A Raven and a Writing Desk

Posted On December 1, 2009

Filed under Samuel M.

Comments Dropped 13 responses

In chapter eight, “A Mad Tea-Party”, Alice attends tea-time with Dormouse (who is asleep), Mad Hatter, and March Hare. She walks to the table and sits down next to March Hare even though the animals were yelling “No room! No room!”. The group then began to converse. Randomly, Mad Hatter asks Alice, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”. After this, Alice, Hare, and Hatter then begin to talk about random things. A little while later, Hatter asks “Have you guessed the riddle yet?” Alice didn’t know the answer so she asked Hatter for the answer. Hatter simply replied with “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

This one riddle, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk,” has been analyzed. Scholars throughout the years have tried to find the meaning – the answer to this seemingly un-answerable riddle. Carroll himself was pestered so much he released an official statement in the preface of his next Alice book that was supposed to answer the riddle. The preface said, “Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end it front”. Even after the creator of the riddle gave an “answer” scholars still questioned it. Denis Crutch even said that in the original preface Carroll had written, ‘never’ was supposed to be spelled ‘nevar’ (raven backwards). Even after this, scholars still tried to find, or make, their own answers.

This brings me to the question:

“Have scholars over-analyzed the Mad Hatter’s Quote?”

After all, Carroll did write the story for children. Maybe the Hatter’s quote was just an excuse to get the real Alice to laugh. Or maybe the quote was just put in the story to provide comic relief and release tension. I believe that scholars have over analyzed the riddle. But this isn’t just about me. Tell me what YOU think in the comments below.

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13 Responses to “A Raven and a Writing Desk”

  1. David Bill

    this has ben a trend among a lot of posts i’ve seen written by your peers. symbolism is a beautiful thing as it is in the eye of the beholder. When you are able to enjoy a text on different levels depending upon your life experiences, I believe it makes your connection to the book even stronger.

  2. Ben Wilkoff

    I do not believe in over-analyzing. As long as you can back up your findings, there is nothing wrong with reframing the story in your own way. How else would you be able to make the story your own? I want to know what you think of the riddle, though. What is your interpretation?

    As for the case that it is only a “children’s story”, I think something is only for “children” if it is read by children. A story is a story. If it is read and enjoyed by adults, then isn’t it an adult story too?

  3. Kierston R.

    This is a wonderful riddle (and a wonderful conversation)that has puzzled people for years. I will agree that this riddle has been over analyzed and over thought by far to many people. I see this as a question that is simply asked for fun, not to be answered because, it would be no fun if we could answer everything. You must remember the context in wich this question was asked, and if you do you will see that the Mad Hatter never wanted an answer, only a reaction. Another important fact to think about is who asked the riddle. The Mad Hatter is on of the craziest people in all of Wonderland. All of these factors give new meaning to the riddle but, that is just me over analyzing just like everyone else.

  4. Alex F.

    I think part of the reason that scholars just HAD to find an answer to that riddle is the same reason that nobody likes cliff-hangers. Human beings just have to know the answer to everything! It irritated me to no end the first time i read that book, because it HAD to have an answer! It just had to! I agree that people might be over-analyzing the story, but on this point I’m kind of glad they did. I finally got an answer, didn’t I? That riddle would have bugged me to my grave. I do like the questions sheb. (the first comment) posed. This is a part of a logic game that we play throughout our lives. We’ll always be finding supposedly “unanswered” riddles that we must answer for ourselves.

    • Alex F.

      sorry, the comment before mine. Typo.

    • Samuel M.

      I understand that it’s a natural human tendency to know as much as possible, but there has to be a certain point where one must stop and ask him or herself ”how is this really going to benefit me?”. After you analyzed the riddle did anything life changing happen? Did finding the answer to the riddle change your viewpoint on anything?

  5. sheb.

    Why does language have riddles, paradox, irony, hyperbole, symbolism, and apostrophe. Will the answer to this also explain why human beings love humor, games, movies and have to also deal with real life challenges? Is developing logic, whether using math or language helpful? is Alice in Wondrland part of the equation?

  6. Brittany M

    I’m glad that you said the answer to the riddle because I honestly thought there truly was no answer to the riddle, it could be due to sleepiness that i forgot ,but I am unsure. I agree that scholars have completely over analyzed this riddle along with many other parts of the story. Scholars are constantly picking apart stories or other forms of entertainment ,but at the end of the day does it honestly matter what the deeper meaning is? We have all constantly brought up the idea that this book is continuously being over analyzed ,but when you think about it we are doing the exact same thing. It is almost like it is our human nature to pick it all apart ,but in the end no one truly cares about what deep methodical answer is recieved. All they care about I whether they received some form of entertainment while reading the book.

    • Samuel M.

      You’re welcome. Scholars do pick apart stories and other forms of media to the point that it just gets annoying, and most of them do it just to do it. It’s like there is no intentional purpose in analyzing whatever they analyze. I also have to agree with you that we are analyzing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but you have to remember we were pushed down the rabbit hole by a man with good intentions.

  7. Rachel L.

    Why not just put “What is the meaning of life?” because apparently this riddle is so very important that we have to analyze and analyze until every fiber of our being aches with knowledge. Why do we put ourselves through so much pain and tire to find out the answer to such meaningless questions? What good is going to come of you discovering what is similar about a raven and a writing desk? What is the “porpoise” of that? This is a children’s story! Let’s remember that as we read it and not go down that never-ending road of analysis.

    • Samuel M.

      Those are the exact questions I was asking myself when I read chapter nine. I also asked the same questions when reading the annotated parts, as well as writing this blog entry.

      And I find myself saying “This is a children’s story! Let’s remember that as we read it and not go down that never-ending road of analysis.” all the time while reading this book.

  8. Ryan S.

    The over-analysis of Alice has been a primary fear of mine since the beginning of this project. I already had fears of Alice becoming a textbook for a professor to sometimes pull of his shelf. This fear has been my main objection to this process known only as “The Alice Project”.
    This being taken in mind, I would like to say I agree with you. This quote, while having an air of mystery, is in truth nothing greater than a joke invented by Lewis Carroll to amuse young Alice. So why is it that scholars and students alike leap at the opportunity to analyze this quote? Because, as I hinted at above, this is the unanswered quote. Lewis Carroll literally asks us a question, and we feel the need to answer it.

    • Samuel M.

      I also feared the over-analyzing of Alice. After we dissected Lord of the Flies, I was curious to see how we would go about analyzing this story. But then it dawned on me that it was just a children’s book with slight symbolism. The symbolism is also sporadic and it doesn’t stay the same from chapter to chapter.

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