Saturday, 17 May 2008


Losing the Context: What’s so funny?

A search for an illustration the other day (this one, if you must know), sent me thumbing through my ancient[1] copy of The Humorous Verse of Lewis Carroll, Dover, 1960The Humorous Verse of Lewis Carroll. This Dover reprint of a 1933 Macmillan edition includes all the standard poems (“Jabberwocky,” “Father Willliam,” “The Hunting of the Snark,” etc.), along with 100-some more obscure ones. Re-reading them (along with the book’s limited annotations) left me (again) suspecting that I was often missing out on the joke: For some poems (“Hiawatha’s Photographing”) it remains instantly obvious, but in many others– some of them quite elaborate productions– the humor is a bit opaque to my own late 20th-Century background.  That is not surprising. Before Martin Gardner[2] I was unaware that Alice’s two recitations (“How doth...” and “’Tis the voice of the lobster...”) parody a pair of Isaac Watts’s Divine and Moral Songs for Children, songs that, while doubtless familiar to any English child growing up in the last half of the 19th century, were unknown to me.  Aha!  Making fun becomes more fun when you know what’s being made fun of.

Well, after all, Carroll wrote almost 150 years ago.  Lot of water over the dam since then; time passes and references lose meaning.

But it really brought me up short when I discovered a loss of context related to something within my own lifetime.

Posted by: Old Grouch in Reviews at 19:44:52 GMT | No Comments | Add Comment
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