau. Indeed, the latter may be a derivative of the former.
As a student of the Bible myself, I was much intrigued by Sir Isaac’s application of hermeneutics which was emphatically aimed at attaining a supernatural communication with the spiritual realms of the occult! Indeed, his study of alchemy was not that of the physical properties of chemical elements, nor the discovery of a process which would convert base metal into gold. I found this rather compelling, to say the least”, he told me, while rummaging through a drawer containing a jumble of papers.
“If his research was not intended to produce a chemical process, then of what use were his experiments?”, I asked. My intention was to ascertain the extent to which Dr. Dodgson may have studied the subject.
“I asked myself that very question”, he replied, sitting down across from me with his arms crossed, deep in thought, as though choosing words that would communicate an exact meaning.
“I believe that Sir Isaac was searching for the essence of life. Not for the physical sources, but rather for the spiritual source of existence: life, the universe, and everything in it. His writings upon the matter do certainly seem to attribute a metaphysical, or spiritual, origin to our universe, which is shared by each of us as individuals, and collectively, rather than to that of a single Divine Hand”, he concluded, in a rather introspective tone.
I pondered this notion for a moment before responding, tamping the embers of my pipe firmly with an iron nail head, a common and useful tool for the smoker to ensure a thorough burning of the tobacco.
“I must admit that your study of hermeneutics is undoubtedly too esoteric for my limited understanding of the subject. Yet, I will admit that I am enchanted by the novelty of it. It certainly fits aptly with the notion of “Hypotheses non fingo” in that, to my knowledge, there exists no definitive “proof” that a Supreme Being exists. The hypothesis that such an entity is the origin point and guardian of all existence seems unsubstantiated by anything more than personal belief or faith”, I said.
“Exactly so”, Charles said as he rose from his chair and retrieved a sheet of paper from the desk top.
“Here”, he said, handing the paper to me, “is a summary of the fundamentals of hermeneutics. One cannot escape noticing the decided similarities between these, and portmanteau”, he concluded.
I studied the paper, and was impressed that the resemblance between the two subjects, as he had suggested, was inescapable. The document read as follows:
“Hermeneutics: the study of Biblical texts, with special attention to hidden interpretations which may be discovered through any or all of the following methods:
- grammar, and an explanation or critical interpretation of the text
- the interpretation of certain words and letters and apparently superfluous and/or missing words or letters, and prefixes and suffixes
- the interpretation of those letters which, in certain words, are provided with points
- the interpretation of the letters in a word according to their numerical value
- the interpretation of a word by dividing it into two or more words
- the interpretation of a word according to its consonantal form or according to its vocalization
- the interpretation of a word by transposing its letters or by changing its vowels.”
“By George — or by Newton — I should say, I think you’ve hit upon something quite extraordinary here, my good fellow. How marvelous it must be to enjoy such a keen intellect and the ability to apply it skillfully”, I observed with genuine admiration. “I flatter myself by observing that mediocrity knows nothing higher than itself; but talent instantly recognizes genius”, I commented to him.
“Your praise is appreciated, but unfounded to the extent you might imagine. Personally, I am a novice when compared to so great a mind as that of Isaac Newton. However, I endeavor to enjoy and apply a few of his discoveries in my teaching”.
He scribbled several more items on the notebook he had continued to ponder during our discussion and passed it across to me for examination.
“Here, then, is the “key” to the Jabberwock poem. When you understand the definitions, the meaning of the poem becomes clear. Thence, the problem is solved and reality is revealed”, said Dodgson.
This is the “key” to the Jabberwock poem, written upon the notebook:
“THE JABBERWOCK” KEY
Bandersnatch — A swift moving creature with snapping jaws, capable of extending its neck.
Beamish — Radiantly beaming, happy, cheerful.
Borogove — A thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round, “something like a live mop”.
Brillig — Four o’clock in the afternoon: the time when you begin broiling things for dinner.
Burbled — A mixture of “bleat”, “murmur”, and “warble”. Burble is also a pre-existing word, to form bubbles as in boiling water.
Chortled — Combination of chuckle and snort.
Frabjous — A blend of fair, fabulous, and joyous.
Frumious — Combination of “fuming” and “furious”.
Galumphing — A blend of “gallop” and “triumphant”. Used to describe a way of “trotting” downhill, while keeping one foot further back than the other. This enables the Galumpheri to stop quickly.
Gimble — To make holes as does a gimlet.
Gyre — To go round and round like a gyroscope, meant to mimic the motion a dog makes while scratching.
Jubjub bird — A desperate bird that lives in perpetual passion.
Manxome — Fearsome. A portmanteau of “manly” and “buxom”, the latter relating to men for most of its history.
Mimsy — Combination of “miserable” and “flimsy”.
Mome — Short for “from home,” meaning that the raths had lost their way.
Outgrabe — Something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle.
Rath — A sort of green pig.
Snicker-snack — An onomatopoeia referring to sharpness.
Slithy — Combination of “slimy” and “lithe.”
Tove — A combination of a badger, a lizard, and a corkscrew. They are very curious looking creatures which make their nests under sundials and eat only cheese. “gyre and gimble,” i.e. rotate and bore, is in reference to the toves being partly corkscrew.
Tulgey — Thick, dense, dark.
Uffish — A state of mind when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish.
Wabe — The grass plot around a sundial. It is called a “wabe” because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it, and a long way beyond it on each side.”
After half an hour of reviewing the “key” and comparing the words defined therein to those in the poem, my amusement and appreciation for the very clever literary device created by Charles soared to a new level.
“Capital, my dear boy. Capital!”, I said emphatically. “You have hit upon a very clever observation and application of it. I am sure I will find this method very useful in my own line of work as a criminal investigator although I am uncertain how this may apply, as yet. However, I will continue to study the device carefully.”
