Alice in process…

Instead of the question “Who is Alice?” there are now paths leading to what Alice might come to be…

10 Sep 2010

The Hunting of the Snark by Ralph Steadman







After Alice in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there (1872), The Hunting of the Snark (1876) is the third masterpiece of the Lewis Carroll’s nonsense trilogy. Even though its not so broadly know, The Hunting of the Snark flies at least so high as the Alice books in matters of creativity, but for many, it presents even bigger and more scaring enigmas. The HOS is a tragic-comic poem over which an unstable, sensitive soul might very well go mad. Certainly it’s not children who ought to read this nonsensical epic, which should be read by

Sages and gray-haired philosophers… in order to study that darkest problem of metaphysics, the borderland between reason and unreason, and the nature of the most erratic of spiritual forces, humor, which certainly dances between the two. That we do find a pleasure in certain long and elaborate stories, in certain complicated and curious forms of diction, which have no intelligible meaning whatever, is not a subject for children to play with; it is a subject for psychologists to go mad over. (1)




Ralph Steadman



According to Edward Guiliano, although lacking an Alice, The HOS is in many ways similar to the Alice books. It, too, is first a humorous and entertaining fantasy, and it, too, is laced with philosophical depth, social satire, linguistic playfulness, mathematical and logic paradoxes, and a layer of subtle humour. As in the Alices, there is a tension in the Snark between the comic tone and the underlying anxieties. And while Victorian readers would have dismissed the thought that the Snark, or the Alices, were composed of inner layers dark with seriousness, critics today find dreams, death, probing into the nature of being, reminders of the inescapability of time, and a mythic quest motif figuring in all three works.



Ralph Steadman


The HOS as the Alice’s books is a history of an Adventure. It tells the travel of one eccentric crew – a Boots, a Barrister, a Broker, a Billiard Maker, a Banker, a Beaver, a Baker, a Bonnet-maker and a Butcher – that sail together in a strange ship commanded by one curious Bellman. The reason of their trip is to find and capture one mythical creature: the Snark.


Ralph Steadman


The HOS is a poem with 141 stanzas with 4 verses each, divided in eight chapter or “fits”: The Landing, The Bellman’s Speech, The Baker’s Tale, The Hunting, The Beaver’s Lesson, The Barrister Dream, The Banker’s Fate and The Vanishing. It “describes with infinite humour the impossible voyage of an improbable crew to find an inconceivable creature”.



Ralph Steadman




Ralph Steadman was one of the most important contemporary artists who have illustrated the Alice books and The Hunting of the Snark. His illustrations are deeply influenced by the tradition of Carroll’s illustrators, but at the same time, are very original and modern. Steadman’s illustrations have an adult and critical appeal, which is unusual and remarkable in the story of book illustrations. The drawings show a strong coherence and style, associate with one perfect technique. In the last years Steadman have been recognized as one of the most original and authentic English contemporary illustrators. He had a career of almost forty years of “satiric drawings, visions and phantasms.” He is even considered as representing the “happy and morbid reality happened in a mill of a modern Bruegel.”(Novel Observateur) “His scratches are corrosive, poisoning, despaired.” (Le Martin)





Ralph Steadman


The humor and the system of references of the Snark and the Alice books appear in Steadman’s illustrations with irony and perspicacity. The drawings have one strong satirical mood, presenting one complex system of references, which links the text and both historical contexts: the Victorian and the contemporary one. As almost any other illustrator has done before, Steadman concentrates his attention to certain complex questions in Carroll’s works, that scares the reader’s imaginary. “My drawings are an expression of what can be read in between the lines.” Steadman doesn’t try just to please the reader, but to emphasize the cruelty, the humor, the satire and the nonsensical aspects of the text. The representation of the characters of the crew that hunts the Snark is peculiar, as well as the nonsensical mood of the situations. The understanding of his images is not immediate, but much on the contrary, is subtle and complex as Carroll’s texts.



Read the hole HOS poem HERE

Know more about the book in
 JUST THE PLACE FOR A SNARK by Mahendra Singh.


(1) The Library of the Nursery, Lunacy and Letter,1958. apud. GARDNER, Martin. The Annotated Snark. Penguin Books, England, 1962.







Ralph Steadman


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