Dear Humpty Dumpty (c/o ``The loose-leaf library,'' July 16, 1985), I'm sorry to have to say this, but your explanation of ``Jabberwocky'' disappoints me. It may have satisfied Alice, but then it wouldn't take much to satisfy an unimaginative child like Alice. If she'd had any imagination at all, she would not have had to consult you in the first place. I suspect you simply made up your answers to her questions as you went along, encouraged by the fact that your audience seemed to accept your interpretation without argument and you as an authority. In all honesty, H. D. , I cannot, and there may be many others like me who would appreciate the opportunity to sit on the wall with you and at least discuss the matter -- not too seriously, of course. Alice is far too serious about things, don't you think?
To begin at the beginning -- ``brillig.'' Brillig means bright and brilliant blue days when the sunlight dances on a sparkling sea. You toss your mane, if you have one, inflate your nostrils, and say, or snort, ``What a perfectly brillig day.''
A slithy tove, and you cannot ever separate the slithy from the tove, has always been a slippery customer, man or beast, elusive, hard to pin down, full of excuses but somewhat lovable nonetheless. You know the sort.
To gyre and gimble in the wabe is best illustrated by the aquatic antics of dolphins, but creatures less streamlined with flailing limbs can do it too, perhaps even better. And you don't have to be a slithy tove to gyre and gimble. Even a Humpty Dumpty like you could do it. It's the sheer joy of cavorting, gamboling, and whirling in the wabe that's important.
All mimsy is very special, and unmistakable when you see it but otherwise quite rare. First you have to understand that borogoves are not shabby-looking birds at all but a grove of tropical trees with lush, feathery leaves, growing partly in a bayou. All mimsy is when a light wind plays through the leaves 'til they are all a-shimmer in the sunlight in the top branches, but all is still and dark beneath. I have never actually seen a borogove grove but I have seen trees go all mimsy. An unforgettable sigh t.
The mome raths I am less sure about except to say they are gray and shadowy creatures lurking in the borogoves and much too shy to show their faces. Outgrabe might be the sound they make, as you suggest, but it could also mean to stretch out for a delicious catnap with a great sigh of contentment.
In the borogoves we would most likely outgrabe during the heat of the day. In other places outgrabing tends to go on after the day's work is done. Of course, mome raths don't know the meaning of the word work. For all we know they outgrabe all day long. But that doesn't matter. The real point is that it sounds right and so makes perfect sense. It doesn't really need any explanation at all. Now what do you suppose Alice would have to say about that? Yours ever,
A number of readers have written to say they save ``The loose-leaf library.'' Many have offered suggestions for it. Ms. nov dmerF is the first to have taken such violent issue with an authority quoted in it. Here are the lines from Lewis Carroll's ``Jabberwocky'' that Humpty Dumpty failed to explain to her satisfaction: `` 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/ Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:/ All mimsy were the borogoves,/ And the mome raths outgrabe.''