The image on this book cover is adapted from an 1871 illustration by John Tenniel in which the young hero faces the Jabberwock.

"Jabberwocky" is a nonsense poem by the British author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who wrote under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll. It was first published in 1871 as part of Carroll's children's novel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. The poem narrates the story of a young hero who fights and kills a dangerous monster called the Jabberwock but does so using a great deal of unusual words of Carroll's own invention, the meanings of some of which can only be guessed.

The poem has become popular and well respected in its own right. There have been numerous adaptations of "Jabberwocky" to other media as a stand-alone work. Recitations of the poem or variations on it also frequently form part of adaptations of Through the Looking-Glass and Carroll's earlier book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.


A young man's father warns him about dangerous animals, including the Jubjub bird, the Bandersnatch[1] and a monster called the Jabberwock. Nevertheless, the young man decides to seek out the Jabberwock to slay it. After a long search, he rests by a tree. While he is resting, the Jabberwock suddenly appears. The young man fights and kills the monster. He cuts off its head as proof of his deed. He returns to his father, who is overjoyed that the dangerous creature has been destroyed.

Humpty Dumpty's explanation of the first verse

In chapter one of Through the Looking-Glass, Alice reads the poem "Jabberwocky" but has to admit to herself that she does not really understand it. In chapter six, she asks Humpty Dumpty to explain the unusual words in the poem. However, she only recites the first verse (which is also repeated as the last verse), before Humpty Dumpty cuts her off, claiming that there are quite enough difficult words to explain already.

The first verse of "Jabberwocky" is as follows:

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogroves
And the mome raths outgrabe.

The following definitions are provided by Humpty Dumpty:

Borogroves, mome raths and toves in their natural habitat. 1871 illustration by John Tenniel.

  • brillig - around 4:00pm, time to start broiling things for supper
  • slithy - a combination of "lithe" (active) and "slimy"
  • tove - an animal similar to a badger, a lizard and a corkscrew which eats cheese and makes its nest under sundials
  • to gyre - to move around like a gyroscope
  • to gimble - to make holes like a gimlet
  • wabe - the grassy area around a sundial
  • mimsy - a combination of "miserable" and "flimsy"
  • borogrove - a scrawny bird which looks something like a mop because its feathers stick out all around it
  • mome - lost, a contraction of "from home"
  • rath - a green pig
  • to outgribe - to make a noise between a bellow and a sneeze with a whistle in the middle


The February 1872 edition of MacMillan's Magazine features a spoof article by Robert Scott called "The Jabberwock Traced to its True Sources". The article claims that Lewis Carroll plagiarized the poem from a medieval German one called "Der Jammerwoch". The text of "Der Jammerwoch", which is, of course, really Robert Scott's own German translation of "Jabberwocky" is included in the article. Hassard H. Dodgson, Lewis Carroll's uncle, wrote a Latin translation of the poem called "Gaberbochus"[2] which was first published soon after the English original. There have subsequently been translations into numerous other languages, including Choctaw, Welsh, Esperanto and Klingon.

The young hero faces the Jabberwock. 1902 illustration by Peter Newell.

"Jabberwocky" has been adapted as a 1971 Czechoslovakian animated film, a 1973 Australian stage musical and as the 1977 British fantasy film Jabberwocky, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Michael Palin.

The poem was set to music by the British musician Donovan and featured on his 1971 album H.M.S. Donovan.

In the 1951 Disney film Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat (voiced by Sterling Holloway) sings the first verse of "Jabberwocky" each time he appears. A longer song based on the poem, called "Beware the Jabberwock", was composed for the film but was ultimately not included in it. However, a demo version of the song has been made available on 2004 and 2010 DVD releases of Alice in Wonderland.

Tim Burton's 2010 film Alice in Wonderland features the Jabberwocky (voiced by Christopher Lee) as a character. The Jabberwocky {played by Peta Sergeant) is also a character in the television series Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, which first aired on ABC in the United States between October 10, 2013 and April 3, 2014. In the second part of Irwin Allen's TV movie Alice in Wonderland, which first aired on CBS on December 10, 1985, the Jabberwock monster comes to life when Alice reads the poem and pursues her for the rest of the film.

See also


  1. The Jubjub bird and the Bandersnatch are also referred to in Carroll's 1876 mock-heroic poem The Hunting of the Snark.
  2. The name of Hassard H. Dodgson's Latin translation of the poem was later borrowed by Gaberbochus Press, a small Dutch publishing company founded in 1948.

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