Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sinister Snark Exaggerator

I've been a bit slack lately in my commentaries upon my GN version of Lewis Carroll's Hunting of the Snark, so I give you not one but two commentaries on this image, my frontispiece for Fit the Fifth … aren't you lucky?

Commentary Number One:

1. It's not a hunting of a snark, where the snark is the object of the chase … no, it's a hunting undertaken by the snark. This simple grammatical confusion is an object lesson in prosodic clarity for those who care about such things.

The Butcher and the Beaver are beyond that sort of thing by now. They're into a sort of kinky ecclesiastical cosplay based upon the works of Hieronymous Bosch and James Tissot. Best not get too close to either of them or you might lessen …

Commentary Number Two:

2. After all that hellish ruckus in the infernal Malbowge of Fit the Fourth (sorcerers, falsifiers, circus folk and magazine publishers), we shall now ascend ad astra, as it were, to the quieter purlieus of Fit the Fifth. This canto, the longest Fit of Lewis Carroll’s Hunting of the Snark, is known amongst illustrators as the Purgatorial Fit, for its immense length requires the consumption of vast quantities of cheap whiskey and hot curries to keep up one’s strength.

Of course, in former times, illustrators such as myself needed no such artificial stimulants to come up with the goods. Employed as we usually were in the embellishment of manuscripts by various monastic establishments, we busied ourselves with the production of all manner of fantastical and grotesque creatures in our spare time. These bizarre critters, sometimes called grylli, were invented by Antiphilos the Egyptian, according to Pliny the Elder, and they proved very handy indeed in the spicing up of what was otherwise a pretty dull sort of life in your typical 12th-century scriborium. However, the grylli soon escaped from their cages and ran amuck, as such artificial creations always do, hooting loudly while drunk on the front lawns of right-thinking folk such as St. Bernard, who had this to say to the cops later on …

"What are these ridiculous monstrosities doing in the cloisters where monks pray and study? To what purpose are these unclean apes, fierce lions, these half men … quadrupeds with a dragon’s tail … a dragon with a quadruped’s tail … a horse ending as a goat … a horned animal ending as a horse."

What purpose indeed! Let’s ask this typologically portmanteau-ish gentleman that we see pictured above, sitting on his rock and minding his own business, let’s ask him what he thinks of these oddly unreal grotesqueries that are popping in and out of Nowhere (or Unwhere, to be precise) to trouble his devotional contemplations.

Is he St. Anthony, possessing the legendary self-control of the Father of Monasticism, and thus ultimately indifferent to these sensory diversions, dismissing them as Satan’s spurious blandishments and threats? Or is he the Butcher, possessing no discernable cerebral aptitude at all and thus ultimately indifferent to these sensory diversions, dismissing them as the Beaver’s feminine blandishments and threats?

Yes, for some time now, we have suspected the Beaver of having little enthusiasm for hunting the Snark. It seems more and more evident that her function is that of a clumsy sort of romantic distraction, a distraction designed by a certain someone who wishes us to relax our vigilance and our powers of concentration — but to no avail, dear reader, for our watchword remains Snark!

Yes, it’s Snark that we are really hunting here, it’s Snarks and Boojums and all the other imaginary paraphenalia of idle illustrators, sensorily-deprived Early Christian anchorites and versifying Oxford dons! This is the Beaver’s Lesson to the Butcher!

It was a Snark that St. Anthony was hunting in the Antiphilian Egyptian Desert, it was a Snark that St. Bernard banished from the overheated monastic bullpens of the Middle Ages, and yes, it was a Snark that slapped a funnel atop its head and blustered his way into Hieronymus Bosch’s studio by claiming to be a Gov’ment Man hunting down an escaped gryllus.

The cheek! The nerve! I cannot countenance her any longer, yes, away with this Beaver’s Lesson, yes, get thee back to a punnery!

Of course, what is the snark hunting? She's hunting for readers, of course! As they lessen

NB. Flout 'em and scout 'em, and snark 'em and ink 'em; thought is free.


  1. Yesterday I thought I understood everything you wrote here. Today I'm not so sure. But I've learnt was a Grylli is.
    I enjoyed listening to your interview from the earlier post and I came away learning what a Boojum was. And I might even order the book!
    This is a super illustration btw.Great links too. Inspires me to go back to my desk and draw some Grylli.

  2. I've been posting in a mad rush recently, between family things and work … it shows, eh?

    Grylli are the doodles of monks & scribes, all of us who are (happily) chained to our drawing boards for years at a time