Snark: Being a true history of the expedition that discovered the Snark and the Jabberwock…and its tragic aftermathUniversity of Otago Press (2016)
Hardback, 220 pages
ISBN 978 1 877578 94 6
David Elliot is a skilled artist and well-read , witty writer. Had he wished, he could have simply illustrated Lewis Carroll’s poem, The Hunting of the Snark. Equally, he could have simply written a scholarly essay analysing that curious poem’s meanings, origins and interpretations. Fortunately for us, he has done something quite different and instead created a modern masterpiece.
Using all the skills of a master forger, Elliot has constructed a plausible and compelling document, an illustrated journal of a strange voyage, a Victorian quest for a legendary creature. The journal – allegedly in its 42nd edition – was written by “The Boots,” the youngest member of a band of explorers known only by their occupation titles. The leader is the sinister obsessed Bellman and his other followers are a Barrister, a Broker, a Bonnet-maker, a Banker, a Billiard-marker and a lace-making beaver.
The Boots not only kept a journal of the expedition’s quirky and ill-fated voyage but also drew a range of sketches which combine sharp observation with great beauty. All of these illustrations are reproduced along with a remarkable range of charts, maps, diagrams. There are also scholarly footnotes assembled over the previous 41 editions casting light on everything from Boojums to bugles. The full text of Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark are included, proving clearly that Charles Dodson knew about the horrifying outcome of the ill-fated expedition and used his Lewis Carroll persona to pen a pair of puzzle poems that use nonsense, word-play and riddles to conceal a genuine quest.
The result is enormously enjoyable in several ways. Snark is an enjoyable adventure in itself, a cheerful concordance to Carroll’s writing and a thoroughly enjoyable exercise in fantasy-world-building. The footnotes are mad excursions into the wilder realms of Victorian exploration, which add to the feeling that everything Carroll described really happened. Or at least, Elliot carries us along on his powerful locomotive of imagination to a full enjoyment of the whimsical but heroic quest. David Elliot has done it again.
P.S. With its authentic-seeming preface, tide-charts, and engravings of thimbles, skeletons, steamships, sundials, and sea-creatures, not to mention Tasmanian tigers and Moa, Snark seems likely to be taken seriously by some naïve reader. Watch out for the first to fall for this glorious literary spoof.
14 Feb 2017