Monday, February 28, 2011

Principia Snarkiana

Another trifecta of similarities which our Hunters of the Snark, in the persons of the Beaver and the Butcher, have just bagged …

1. the same plan
2. the same place
3. the same look of disgust

Of course, it will have already occurred to you that the Hunting of the Snark is essentially a thermolinguodynamic crusade against the Forces of Entropy which are such a blight upon our otherwise happening cosmic scene, a quixotic crusade which takes as its goal the discovery and capture of that counteracting force of vigorous chaos, scientifically known as Maxwell’s Demon but which answers here to the name of Snark, possibly subspecies Boojum.

That being the case, all such reiterations as described above are rather counterproductive, expressing as they do patterns of orderly repetition conducive to further entropy, if not outright boredom and a comfy postprandial nap (on company time, naturally).

Every verse, every strophe and trope and kenning and galdor of our Snark Hunt is taking us only further and further away from our prey — every word we read and write plunges us deeper into a world not even of our own making!

And so, as the young Tolstoy once asked his demimondaine, what is to be done?

To which I reply: we must be silent. We must remain mute and dumb. We must not speak nor read … we must … look! And what do we see when we look at one another? We see ourselves as we really are, as inanimate tokens in the Snark’s childish game, as the helpless objects of his middle-aged gaze! Disgusting!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Full fathom five thy snark lies

NB. Before we get snarking, I urge you to read Tom Spurgeon's interview with Alexander Theroux, whose book, The Strange World of Edward Gorey is being re-issued by Fantagraphics.

Needless to say, I'm a Gorey-maniac and the interview is worth reading, especially for any one contemplating a life in the world of book illustration. At one point Tom asks Alexander why Gorey was (and is) so neglected by comix fans … I think I'll raise my inky hand and answer that one: because too many comix readers are visually infantilized from childhood by a relentless barrage of visual crap … the depth and complexity of good cross-hatching overwhelms their medulla oblongatas. Just a thought.

Meanwhile, back on Snark Island …

The Butcher’s ingenious plan is accomplished, as we see above, by first opening one of the doors of perception that are so handily scattered about my GN version of The Hunting of the Snark. Beyond this door lies a dismal and desolate valley where he can sally to his heart’s content, undisturbed by his too-frequent fellow man.

These sort of desolate Valleys of the Shadows of Various Deaths weighed heavily upon Victorian sensibilities, lurking as they did amidst the poetry of Lewis Carroll, Kings David-and-James and Lord Tennyson alike. Vast armies of betanomic chasseurs, semi-anointed sinners and gin-pickled light-cavalrymen were regularly herded into their several depths, there to endure the shot and shell of secular and sacred verse competing mano a mano, or to be more exact, pied à pied. Strong stuff but the Butcher seems up for it, he fears no evil nor anapests at all — what ho for the crystalline noggin of feckless youth!

If all this sounds a bit too allusive for you, why, there’s another picture done by another artist, a long time ago, of another inquisitive Carrollian protagonist bent upon making her own separate sally. It’s a very good drawing and I have half-a-mind to snatch it away from its rightful owner and carry it off to some desolate spot unfrequented by man where I can copy it to my heart’s content, by printing it in the infernal method, by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away, and displaying the infinite which was hid.

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen … an infinite plenum of poetical kings, lords, dons and even nudists charging forth from this very door, all of 'em dragooned into our Snark Hunt!

NB. Those are snarks that were his eyes; nothing of him that doth fade, but doth suffer an inky-change

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Smiley's snarky people

Forks and hope
… it's not a pretty phrase and it's not a pretty sight.

Sure, you could turn away, you could pretend you didn't see anything, you could tell yourself that this is just another episode in my GN version of Hunting of the Snark … you can just shrug your shoulders and say that Lewis Carroll deserves it.

You could tell your wife that you saw something on the net today, something horrible happening to somebody and you couldn't quite figure it out because you were in a hurry, you had googled the word snark, hoping to get some quickie cocktail-party-talking-points on the latest craze that’s sweeping the NYC chatteratti, but you landed up here …

Somebody ought to do something, somebody else should help out because you can’t get involved — who knows what kind of crazy people are involved in this, look at 'em! They seem to be high on something, and that girl, she’s half-naked!

Probably some kind of some druid cargo-cult of home-furnishings shoplifters and they're chanting something about forks and hope, smiles and soap, some kind of wiccan juju, I bet. And that man at the far left, the Polynesian one with the glandular problem, and the other one holding the railway share from Moggs & Spicer, how do these kind of people get past Immigration?

