It has come up in a few different contexts on this blog that I am a fan of “Alice in Wonderland.” I also really enjoy “The Jabberwocky.” It’s a nonsensical poem, and yet the nonsense words are suggestive by their sounds of different meanings. “Frabjous” might be similar to fabulous or joyous. I’m sure Carroll had some other inspirational words in mind, but even without knowing them exactly, you get the feeling that “frabjous” is something good. The poem might be nonsense, but it’s witty nonsense.
A few of the nonsense words in the poem are explained by Humpty Dumpty in “Through the Looking Glass.”
Brillig: four o’clock in the afternoon (the time when you begin broiling things for dinner).
Slithy: a portmanteau of “lithe” and “slimy”
Tove: a creature the resembles a hybrid of a badger, a lizard and a corkscrew. It lives under sundials and subsists on cheese.
Gyre: to go round and round like a gyroscope.
Gimble: to make holes like a gimblet.
Wabe: the grass-plot round a sun-dial.
Mimsy: a portmanteau of “miserable” and “flimsy.”
Borogove: a type of bird that resembles a mop.
Mome: to be lost from home.
Rath: a type of green pig.
Outgrabe: a noise that’s between a bellow and a whistle, with a kind of sneeze in the middle
The poem tells of the slaying of a dangerous creature (the jabberwocky,) and it has the feeling of a fairy tale or knight story with the slaying of a dragon.
Close friends and family know I am a fan of Alice in Wonderland. It all started as a child when one of my older brothers gave me a picture book based on the original Disney animation. I had it read to me so many times that I memorized the book. As a teenager, I read the original Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass that inspired that movie and picture book and, more recently, read the novel in French.
In my YouTube explorations, I discovered three songs themed around Alice.
The first is just a fantastic cover of a fairly well-known Alice song, Danny Elfman’s Alicein Wonderland theme from Disney’s 2010 Alice in Wonderland live action film. The performer is Angela July, an Indonesian harpist and singer who competed in Asia’s GotTalent in 2017. The song is ethereal with a hint of mystery. Ms. July does a multi-track performance where she harmonizes with herself, singing in three parts, and accompanies her voice with harp. Of course, her ingenue pink dress and floral hair wreath does seem to put her into character.
The second is based on one of my favorite poems, which happens to be a poem from Alice Through the Looking Glass … “Jabberwocky.” “Jabberwocky” may seem to be a strange choice for a favorite poem, because it’s seemingly nonsense, but it’s clever nonsense. It tells the story of a slaying of a creature invented by Carroll but has the feel of a knightly dragon-slaying. It’s more difficult to understand when you read it out of context, but in the context of Alice Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty explains the poem, the first four lines that is, (which are also the last four lines.) Humpty Dumpty is an egghead, so he ought to understand things, right?
Many of the nonsense words are explained as portmanteaus, two words combined in one. “Mimsy” is explained as flimsy and miserable. “Slithy” is a combination of lithe and slimy. Other explanations are a little more fanciful, things that would not be picked up by the reader just by the sound of the word. “Well, ‘toves‘ are something like badgers … they’re something like lizards … and they’re something like corkscrews,” says Humpty Dumpty. For most of the silly words, you get a feeling of the meaning from its context. It has been suggested that “chortled” is a combination of chuckled and snorted.
This song is an original by Erutan, a classically trained singer-songwriter who specializes in a Celtic/medieval sound. She has three albums: Raindancer (2010,) A Bard’s Side Quest (2013,) and The Court of Leaves (2014.)
The third song makes no references to Alice in the actual lyrics, but the visual references in the video should be obvious. It’s “Pocketful of Poetry” by indie singer-songwriter Mindy Gledhill. The song is about being a creative soul, and the video tells the story of her imagination going wild while trapped in a mundane office job. I think any creative type, whether a writer, visual artist or musician, can find it very relatable. Look for the slightly disguised characters — the caterpillar, the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts and the pack of cards.