The Reluctant Traveler Goes Through the Looking Glass

Recently, in a story I wrote for my small, long-surviving writers group, I quoted from the following poem:

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 hearing the story, and running through our critique together, they both asked me what poem that was.

These are two highly intelligent, well-educated, talented writers, ages between 35 and 45. I tried not to show my surprise. And explained the origin of the poems. While they had heard of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There was unknown to them.

Reader, am I alone in being surprised? I’ve read these books a number of times since childhood, starting out with my mother’s copies and then on to my own. I still read them. One of my high school English teachers recommended The Annotated Alice by Martin Gardner, where I read Gardner’s suggested translation of Jabberwocky.

Well, reader, when I talk about Rod Serling, my young colleagues look at me blankly. And when they quote jokes from Jimmy Kimmel, I look just as blank. We all can learn something new.




About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


The Reluctant Traveler Goes Through the Looking Glass — 4 Comments

  1. I am ashamed at my lack of knowledge of classic SF/F, but then I came to the genre late and never caught up.

    Bur I am ashamed of my colleagues for the number of classic books out of genre they have never heard of but I have read.

    We all need to learn from each other.

  2. Shocked and sad that they hadn’t encountered Jabberwocky, let alone the rest of Alice. I have loved the poem since childhood.
    My mother in her college days in the 1920’s had a part in a dramatization to the poem. I wish they’d had video back then.

  3. Yes, it’s disappointing, but I know I have a lot of gaps with newly-published work, as well as many classics. As the years went by as I was teaching creative writing, I reluctantly had to give up references to many of the classics as examples, since I would get blank looks — and these were English majors.

  4. I actually attended a party tossed to celebrate the birthday of our boss, a Notre Dame graduate running a massage therapy PT business and also a corporate chair massage business. Not one but two people attending, one a librarian/LMT and another a psychologist, gave readings (one with puppets!) of this poem.

    I know there are a huge amount of things we might have been exposed to, but even not having read the second book, I would think they would have heard of the Jabberwocky.

    We can’t have read everything. I am glad they asked you about it! (Phyl, I haven’t read every classic, either. I read what the local library had, or my mother–so I read Bova, Clarke, old Heinlein, and White, among others. And Sara, due to the vision quirk this past decade I am so behind on new writers! Remember reading one book by everyone attending a convention, so you had a feel for what they did? Not anymore!)