||A Review of: Jabberwocky
by Olga Stein
"Jabberwocky", the mock-heroic' poem that is famously
part of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, is rich in
word-play and sound dynamics. The poem, which combines proper words
with nonsense-type words, steers the reader towards a general grasp
of the events described, but its full meaning is evasive. Carroll's
word inventions serve to mock not just the heroics' of the young
man, but also the gibberish-like admonitions of the father, rendering
dubious all of his pronouncements, including those that pertain to
Stphane Jorisch, whose illustrated Jabberwocky, has recently garnered
a Governor General's Award for Children's book illustration, exploits
both the interpretive possibilities and the satirical intent of
Carroll's poem, but if Carroll had merely laced' his poem with
irony, staying lighthearted on the whole, Jorisch has been far more
heavy-handed in his visual treatment. Coupled with his brilliant,
disturbing visuals, the poem takes on a much darker mien; and since
Jorisch's drawings appear not to alter the meaning of Carroll's
strange-sounding words, whose significance must be inferred from
their resemblance to actual vocabulary, but to extract what was
there all along, this visual retelling is one the reader can easily
Looking at the pictures, one can well imagine how, on a town's
outskirts, giant, otherworldly flowers with their overgrown pistils
and stamens could be the "Brillig and the slithy toves"
doing their "gyre and gimble" sway in the blowing
"wabe". In the town itself, weary citizens, the
"borogroves", solitary women-widows probably-go meekly
about their business, while men with amputated limbs in soldiers'
overcoats, the "raths" (those full of wrath perhaps),
each with his small cart of belongings and bottles of booze,
"outgrabe" or congragate outside the window of a store
selling televisions. The broadcast is the same on all of the screens.
Ubiquitous is the face of a man in military attire, a picture that
evokes Orwell's 1984, and its joyless society, one whose every
aspect is grimly coloured by war.
>From the street Jorisch takes us to the more intimate setting of
a dressmaker's home. Here we see the paterfamilias, still wearing
his old army cap. With the mother conspicuously absent, the retired
soldier runs his home and business in military style, shouting
instructions as his daughter serves supper or as his son kneels to
fix a dress. In the family room a television is tuned to the same
"Big Brother" image; a general, in endless variation on
the same theme, reports on the nation's enemy, the Jabberwock. The
dictatorial father emasculates his fully-grown son, spurring him,
at the same time, to assert his manhood by joining the battle against
the Jabberwock. Clearly, this belligerent man is a reflection of
the prevalent, national spirit. Reluctantly, the son complies, and
we see him searching for, ultimately killing the Jabberwocky, and
then "gulumphing" excitedly back, with the creature's
body in a basket, happy to have finally earned his father's approval.
Jorisch'ss drawings are a fascinating mix of the beautiful and ugly.
There are clever oriental touches (the son's samurai-like war dress)
and there's something of Eastern European poster art in his work-an
unsparing intellectual quality enriches every illustration. Jabberwocky
is the first book in Kids Can Press's Visions in Poetry series.
It's a winning kickoff.