Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fit the Fourth, Page 28, Panel 4 … it's Lewis Carroll’s Flying Circus!

“Be a man!” said the Bellman in wrath, as he heard
The Butcher beginning to sob.
“Should we meet with a Jubjub, that desperate bird,
We shall need all our strength for the job!”

Ladies and gentlemen, the Greatest Show on Earth is not to be found under some ratty canvas tent reeking of sawdust, elephant dung and stale peanuts, peopled by vagrant layabouts trying to pinch a few shekels from the pockets of certain slack-jawed rubes even less aware of their undeserved position atop the Evolutionary Ladder than they are.

For shame, sir or madam, for even thinking so! This is the Amazing Circus of Mr. Lewis Carroll and what we have here, ladies and gentlemen, friends and neighbors, boys and girls, is not only the final stanza of Fit the Fourth, not only the precise median point of this Hunting of the Snark, but also proof positive that the truly greatest show on earth is that glittering spectacle which is performed within the cerebella of all those who eschew the vulgar entertainments of the hoi polloi in favor of the baroque pleasures of parsing out the minutiae of this, our Snark Hunt!

Yes, minutiae, minutiae, everywhere, nor any drivel to think! This final stanzel is packed with all the gaudy tinsel of circus minutiae, the Broker tottering on his stilts, the Billiard Marker plunging through an abyss, the Boots juggling with the decapitated heads of the audience.

But all of this pales in comparison to the leonine circus beast swallowing the hapless Banker in the foreground. It is not at all a lion though, we have more intellectual tastes here; it is a chimera and it is the kind of beast found in only the better sort of circuses (or circi, if you must) such as our Snarkian Circus of Fit the Fourth or more to the point, the amazing Circus of Dr. Lao!

Yes, it is Dr. Lao’s Circus to which I'm paying homage to here*, to that shamefully unacknowledged American wellspring of what came to be called Magical Realism by certain labelistas in need of such things. Needless to say, the good Doctor Lao saw fit to provide his Circus with a chimera, and the chronicler of his Circus, the newspaperman and gun-slinger Charles G. Finney, also saw fit to explicate this mysterious beast in his compendious back-of-the-book catalogue, to wit :

CHIMERA : described by Rabelais, Flaubert and Finney.

Huzzah for the telegraphic simplicity of the 1920’s American newspaper style! But have no fear, dear reader, there’s no need for you to poke around in your breakfast Pantagruel just yet. My team of hashisheen-cum-wingéd-flying-monkey research assistants have already verified that Rabelais did indeed wonder aloud whether a chimera, swinging in a void, can swallow second intentions. From thence, it was child’s play for them to rummage through my tattered copy of the Temptation of St. Anthony, until Flaubert’s chimera warned them that if he perceived in any place a man whose mind reposes in wisdom, he would fall upon him and strangle him.

Strong juju, even for French circus folk, but so be it. The chimera, over-excited by the Billiard Marker swinging in a void, is swallowing our Banker — a devourment of second intentions† as specified by Rabelais! His first intention might very well have been to strangle his prey until he discovered that the Banker’s mind was most definitely not reposing in wisdom, being entirely taken up by various Snarkological absurdities and other marxist nonsenseries.

Very well, the show must go on! We turn to the Butcher, for despite his tearful unmanning by the Bellman, His Gills the Butcher dare not scarper off now! You can politely ignore his voluptuous agony at being sawn in half for circus sport or even his terror of the Jubjub bird and other chimeras that populate this hellish (though oddly compelling) circus, all of ‘em lying in wait for him and him alone!

All of this may well be unpleasant, yes, perhaps even vulgar, but you can't turn your eyes away, can you? Schadenfreude is still the greatest show on earth!

NB. Happy birthday to our dear Lewis Carroll! This week (January 27th, to be precise) marks his 177th birthday … which number, if divided by 42, leaves us with a quotient of 4.2 ! And some people still doubt that there's an underlying order to Life, the Universe and Everything in It — gosh!

*Homage being used here in its Hollywood connotation of brazen looting.

Swallowing a Snark Hunter could never be any imaginary beast’s first intention, for knowing Snark Hunters to be as mythical as chimeras, the deliberate engulfing of the former within the latter might create a self-annihilating double-negative Nonsensical Tautology. This still leaves us with the question of the Banker's ultimate destination, his reductio ad absurdam, as it were. The eponymous proprietor of the Circus explicated his chimera (of sturdy Chinese make) to the good folks of Abalone, Arizona thusly: “The chimera … has no elimination system in the sense that ordinary animals have. Instead of expelling waste matter through the bowels, he burns it up within him, and he snorts out the smoke and ashes. Yes, the chimera is its own incinerator plant”. Hence the futility of following the beast around all day, hoping to collect enough physical remnants of his prey, the Banker, for proper Christian burial. A simple ashtray would suffice.

‡ Refer discreetly to your Dictionary of Received Opinions which you always keep about your person, wherein Flaubert has the last word on the matter … CIRCUS FOLK : Use obscene practices.


  1. Ah, Dr. Lao, I presume! So very nice to run into you again!

  2. Hmmmm, you & the good Doctor crossed paths before, eh? Another refugee from Abalone, I suppose!