Thursday Myths & Legends 101: The Jabberwock

All this Looking Glass Wars talk has had me in mind of the original tale it was taken from, of course being Lewis Carroll’s (or Charles jabberwockyDodgson’s, if you will) Alice in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.  When it came time for me to pick a topic for Myths & Legends, the answer seemed obvious to me, the image that has always been the strongest in my mind from Through the Looking Glass—the Jabberwock.

The Jabberwock is fairly well-acknowledges as being one of the most terrifying fictional beasts ever created—right up there with the kraken and, in some of the scarier versions, the Questing Beast.  (We’ll talk about these some other time!)

Alice reads the poem entitled “Jabberwocky” at the beginning of Through the Looking Glass, and is so terrified by the creature that the nonsense poem brings to her mind, that once she’s gone through the looking glass, she finds herself over and over in mortal peril from the Jabberwock, which her imagination has called into reality, or at least, through-the-looking-glass reality.  In the end she has the power to vanquish the Jabberwock, by deciding not to fear it, but until she comes to that conclusion, it is as real to her as anything, and is completely capable of destroying her.  So while the creature comes from a “nonsense poem,” it really has a nice lesson to it, about the power we give our fears and our imaginations over ourselves.

The fantastic thing about the Jabberwock—and maybe what makes it such a terrifying foe—is that as the poem is made upmathews-jabberwocky mostly of nonsense words, it’s not as if you get a clear picture of the beast from the poem itself, all you know really is that it’s a giant creature with “jaws that bite” and “claws that catch,” and “eyes of flame,” who comes “whiffling through the tulgey wood and burbled as it came,” yet this is just enough to set a good imagination off into imagining something truly horrific—this is like Hitchcock, ladies and gents, it’s scary because, like Alice, the reader invents the beast themselves as whatever scares them most.  This is the power of suggestion at it’s best.  It’s terrifying because it is, and for no other reason, because it is made up of only exactly what scares that particular reader.  In twenty-eight lines Charles Dodgson created a beast of nightmares—and even though in that same twenty-eight lines the beast is defeated and killed, the poem ends precisely as it began, and the reader is left to wonder whether the beast is truly vanquished or not.

In any case, read the poem.  If you’ve never read it before, then you are shamefully overdue.  If you want, you can look up the “meanings” to the nonsense words here, but it’s much more enjoyable (so far as I’m concerned) to just let the words roll over you a bit.  And maybe you’re a bit old to be scared by it… but imagine yourself as an eight-year-old reading it… give yourself over to the moment. 😉

~Lisa, who memorized this poem at the age of twelve, and has loved it ever since.

About Lisa Asanuma

Lisa is a professional freelance writer and editor, along with a bookbinder and knitting obsessee. Lisa has a passion for YA literature (inside her passion for literature in general) and is currently querying on her first novel. View all posts by Lisa Asanuma

3 responses to “Thursday Myths & Legends 101: The Jabberwock

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