Yes, it’s a bad scene so you better move along, somebody might get hurt and it's none of your business anyway. Instead, breathe deeply and say it slowly … forks and hope … forks and hopewhen it happens to Henry Holiday and Lewis Carroll it's a shame but if this ever happens to you … the mind boggles …

NB. Foot it featly here and there; and, sweet sprites, the snark-hunters' burthen bear. Hark, hark! Bow, wow, the watch-snarks bark …

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sinister Snark Exaggerator

I've been a bit slack lately in my commentaries upon my GN version of Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark, so I give you not one but two commentaries on this image, my frontispiece for Fit the Fifth … aren't you lucky?

Commentary Number One:

1. It's not a hunting of a snark, where the snark is the object of the chase … no, it's a hunting undertaken by the snark. This simple grammatical confusion is an object lesson in prosodic clarity for those who care about such things.

The Butcher and the Beaver are beyond that sort of thing by now. They're into a sort of kinky ecclesiastical cosplay based upon the works of Hieronymous Bosch and James Tissot. Best not get too close to either of them or you might lessen …

Commentary Number Two:

2. After all that hellish ruckus in the infernal Malbowge of Fit the Fourth (sorcerers, falsifiers, circus folk and magazine publishers), we shall now ascend ad astra, as it were, to the quieter purlieus of Fit the Fifth. This canto, the longest Fit of Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark, is known amongst illustrators as the Purgatorial Fit, for its immense length requires the consumption of vast quantities of cheap whiskey and hot curries to keep up one’s strength.

Of course, in former times, illustrators such as myself needed no such artificial stimulants to come up with the goods. Employed as we usually were in the embellishment of manuscripts by various monastic establishments, we busied ourselves with the production of all manner of fantastical and grotesque creatures in our spare time. These bizarre critters, sometimes called grylli, were invented by Antiphilos the Egyptian, according to Pliny the Elder, and they proved very handy indeed in the spicing up of what was otherwise a pretty dull sort of life in your typical 12th-century scriborium. However, the grylli soon escaped from their cages and ran amuck, as such artificial creations always do, hooting loudly while drunk on the front lawns of right-thinking folk such as St. Bernard, who had this to say to the cops later on …

"What are these ridiculous monstrosities doing in the cloisters where monks pray and study? To what purpose are these unclean apes, fierce lions, these half men … quadrupeds with a dragon’s tail … a dragon with a quadruped’s tail … a horse ending as a goat … a horned animal ending as a horse."

What purpose indeed! Let’s ask this typologically portmanteau-ish gentleman that we see pictured above, sitting on his rock and minding his own business, let’s ask him what he thinks of these oddly unreal grotesqueries that are popping in and out of Nowhere (or Unwhere, to be precise) to trouble his devotional contemplations.

Is he St. Anthony, possessing the legendary self-control of the Father of Monasticism, and thus ultimately indifferent to these sensory diversions, dismissing them as Satan’s spurious blandishments and threats? Or is he the Butcher, possessing no discernable cerebral aptitude at all and thus ultimately indifferent to these sensory diversions, dismissing them as the Beaver’s feminine blandishments and threats?

Yes, for some time now, we have suspected the Beaver of having little enthusiasm for hunting the Snark. It seems more and more evident that her function is that of a clumsy sort of romantic distraction, a distraction designed by a certain someone who wishes us to relax our vigilance and our powers of concentration — but to no avail, dear reader, for our watchword remains Snark!

Yes, it’s Snark that we are really hunting here, it’s Snarks and Boojums and all the other imaginary paraphenalia of idle illustrators, sensorily-deprived Early Christian anchorites and versifying Oxford dons! This is the Beaver’s Lesson to the Butcher!

It was a Snark that St. Anthony was hunting in the Antiphilian Egyptian Desert, it was a Snark that St. Bernard banished from the overheated monastic bullpens of the Middle Ages, and yes, it was a Snark that slapped a funnel atop its head and blustered his way into Hieronymus Bosch’s studio by claiming to be a Gov’ment Man hunting down an escaped gryllus.

The cheek! The nerve! I cannot countenance her any longer, yes, away with this Beaver’s Lesson, yes, get thee back to a punnery!

Of course, what is the snark hunting? She's hunting for readers, of course! As they lessen

NB. Flout 'em and scout 'em, and snark 'em and ink 'em; thought is free.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The amazing Mister Carroll

We've reached the end of Fit the Fourth and before Fit the Fifth, the so-called Pons Asinorum of The Hunting of the Snark, we must stop and ask ourselves …

Just who was Lewis Carroll (seen above)?

