Title: The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits
Authors: Lewis Carroll, illustrated by Mahendra Singh
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Rating: 4/5 stars
The Hunting of the Snark, Lewis Carroll’s classic masterpiece of nonsense verse, takes the reader on a wonderfully witty and inventive hunt for the ever-elusive Snark. The tantalizing mysteries of the poem are here perfectly matched in these brilliant new illustrations by artist Mahendra Singh, who has created a visual treasure hunt, full of riddles, puns, and allusions.
When asked what his poem meant, Carroll would always reply that he did not know. But, on one occasion, he did write to friends that perhaps “…the whole book is an allegory on the search for happiness.”
“To seek it with thimbles, to seek it with care;What does it all mean? No one seems to know. Not even Lewis Carroll, apparently. He claimed to have no more idea on what the poem was about than anybody else, although he did mention at one point, "...the whole book is an allegory on the search for happiness." Carroll's acme of Nonsense poetry, The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits is an experience to read. Does it make any sense? Not at all. Did I enjoy it all the same? Absolutely.
To pursue it with forks and hope,
To threaten its life with a railway-share;
To charm it with smiles and soap!”
This was a Christmas gift from my friend Sarah as I'm a huge fan of Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. However, I'll admit that my reading experience with Carroll stops there, so this was a real treat to receive as I had not even heard of this book before!
The poem opens with the captain of the hunt gathering his traveling companions for the voyage that will take them to the Snark, so that they may hunt it. As the poem progresses, I was left in mind of Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, as we get to hear tales from most of the traveling companions. Each tale leads on to the continuing hunt for the Snark, which leaves its mark on several of the traveling companions. There are several plays on words in the poem, and we even meet a couple of familiar faces from Carroll's earlier works, such as the Bandersnatch and the Jubjub Bird.
Mahendra Singh's illustrations are simply amazing. In his afterword, he explains how he used a Surrealist technique to illustrate this version of The Hunting of the Snark, a technique which I think fits the theme and tone of the poem perfectly. Singh hides jokes and visual puns in his illustrations that go along with the poems stanzas, just as Carroll hides puns, plays on words and puzzles in his poem. As I read through the poem, I would become equally involved looking at the illustrations as I was trying to figure out what it all means. I eventually gave up, and enjoyed the entire book exactly for what it is: Nonsense!
Even though it took me a couple nights to read, The Hunting of the Snark is a very fast read. In fact, I read through the entire poem a second time in one sitting, making sure I was able to follow what was happening. Even though there really isn't much rhyme (no pun intended!) or reason to the flow of the story, it still makes some sort of absurd sense and follows a natural progression to its ending. What you'll get out that ending, however, will differ from person to person. Personally, I think Carroll had it right about his poem: it has something to do with the elusiveness of that one thing in life that will make you perfectly happy. You search and hunt and may never quite find it, but it's the searching and hunting that turns the journey into an adventure.