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Let me open this review by opining, although I've never met him, that Christopher Myers must have balls of steel. Only such an explanation is possible for his clever audacity in reimagining Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem, "Jabberwocky"*, as being set in a concrete playground, where the battle involving a vorpal blade is rendered as a fierce, stylized game of one-on-one between mismatched ballers.

If you don't know of what I am speaking, check out the cover, which features "the Jabberwock, with eyes of flame":

For those of you who need a refresher in the Jabberwocky* text, I recommend you check out the text online. Longtime readers know I'm a Carroll fan, and that I've posted about nonsense words before.

Now, I should add that Christopher Myers has not monkeyed with Carroll's text, but has merely moved its venue. Check out this splendid spread, for instance, which shows part of the battle in the heart of the poem ("One, two! One, two! and through and through,/the vorpal blade went snicker-snack!/He left it dead, then with its head/he went galumphing back"):

But that is not to say that Christopher Myers didn't add some text to the book. Because at the end of the book, he added some text, which may be my very favorite part of the book, meaning absolutely no slight at all towards his poster-like, primary-based, primal pictures. (Zounds! Alliteration!) Myers added an endnote, which I only wish I could reprint in its entirety, in which he explains how he came to set the battle on a basketball court. He explains how he met with lots of members of the Lewis Carroll Society, and examined Charles Lutwide Dodgson's (aka Carroll's) original diaries, where he found the Mesoamerican word 'ollamalitzli' scribbled in the margins. (Those of you who've been to Chichen Itza know what ollamalitzli is — it's the field sport in which teams try to get a ball through a stone circle mounted high on the walls while preventing the other team from scoring; captain of the winning team gets decapitated to honor the gods.)

I loved this note for how well-written it was and how well-researched it sounded. And really, since Dodgson was involved with the folks who created the Oxford English Dictionary, it didn't seem to me to be beyond the pale that a word like ollamalitzli would appeal to him, had he ever heard it. But the fact is that he may not have. In fact, a wee bit of controversy about the endnote broke out in the New York Times, of all places, after the extremely talented J. Patrick Lewis reviewed the book, and discussed the endnote. Turns out that Myers was just joshing, in a smart-ass way that Carroll would have enjoyed.

The first response printed in the December 2, 2007 issue came from the communications director for the Lewis Carroll Society, who tersely stated that there was no such word in the margins, and then opined that pretending to know what the poem was "about" was naughty (more or less— you can judge for yourself by reading the response here). The LCS response is followed by a letter from Christopher Myers, who has won my undying adoration for the content of his letter, which I've quoted in its entirety below:

To the Editor:

In the author's note of my illustrated version of "Jabberwocky," I suggested that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was undoubtedly familiar with an Aztec ritual sport called ollamalitzli, a sort of proto-basketball. I wrote the author's note in a particularly nonsensical mood, in keeping with the spirit of whimsy found both in Carroll's original poem and in his varied and inconsistent explanations thereof. I thanked for their assistance several fictional members of fictional divisions of the Lewis Carroll Society, including the L.C.S.'s of Mogadishu, Kashmir and Bed-Stuy, again in the spirit of all things droll.

Since the publication of my version of "Jabberwocky" and the subsequent review and praise published by yourselves (thank you very much), a number of strange events have occurred. My neighbors on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn have reported a man in a top hat snooping around my building. Three men with sideburns and a woman with a parasol asked after me at my corner bodega. I suspect that these nefarious Victorians may be emissaries of the Lewis Carroll Society seeking to confront me. While I delight in Carrollian visions of fancy, I am dismayed by the darker side of Victorian life.

Surely the gracious, learned and well-humored members of the Lewis Carroll Society understand the spirit we all appreciate so much, which I have tried to embrace in the book. However, I wish to note, in the public eye, my suspicions regarding zealous Victorians in case some ghastly fate should befall me and I am found trussed up like something out of "The Mikado."

Many thanks to those who have appreciated the book.