Was he a fun kind of guy with a penchant for Nonsense?

Was he the Eminent Victorian who penned The Hunting of the Snark and thus put a full stop to the western tradition of epic poetry?

Was he a dab hand at photography?

Did he put the proto in Protosurrealism?

Or … was he the stooge of a certain maths tutor at Christ Church, the Rev. C.L. Dodgson (seen above), who let Carroll do all the creative work whilst he cashed the rather substantial royalty checks?

Who was Lewis Carroll?

He was just this guy, you know?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Circus snarkus maximus

We resume our explication of the grand finale of Fit the Fourth (so rudely interrupted by a Belgian scientific romance) with this circus scene of Carrollian grandeur …

Ladies and gentlemen, the Greatest Show on Earth is not to be found under some ratty canvas tent reeking of sawdust, elephant dung and stale peanuts, peopled by vagrant layabouts trying to pinch a few shekels from the pockets of certain slack-jawed rubes even less aware of their undeserved position atop the Evolutionary Ladder than they are.

For shame, sir or madam, for even thinking so! This is the Amazing Circus of Mr. Lewis Carroll and what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors, boys and girls, is not only the final stanza of Fit the Fourth, not only the precise median point of this Hunting of the Snark, but also proof positive that the truly greatest show on earth is that glittering spectacle which is performed within the cerebella of those who eschew the vulgar entertainments of the hoi polloi in favor of the baroque pleasures of parsing out the minutiae of this, our Snark Hunt!

Yes, minutiae, minutiae, everywhere, nor any drivel to think! This final stanzel is packed with all the gaudy tinsel of circus minutiae, the Broker tottering on his stilts, the Billiard Marker plunging through an abyss, the Boots juggling with the decapitated heads of the audience.

But all of this pales in comparison to the leonine circus beast swallowing the hapless Banker in the foreground. It is not at all a lion though, we have more intellectual tastes here; it is a chimera and it is the kind of beast found in only the better sort of circuses (or circi, if you must) such as our Snarkian Circus of Fit the Fourth or more to the point, the amazing Circus of Dr. Lao!

Yes, it is Dr. Lao’s Circus to which I'm paying homage to here*, to that shamefully unacknowledged American wellspring of what came to be called Magical Realism by certain labelistas in need of such things. Needless to say, the good Doctor Lao saw fit to provide his Circus with a chimera, and the chronicler of his Circus, the newspaperman and gun-slinger Charles G. Finney, also saw fit to explicate this mysterious beast in his compendious back-of-the-book catalogue, to wit :

CHIMERA : described by Rabelais, Flaubert and Finney.

Huzzah for the telegraphic simplicity of the 1920’s American newspaper style! But have no fear, dear reader, there’s no need for you to poke around in your breakfast Pantagruel just yet. My team of hashisheen-cum-wingéd-flying-monkey research assistants have already verified that Rabelais did indeed wonder aloud whether a chimera, swinging in a void, can swallow second intentions. From thence, it was child’s play for them to rummage through my tattered copy of the Temptation of St. Anthony, until Flaubert’s chimera warned them that if he perceived in any place a man whose mind reposes in wisdom, he would fall upon him and strangle him.

Strong juju, even for French circus folk, but so be it. The chimera, over-excited by the Billiard Marker swinging in a void, is swallowing our Banker — a devourment of second intentions† as specified by Rabelais! His first intention might very well have been to strangle his prey until he discovered that the Banker’s mind was most definitely not reposing in wisdom, being entirely taken up by various Snarkological absurdities and other marxist nonsenseries.

Very well, the show must go on! We turn to the Butcher, for despite his tearful unmanning by the Bellman, His Gills the Butcher dare not scarper off now! You can politely ignore his voluptuous agony at being sawn in half for circus sport or even his terror of the Jubjub bird and other chimeras that populate this hellish (though oddly compelling) circus, all of ‘em lying in wait for him and him alone!

All of this may well be unpleasant, yes, perhaps even vulgar, but you can't turn your eyes away, can you? Schadenfreude is still the greatest show on earth!


*Homage being used here in its Hollywood connotation of brazen looting.

