‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
— “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll
SAN FRANCISCO — Every student of English poetry knows these words — the famous opening lines of the “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll, who is best known for Alice in Wonderland . Designed to be a nonsense poem in his 1871 novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, the words nonetheless tell a compelling story, one that we must imagine. What is a Jabberwock anyway? And why must it be slain? So many of the words in Jabberwocky nothing, and yet they mean so much, carrying connotative meaning through their sounds and resemblance to existing English words.
At San Francisco’s annual Dickens Fair, I learned about the work of Darren Way, whose Dangerous Puppets creations feature fanciful characters and bizarre imagery bordering on the fantastical and grotesque. Each one is handcrafted, perfected through Way’s puppetmaking practice which he tells me has evolved over two decades. He and his team were perfectly qualified in that regard to put on an enactment of the “Jabberwocky” that has just been released on YouTube, complete with mimsy borogoves and a tum-tuming tum tum tree.
This isn’t his first foray into re-enacting surrealism: another video of his website shows his visual style tackling Kafka’s “The Vulture.” When asked about the presentation at the Dickens Fair, itself an ongoing recreation of London depicted in Charles Dickens’ novels, Way pointed to how his work and performances create new worlds: “It’s hard to tell what’s performance and what’s real.”
“That’s what gave me so much leeway,” Way noted, as he pointed to the strangeness of the poem. “From the perspective of Alice, it’s surreal in how she understands things.”