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Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark is an exhilarating mock-epic journey on the high seas of nonsense. The Bellman sets off in search of the mysterious Snark, supported by the Broker, the Banker, the Barrister and other characters beginning with B. Problems abound: the Beaver is afraid of the Butcher, and the Bellman has brought, as his map, ‘A perfect and absolute blank!’ Yet the dauntless crew sail on.
Though the world of the Snark is impossible, Carroll’s characters conform to their own arbitrary rules, as do his ‘portmanteau’ words and curious creatures. When we are told that the Bellman’s mood is ‘uffish’ or that the Jubjub is ‘a desperate bird’, the meaning is clear, and more importantly, we revel in Carroll’s inventiveness. Its creator wrote that, ‘Periodically I have received courteous letters from strangers begging to know whether The Hunting of the Snark is an allegory, or contains some hidden moral, or is a political satire: and for all such questions I have but one answer, I don’t know!’ The poem’s meaning, like the Snark itself, may elude us, but the effect is one of pure delight. In this new Folio Society edition, illustrations by Jeffrey Fisher capture the poem’s surreal brilliance, and a new introduction by Michael Rosen explains why ‘Your Snark, or Jabberwock or Pobble is unlikely to look like mine.’
Listen to an extract from The Hunting of the Snark
Read by Helen Walton