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BackAndFrontSnark1876

Back and front covers of an 1876 edition of The Hunting of the Snark.

The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony is Eight Fits) is a popular nonsense epic poem written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pen name of Lewis Carroll. It was first published on April Fool’s Day, 1876. The poem was dedicated to Gertrude Chataway, a child friend of the author.

The poem tells the story of a crew of ten, consisting of nine humans (whose titles all start with the letter B) and a Beaver, on a quest to find a mythical creature called the Snark. The hunt turns dangerous, for the inhospitable land is full of terrifying creatures – and there is also the possibility that they may find, instead of a common Snark, a deadly variety known as the Boojum.

Plot

Lewis Carroll - Henry Holiday - Hunting of the Snark - Plate 1

The Bellman leads the Banker ashore. 1876 illustration by Henry Holiday.

Fit the First: The Landing

The hunting party arrives at “just the place for a Snark” lead by the Bellman, the captain and the organizer of the hunt. The crew consists of a Boots[1], a maker of Bonnets and Hoods, a Barrister, a Broker[2], a Billiard-marker[3], a Banker, a Beaver, a Baker, and a Butcher. The Baker has ungainly form and small intellect, and is so terribly forgetful that he has even forgotten his own name, but he was engaged for his courage. The Beaver is a tame creature fond of making lace, but he and the Butcher do not get on owing to the fact (found out too late) that the Butcher is incapable of killing anything but beavers.

Fit the Second: The Bellman’s Speech

The Bellman is praised for his graceful deportment and solemn wisdom. The crew was pleased with the easy-to-understand map he had brought – an ocean chart without any land or confusing markings (it is completely blank). During the voyage, it became apparent that the captain had no idea how to sail a ship. They did have some difficulties as a result, but the danger is now past and they have finally landed. The landscape is filled with chasms and crags, and the crew’s spirits are low. Jokes fail to lighten the mood, so the captain decides to make a stirring speech. He lists the five marks of a genuine Snark; meagre and hollow but crisp taste, habit of getting up late, slowness in taking a jest, fondness for bathing machines[4], and ambition. Then he begins to describe different varieties of Snarks. He explains that common Snarks do no harm, but, he warns, some are Boojums. At the mention of Boojums, the (supposedly) courageous Baker faints.

Fit the Third: The Baker’s Tale

Lewis Carroll - Henry Holiday - Hunting of the Snark - Plate 5

The Baker's uncle tells him about Snarks. 1876 illustration by Henry Holiday.

Revived, the Baker explains what it is that he dreads. As he was leaving for the hunt, his uncle spoke to him about Snarks. He taught him how to hunt for them; search with thimbles and care, hunt with forks and hope, threaten with railway-share, and charm with smiles and soap. Then his uncle warned him that, if he were ever to encounter a Boojum, he would softly and suddenly vanish away and never be met with again.

Fit the Fourth: The Hunting

The Bellman is miffed that the Baker did not mention his fears at the start of voyage. The Baker replies that he did indeed inform him on the first day in multiple languages. Unfortunately, however, he had forgotten to do so in English. The Bellman is sympathetic, but it is too late to do anything about it. He concludes his speech by urging the crew to get ready for the hunt. Everyone begins to prepare, except for the Beaver who shows no interest and continues to make lace. The Butcher turns nervous (to the delight of the Beaver) and starts to sob.

Fit the Fifth: The Beaver’s Lesson

Snark Beaver

The Beaver, detail from an 1876 illustration by Henry Holiday.

The Butcher thinks up an ingenious plan of attack and heads separately for a desolate valley. Coincidentally, the Beaver comes up with the exact same plan, and they meet along the way. At first they ignore each other. But, as the evening grows darker and colder, they find themselves marching side-by-side from nervousness. When they hear the shrill scream of the Jubjub bird[5], in their fears they forget their differences and start to talk. The Butcher gives the Beaver a lesson in arithmetic and another in natural history, and they become best of friends. They return to the hunting party hand-in-hand, remaining inseparable thereafter.

Fit the Sixth: The Barrister’s Dream

The Barrister falls asleep and has a dream involving a Snark. In the dream, the Barrister is in court where the Snark, dressed in a lawyer’s gown and wig, is defending a pig accused of deserting its sty. The judge and jury prove incapable, so the Snark himself goes on to sum up the case, deliver the guilty verdict, and pronounce the sentence of transportation (deportation). However, it all proves unnecessary when it is discovered that the pig had been dead for some years. The Barrister wakes to the furious ringing of bells.

Fit the Seventh: The Banker’s Fate

Lewis Carroll - Henry Holiday - Hunting of the Snark - Plate 9

The Banker turns black in the face and white in the waistcoat. 1876 illustration by Henry Holiday.

In his zeal, the Banker rushes ahead out of the crew’s view. He is attacked by a Bandersnatch[6]. By the time the others catch up to him, the Banker has turned black in the face and white in his waistcoat from fright. His mind is gone, and he can only babble nonsense. Horrified, the crew is compelled to leave the Banker to his fate.

Fit the Eighth: The Vanishing

With daylight nearly past, the hunters are beginning to despair when they hear the Baker shouting. He is waving excitedly on a crag, then the next moment he falls into a chasm. They hear him yell out “It’s a Snark!” Then his laughter is followed by the ominous words “It’s a Boo-.” They search for him till dark, but do not find any traces. The Baker has softly and suddenly vanished away. "For the Snark was a Boojum, you see."

See also

Footnotes

  1. Boot boy, a servant whose main duty is to clean boots.
  2. Appraiser and seller of household goods.
  3. Billiard parlor employee who keeps records.
  4. Personal changing rooms on wheels used on beaches by modest Victorian bathers. Horses pulled the bathing machines into shallow water where bathers would discreetly emerge to take a dip.
  5. Dangerous bird mentioned in “Jabberwocky,” a poem Alice comes across in Through the Looking-Glass.
  6. Another horrifying creature mentioned in “Jabberwocky.”

External links

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