Swallowing a Snark Hunter could never be any imaginary beast’s first intention, for knowing Snark Hunters to be as mythical as chimeras, the deliberate engulfing of the former within the latter might create a self-annihilating double-negative Nonsensical Tautology. This still leaves us with the question of the Banker's ultimate destination, his reductio ad absurdam, as it were. The eponymous proprietor of the Circus explicated his chimera (of sturdy Chinese make) to the good folks of Abalone, Arizona thusly: “The chimera … has no elimination system in the sense that ordinary animals have. Instead of expelling waste matter through the bowels, he burns it up within him, and he snorts out the smoke and ashes. Yes, the chimera is its own incinerator plant”. Hence the futility of following the beast around all day, hoping to collect enough physical remnants of his prey, the Banker, for proper Christian burial. A simple ashtray would suffice.

‡ Refer discreetly to your Dictionary of Received Opinions which you always keep about your person, wherein Flaubert has the last word on the matter … CIRCUS FOLK : Use obscene practices.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Iron Dream, Belgian style

What does this have to do with Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark? If you came to this blog expecting answers to this, and similar questions plaguing today's youth, you are out of luck …

The common denominator is … that's just what life's like, inexplicable nonsense.

If you're still dissatisfied (and who isn't these days), I'll placate you by telling you that the above drawing is a scene from a proposed French SF translation of mine, The Dead Earth by J.H. Rosny, Sr. The walking blobs seen here menacing our hero Targ are actually walking petroids, the Ferromagnons. They are beings composed of elemental iron and imbued with sentience by the effects of human pollution and excessive radioactivity. They are the bad guys and who can blame them, born as they were into a world not of their own making …

What makes this novella cool is, amongst several other things, is that the author made his hero a black man — and this was in 1910, when black heroes were pretty thin on the scientific romance ground. Full marks to J.H. Rosny, Sr.!

Don't worry, the Admirable Carroll will return in three days …

Monday, February 7, 2011

Epic Snark Pooh

More rumblings of a Snarkian renaissance! I noted earlier that Saranne Bensusan is working on an animated Snark in London and now I've read that the president emeritus of the LCSNA, Andrew Sellon, will be doing the voice of the Judge in the Barrister's Dream. I think Andrew will make a perfect Judge, his LCSNA experience of herding cats proves that he has the mettle to stand up to litigious Snarks! Congrats, Andrew! More info here.


The story so far … a darkness has fallen upon the land and there are B-Boyz abroad … they search for the one snark, the Baker’s-Bane of eldritch lore … the one snark to rule them all, the one snark to find them, the one snark to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

Both Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien were Oxford men and both had full-blown language manias. We’ve already seen how the Forks and Hope refrain of the Snark (if not the entire poem) was begat by the Old Norse galdors, those pagan charms from the same realm of verse which Tolkien plundered so fruitfully. We can also classify Carroll’s Snark (Snarquus boojum) in the same genus as Tolkien’s Ring (Annulus horribilis), the genus of all imaginary, highly sought-after and utterly annihilating thingamabobs or such-like fritter-my-wigs.

In addition, both men’s œuvres sternly eschewed romance except in the most cursory way. Hence, it is with a bit of a naughty giggle that I’ll let you have a quick peek at this picture of the Beaver showing off a bit of ankle! Hubba hubba, these Carrollians know how to live it up! The Beaver is obviously inebriated with her vampish power over the stupid and stout Baker, who has also succumbed to the heady bacchanals of this metamorphic circus! His wink (poorly rendered here, I admit, the result of using second-grade fresh india ink instead of the real, silken-smooth article) suggests to us his Houyhnhnmic approval of the Carrollian portmanteau which tops off this sinnful stanza : gallumph!

All of which begs the question — what on earth has this to do with J.R.R. Tolkien? What on earth possessed me to follow this discombobulated line of addled thinking comparable to the meanderings of a slightly concussed bee?

To which I must reply, in the words of yet another celebrated Oxford man: ignorance, madam, pure ignorance!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Drained snarks keep falling on my head

Today's blog posting is a repeat of a previously-posted blog, brought back by unpopular acclaim …

The above stanza may be a bit unclear to some readers (particularly those possessing an iota of common sense). The Butcher, seen above as a lugubrious sort of rude mechanical’s nightmare of an Easter-Island-Pierrot, is requesting the Bellman to formally introduce him to the Snark whenever they might encounter it. The Bellman is noncommittal, stating that either the introduction* or the meeting itself (or both) is entirely contingent upon the weather.

What gives, Lewis Carroll? Are we still hunting snark or are we just marking time now? Are we waiting for Godot or even his late-Victorian progenitor, Mistuh Kurtz? Very well then, so be it! We shall once again call upon Oscar Wilde for some quick and snappy enlightenment. Being both Irish and dry-witted, he was particularly qualified to make the following pronouncement upon the English and their mildewed sense of meteorology :

"Pray don't talk to me about the weather … Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else.”

