It has been suggested, amongst others by Roger Lancelyn Green, that Lewis Caroll’s nonsense rhym “Jabberwocky”, in Alice through the Looking Glass, is a parody of an older German ballad The Shepherd of the Giant Mountains.  In the ballad a shepherd first burns a Griffin’s nest with its young and then fights off and kills the parent griffin.This ballad was translated into English in blank verse by Carroll’s cousin Menella Bute Smedley in 1846, many years before the appearance of the Alice books.

On the other hand the historian, Sean B. Palmer, has suggested that Carroll was inspired by a section from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and he cites the lines from Act I, Scene I : “The graves stood tenantless, and the sheeted dead/Did squeak and gibber in the Roman streets“.

Jabberwocky has been translated into a number of languages but here is an ingenious version titled Thermowocky, written by Alex Pelle, that is very possibly fairly unknown.  It appeared in American Scientist 46:116A way back in 1960.


’Twas quantig and the vuscy graph
Unscrewed its curves with shrill delight;
The beaty ewes began to laugh
And the slismal logs took flight.’

’Beware the Entropy Beast, my son!
The mouth that sucks, the breath that cools!
Beware the Bolzman bird, and shun
The chattering caloric ghouls!’

He took his dritting pen in hand:
Long tome the beast of heat he sought –
The he rested ny the Plink-Plack tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in thermal thought he stood,
The Entropy Beast, with with eyes of flame,
Came slurping through the melting wood,
And siphoned as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through.
The branksome pen went snicker-snack!
The head, the feet and now the heat,
Released came streaming back.

‘And hast though slain the Entropy Beast?
Accept this laurel for your head!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
The glarvish thief of heat is dead!’

’Twas quantig and the vuscy graph
Unscrewed its curves with shrill delight;
The beaty ewes began to laugh
And the slismal logs took flight.’



The Walrus and the Carpenter

While serving time as a lecturer in Biochemistry at the University of Stellenbosch, I wrote the following in Afrikaans:

Die Walrus en die, Timmerman
(Uit Alice deur die Spieël van Lewis Caroll, soos vertaal deur André P. Brink en aangepas deur Edward Foster)

‘Nou is dit tyd,’ sê die Dosent toe,
‘Om gedagtes uit te stal,
Oor peptiede, ensieme, pH’s en ewewigte,
Kragte wat vasklou of wegstoot en,
‘n Duisternis reaksies met all die
Metaboliese geheime van plante en diere.’

‘Dis jammer, né,’ së die Dosent,
‘Om so met jul te maak,
Nadat jul dit so ver gebring het –
En daarby gedink het die antwoorde is raak!’
Die Dosent grynslag grimmig en sê,
‘Gee my rooi pen aan, dis al laat!’

Die Dosent sug: ‘Ek ween oor julle,
My hart is vol medelye.’
Hy snik soos hy huil terwyl hy soek
Om ‘n vraestel beet te kry.
Sy sakdoek hou hy oopgevou
Dat sy trane daarin gly.