by Lewis Carroll, Stephane Jorisch
ISBN: 1553370791

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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 the Jabberwock.
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 accept.
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.

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