“When do you find the time and energy to study so many diverse matters? One would imagine that your duties at Christ Church would be quite absorbing”, I asked him.
“To be frank”, he replied, “I have little else to occupy myself here during the year. I am unmarried and without children. My duties as a lecturer are discharged routinely and demand little of my time. Moreover, I am more infatuated with the pursuit of knowledge as a subject in itself, than with any other enterprise. I value wisdom and understanding above all things, as I deem that these qualities closely emulate those of God. Therefore, the study of wisdom, to me, is the study of The Almighty Creator”.
I must admit that I had never conceived this point before, but upon hearing it agreed readily that there could be no more fundamentally noble activity for a man than to attempt to emulate god, whatever notion that may conjure for the individual, assuming that the god in question was benevolent in nature.
Personally, I had never before considered the subject of “The Almighty Creator” for myself, and felt quite a strange sensation course throughout my being at the suggestion of it! For that matter, I could not remember having studied anything whatever of a philosophical or religious nature. It seemed that those subjects had never existed for me.
Before departing, Charles was kind enough to give me a manuscript of the story he had told to the Liddell children titled Alice’s Golden Hour of which copies had been made by a female student. His story was later renamed for publication Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
I read the entire manuscript during my return to London. Having spent many hours with the man, and learning of his esoteric scientific interests, which bordered on the occult, I surmised that the apparent children’s story held many layers of subtle meaning disguised in myriad forms. I later discovered that my intuition was correct, but I could not possibly realize, at that time, how dynamic were the extent of these subtleties!
Upon the following day I spent several hours composing my own versions of a portmanteau poem. I found the exercise quite intriguing and challenging. I must admit that I am ordinarily disinterested in writing, except for an occasional letter or telegram regarding matters concerning my investigations.
Nonetheless, I felt strangely compelled, as by some unseen, external force of nature, to apply myself to the task of writing a poem about the state of affairs in England with which I maintained a daily familiarity through reading the Times and various magazines. My poem was doubly uncharacteristic as I am utterly disinclined, ordinarily, to expend any attention whatever to matters of politics much less write about it!
Disinclinations notwithstanding, the following is my attempt at a portmanteau poem. It is intended to express a general view of the situation in the Queen’s Realm: the incessantly greedy and arrogant global empire, which during the past several hundred years had turned the once “Great” Britain into a ruthless imperial power more to be distained than admired.
It is my observation that the lingering tradition of feudal rule throughout the British empire remains entrenched due to the long-standing relationships between the royal family, the church, aristocratic landowners, parliament, corrupt judges, military madmen, and greedy bankers. This is compounded, and made possible, by the singular credulity of the average citizen who languishes in the hope that their personal responsibility for the inevitable hardship they share will be diminished by the callous hands of their brutish overlords.
BEWARE THE CRIMPOLY CORLOBOR
“Beware the crimpoly corlobors plea,
ye worlassaxer econaves and stuvers!
Don’t heed the wicked pompars, please,
that serve the slizerly killmill slores!
Beware the kiltracts who are in league
with the landcrat and famroy who intrigue
with coilstring murdatics and ponthypidiots!
They defraud humanots in their conspiracy.
Life in a luxsive private domain,
the stuvers are by the pompars duped,
’tis the aim of the crimpoly game:
to never, ever speak the truth.
And do not the banvil and prepervs trust,
nor corudgeons and their crimdany.
The murdatic kiltract they won’t arrest,
but prosecute the humanot inovic!
Worlassaxers could make a society
for the Greater Good of All,
if we shun the slizerly crimpoly
that would make econaves of us all.”
And here, like the one provided to me by Charles, is the “key” to my own portmanteau poem, to better understand my less than subtle meaning.
The “Crimpoly Corlobor” Key:
“landcrat” = aristocratic land owner
“banvil” = banker + evil
“coilsting” = covert killing + stealing + venomous snake
“corudgeon” = corrupt + judge + taking bribes
“corlobor” corporate + lobbyist + whore, i.e. a “consultant” who is paid handsomely to legally bribe law makers to give money or favour to the corporation who employs them.
“crimpoly” = criminal + politician + the typical behavior of any senator, parliamentarian, dictator, etc..
“crimdany” = criminal + defense attorney
“econaves” = economic + slaves
” famroy ” = King, Queen, and royal family
“goldfaker” = banker / money-mongering aristocrat
“humanots”= poor + homeless + humans + living in squalor + without basic services + displaced by greed, corruption, war caused by criminal politicians
“inovic” = innocent + victim
“kiltract = military + contractor
killmill = military + industrial + political killing machine
“luxsive” = luxurious + expensive
“murdatic” = mass + murdering + lunatic
” plarth”= planet + Earth
“pompar” = pompous parliamentarian
“ponthypidiot”= priestly (Pontificus Maximus) + hypocritical + idiot
“preperv” = priest + sexual + pervert, e.g. a parish priest who will only have sex with small boys
“slenxy” = slinky + sexy
slizerly = sleazy + slimy + slithery
“slore” = sleazy + whore
“stuver” = stupid + voter
“worlassaxer” = working + class + taxpayer
Charles graciously gave to me, as a gift, copies of two photographs from the collection of those he had taken personally, as a remembrance of our visit together. One was a portrait of the British poet laureate, Alfred Tennyson, who wrote a phrase with which I heartily conform the habits of my own life: “I must lose myself in action, lest I wither in despair.”
The second picture was a charming portrait of the young girl named Alice Liddell for whom the adventure story of Alice’s Golden Hour was named. I admit that my thinking and investigative methods were influenced, in a small extent, as a logical derivative learned during my brief association with Mr. Dodgson.”
Copyright © by Lawrence R. Spencer. All Rights Reserved.
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