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The Walrus and the Carpenter

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The Walrus, the Carpenter and the oysters, colorized version of an 1871 illustration by John Tenniel.

"The Walrus and the Carpenter" is a darkly comic narrative poem with elements of fantasy and nonsense. It was written by the British author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll. It was first published in 1871 as part of Carroll's children's novel Through the Looking-Glass, in which the brothers Tweedledum and Tweedledee recite it to the girl Alice.

The poem describes how the Walrus and the Carpenter feast on a vast quantity of oysters, after having persuaded the oysters to accompany them on a walk.

Many interpretations have been put forward as to the symbolism of the poem. The fact that one of the characters is a carpenter is often taken to be a Biblical reference. However, Lewis Carroll himself was indifferent as to whether the walrus was accompanied by a carpenter, a butterfly or a baronet, telling the illustrator John Tenniel that he could draw whichever of those three he chose since the meter of the poem would remain the same.

"The Walrus and the Carpenter" has often been included as parts of adaptations of both Through the Looking-Glass and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Summary

Even though it is nighttime, the sun is still shining brightly down on the sea. The Walrus and the Carpenter walk on the beach. They appear to consider the sand to be a kind of dirt because the presence of it upsets them and they wish that it could be cleared away.

The Walrus calls out for four oysters to come on to the beach and walk hand in hand with the Carpenter and him. The oldest oyster refuses to leave the sea. However, four young oysters quickly answer the Walrus' call and many more soon follow them. The oysters are described as having clean faces and coats and wearing freshly polished shoes, even though they do not have any feet.

Walrus and Carpenter 2

The Walrus and the Carpenter eat oysters with bread and butter. 1871 illustration by John Tenniel.

After having walked for a while, the Walrus announces that it is time to take a rest and have a conversation. Shortly afterwards, he calls for bread, pepper and vinegar and tells the oysters, "We can begin to feed". The oysters realize that he and the Carpenter intend to eat them and protest. The Walrus continues to speak kindly to the oysters, acknowledging that he and the Carpenter played a cruel trick on them. He even begins to cry while sorting the oysters according to size.[1] The Carpenter, however, shows no sympathy for the oysters and only talks about bread and butter.

Some time later, the Carpenter asks the oysters if they think it is time to go home. There is no answer because all of the oysters have been eaten.

Adaptations

Although it appears in the novel Through the Looking-Glass, recitations of "The Walrus and the Carpenter" often feature in adaptations to other media of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as well.

In the 1933 Hollywood movie Alice in Wonderland, a largely live-action film, an animated version of "The Walrus and the Carpenter", directed by Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising, appears.

The poem is set to music and, through the use of visuals, slightly expanded in Disney's 1951 Alice in Wonderland. The characters of the Walrus and the Carpenter have gone on to appear in other Disney productions and at the company's theme parks.

See also

Footnotes

  1. In Through the Looking-Glass, Tweedledee tells Alice that the Walrus' crying was merely a ruse, so that he could eat more oysters than the Carpenter. Hiding behind his handkerchief, the Walrus was able to prevent the Carpenter from seeing how many oysters he was eating.

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