Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jabberwocky musings

In 9th grade Algebra, I had a very peculiar teacher. He once offered the class the opportunity to memorize and recite a poem in lieu of an exam.  Not being a fan of Algebra, I naturally took him up on his offer. (If I remember correctly, I was the only one who did!)  And so, in honor of National Poetry Month, I present Lewis Carroll's, "Jabberwocky," quite likely, the only thing I remember from 9th grade Algebra.

(from Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, 1872)
Illustration by John Tenniel

`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, has 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.

So why do I bring this up?  Because I finally went to see Tim Burton's  Alice in Wonderland (Disney 2010) in digital 3D.  On the ride to the movie, I recited "Jabberwocky" from memory, but my audience (a teenage daughter) was, sadly, not impressed.  She might have listened, however, if she had realized that the plot of the movie is the poem!  The Jubjub bird, the vorpal sword, the Bandersnatch - they all make appearances in the movie, which, of course, culminates in the events of the frabjous day

The movie is a departure from the books, but it was a thoroughly enjoyable and true to the spirit of nonsense in Carroll's books.  Johnny Depp was superbly "mad," but with a large dose of human frailty that rendered him immediately likeable. Mia Wasikowska's performance was reminiscent of the innocence and petulance of the original Alice, with a dash of adult courage and bravado.  Fans of the Harry Potter movies will surely enjoy Helena Bonham Carter (Bellatrix Lestrange) as the Red Queen and Alan Rickman (Professor Snape) as the Blue Caterpillar.

And finally, I have to note the MPAA rating, which tickled my funny bone.  How often do you see a PG rating for "fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar"?

Great movie!

For an interesting story on the premise that Lewis Carroll's Alice books were actually a statment on the state of mathematics in the 19th century, read or listen to NPR's Weekend Edition story, "The Mad Hatter's Secret Ingredient: Math" (March 13, 2010)

Read a poem this month and commit it to memory. (Everyone should know at least one poem and one joke!) You'll never know when you might need it.

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