Following this trail of bread crumbs deeper into the naughty forest of edible children, we stumble over the twitching presence of the Great Cham himself, Dr. Johnson, who tossed off this trite observation with his customary gravitas:

“It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather.”

A thing that always means something else, a thing that is always the prime topic of discussion … hmmm … we will proceed by mentally triangulating all of this with our above, freshly-minted illustration of a Bellman under the weather.

End result? A compact semioglyph of an Englishman feeling out of sorts because he is compelled by national habit to say something that always means something else, in short, to say the thing that was not! Yoicks, the game’s afoot at last!

Behind the jolly good sport of our Snark Hunt, behind the labyrinthine hedgerows of English Nonsense, we have once again detected the spoor of that irascible Yahoo, Dean Swift! Oh, to say the thing that is not is all the rage these days, you add a dollop of Nonsense to it and it will cover a veritable multitude of sins, not the least of which is my penchant for the most byzantine mixing of metaphors yet known to man!

To horse, to Houyhnhnm, the Yahoos are let loose for there’s a scent of Snark in the wind and the weather’s fine!

*One can imagine the grim consequences of any letter of introduction to a beast such as a Snark or even, heavens forfend, a Boojum! Pity the poor Butcher as he hands over his letter to some supercilious flunky in an icy waiting room, the contents of which letter are invisible to him but which we already have guessed to be a simple directive of utter Boojumistic malevolencekeep this Butcher running!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Video killed the radio snark

Many thanks to Ann, Graham and Dave for making my interview at the CBC Radio One last Sunday so enjoyable. A copy of the Snark was given away to some hapless listener and much merriment was demonstrated as Dave read out the weather stats for Quebec, especially for those happy locales enjoying the balmy -40 degrees Celsius. It ain't the heat, it's the humidity, eh?

The interview can be heard here or downloaded here.

The only pain was self-inflicted, I fear, for I caught myself making several snarkian faux pas … to wit:

1. Louis Aragon was not a woman, despite my insinuations …
2. His (dreadful) translation of the Snark was published by Nancy Cunard, not Sylvia Beach, the former also having published Beckett's Whoroscope which is a far better example of genuine Nonsense than Aragon's …
3. An orthodox snark-hunter prefers to softly and suddenly vanish away … no substitutes accepted!

I have no doubt that I shall be shortly hauled up before a Carrollian tribunal and my LCSNA pin stripped away before I'm shipped off to Snark Island!

My sole defense is to offer you this demi-risible analysis of the above stanzel in our on-going exegesis of The Hunting of the Snark by You Know Who …

It was probable that Lewis Carroll never intended for us to have any notion of what actually went on behind the scenes of his Snark Hunt. Snark hunting, like the legislative process, is a notoriously messy business similar to stuffing sausage meat into casings or cash into briefcases. It is an affair ill-suited to dandies or clowns, which is precisely the fugal state into which we now see the Butcher fleeing into.

The ruff that our Butcher wears is derived from ruffle which is itself derived from the Old Norse hrufla, to scratch. This quality of scratching has already been defined as one of the distinctive qualities of the Pandemonic-Boojum subspecies of Snarks (Snarquus boojum infernum) as they are found in the wild.

The yellow kid gloves, a term smacking of an overly dainty or delicate temperament, are redolent with intimations of the overly-refined British buffoonery of the late-Victorian Aesthetic genre of art and literature. One of the luminaries of this movement, Oscar Wilde, made a small though crucial contribution to Snarkology when he concocted that character Bunbury, who had an entirely unsettling or even annihilating effect upon anyone who encountered him — despite his nonexistence! This is a protosurrealist homage of sorts from one great genius to another, the Bunbury effect being entirely similar to the Boojum effect. But wait, dear reader, there’s more …

It is an interesting though useless fact that Bunbury is also a verb, to bunbury meaning to assume a different persona in the countryside as opposed to the city. Nowadays, this verb is mostly employed by ornithologists, to describe the variant personae and behavior of birds in rural and urban environments. And of course, birds also have feathers and bite, which is the defining characteristic of the other Cherubic subspecies of Boojums, Snarquus boojum angelicum.

Well, that’s pretty much QED, I should think, for my Unified Snarkian Multiverse Theory. Stuff indeed, Mister Bellman, harrumph, harrumph!