Thursday, December 22, 2011

Alice and the Jabberwocky

Some of my students were learning Jabberwocky with me this semester, the Donovan version:

...they were having fun with the words, acting them out. I explained to them that since the nonsensical language was invented, you could imagine the Jabberwocky to be anything you wanted it to be, but some of them told me that 'there is a Jabberwocky in the movie'. Since I only knew the 1951 Walt Disney version (I do prefer books before anything else after all), I was a little perplexed. They went on to tell me how it was a sort of dragon, big and scary of course. After a little research I figured that they must have been talking about the Tim Burton film, and so I borrowed it and watched it one night:

And I loved it. I usually don't go for big productions and special effects, but I loved how he used the Jabberwocky poem and made it come to life, while at the same time making the story about a young woman finally taking charge of her own life through the power of her imagination. It was wonderful to see what someone might make a bandersnatch to be, or the jubjub bird and of course the jabberwocky. Yet I was mostly touched by the typical fairytale symbolism of slaying the monster - your inner fears and everything that keeps you from believing in yourself - in order to proceed to the next chapter of your life. And in this case the hero (in the mythical sense, as discussed by Joseph Campbell) is a heroine. "Girl power" as one of my colleagues summarized it when I described it to him.

I ended up showing it to my students on their last class of the semester (after they were done with their holiday show) - reserved a room and arranged to have all three fifth grade classes together for an hour and forty-five minutes. A lot of them hadn't seen it - they were riveted.


And here's the Lewis Carroll poem that started it all. For an explanation of the lexicon you might want to consult this wikipedia article.


'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.

from Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There

(as illustrated by John Tenniel)

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