Friday, May 28, 2010

Martin Gardner



The news of Martin Gardner’s death on May 22nd, 2010 marks the end to a spectacular era in not only Snarkian but Carrollian studies, perhaps even a Golden Age of sorts. Which is not to say that there are no new discoveries or insights to be made nor adequately perceptive scholars to make them, rather that it is unlikely that we’ll see a similar renaissance again.

Gardner’s Annotated Snark was my first reading of the poem. I was a young lad and I will confess that Gardner’s approach fascinated me as much as Carroll’s epic masterpiece, perhaps even more in a certain way. Gardner’s genius (in this and in the Alice books) lay in his talent of explaining the Carrollian Multiverse in plain-spoken terms which encouraged the curious reader — and not just the specialists or scholars — to proceed further upon the obscure quest of Culture, Art and Knowledge at all costs.

And all while making sure that nothing got in the way of the Ripping Yarn itself, which is far too often the chief fault of certain academics. My own Snark owes much to Gardner and I hope that I’ve done some sort of justice to the man and his philosophy of Enlightened Rationalism.

Above is an example of my rendering of the infamous Snarkhunters’ refrain, the galdor, as I’ve called it before. Here is what the magisterial Gardner had to say about this stanza …

“ The fact that essentially the same stanza occurs altogether six times in the poem has led some to suspect that it may conceal a private, cryptic message. If so, the message has never been decoded.

My theory — the reader may be able to formulate a better one — is that thimbles, forks, a railway share, smiles and soap are connected with the Snark’s five unmistakeable marks mentioned in Fit 2. The forks are for eating crisp Snark meat. The railway share appeals to the Snark’s ambition to become wealthy and so can be used for baiting a death trap. Smiles are to let the Snark know when a pun has been perpetrated. The soap is, of course, for the bathing machines that the Snark carries about, and the thimble is used for thumping the side of the creature’s head to wake him in time for five-o’clock tea.”

And there you have it — exegesis from the master!