Other reasons to love Christopher Myers, besides his illustrations for Jabberwocky and other books, such as the lovely Jazz, written by his father, Walter Dean Myers (who said in LA that he was forced to use Christopher as an illustrator because Walter was "sleeping with his (Chris's) mother") include this interview at Reading Rockets, which you can read or even watch online. My favorite part? "Reading is not like going to Hawaii", for reasons which will become obvious if you take a few minutes to read it.

All of this has been a rather large digression. Myers's illustrated version of Jabberwocky is decidedly a new spin on a poem which generations of kids have loved. His illustrations bring this poem to the attention of a new generation and/or make readers think about this poem in a different way, which is all fine by me. But it sure took some cojones to do it.

*Jabberwocky is from Carroll's second Alice book, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

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( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
Jan. 8th, 2008 11:54 pm (UTC)
Looks like a wonderful and creative adaptation.
Jan. 9th, 2008 12:42 am (UTC)
It's a really exciting pairing, in my opinion.
Jan. 9th, 2008 12:00 am (UTC)
I LOVE those illustrations!
Jan. 9th, 2008 12:42 am (UTC)
Aren't they bold and beautiful? Some of the other ones include girls jumping rope and other playground scenes. So awesome.
Jan. 9th, 2008 01:56 am (UTC)
I wish they were poster size to put up on my boys' walls (although I'd like a jump rope one for me).
Jan. 9th, 2008 12:08 am (UTC)
Wow! Very imaginative interpretation.
Jan. 9th, 2008 12:43 am (UTC)
Isn't it?
Jan. 9th, 2008 12:11 am (UTC)
Whoa!! Fan-freakin-tastic!!!!
Thanks for sharing!
Jan. 9th, 2008 12:43 am (UTC)
Which do you like better, the color, the concept, or the execution?
Jan. 9th, 2008 01:20 am (UTC)
I think the color and the execution. The concept is wild, but it wouldn't necessarily have worked in all media/styles. This works well!
Jan. 9th, 2008 01:32 am (UTC)
Oh, and a big AMEN on that reading is not like going to Hawaii. I'm so glad he points this out-- it's so true, and so rarely said.
Jan. 9th, 2008 01:46 pm (UTC)
I like the rest of what he said (and how he said it) even better: that reading is necessary in the same way that food is. So awesome.
Jan. 9th, 2008 01:54 pm (UTC)
It really is-- that was a great... interview? transcript? (it was all him, so I wasn't sure if this was excerpts or what. But whatever it was, I liked it very much).
Jan. 9th, 2008 02:00 pm (UTC)
It's a transcript of a short film clip he made for the site, I believe.
Jan. 9th, 2008 02:04 pm (UTC)
Ahhhh... that makes sense!!
So these are the highlights.
Very bright highlights, gotta say.
Jan. 9th, 2008 12:19 am (UTC)
oh my goodness. I have to have this book, if just to show kids what you can do if you think outside the box. I wish, wish, wish, I could do that in such a way.
And your post is so amazingly informative about the whole thing. Thank you so much.
Jan. 9th, 2008 12:46 am (UTC)
Isn't that the truth (the outside-the-box-thinking part)? I love that not only did he come up with it, but he used Carrollian obfuscation about how he came up with it in the endnote. So clever.

And it might be worthwhile to explore with kids having them illustrate a different poem, as a hands-on project. Kids haven't yet learned what they "can't" do.
Jan. 9th, 2008 02:41 am (UTC)
Okay, Christopher Myers is brilliant (can't wait to check out those playgrount scenes). Thank you for telling the whole story so well, too. I love that last letter.
best, Anamaria.
Jan. 9th, 2008 01:51 pm (UTC)
Re: Brilliant
The scenes are all amazing, and use of color is awesome, and the presentation of a classic Carroll poem using such a bold font (and spread out as it is) gives it a "fresh" feel. I'm sure you'll love the book.
Jan. 9th, 2008 02:45 am (UTC)
OK. This is just a festival of awesomeness. The sort of rockin' sunrise colors... the whole tweaky way of looking at Jabberwocky (and if anything should be looked at all tweaky-like it's a Lewis Carroll piece)... the endnote, the letter... a festival of awesomeness.
Jan. 9th, 2008 01:54 pm (UTC)
"a festival of awesomeness"
I'm so glad folks are responding to this post in the way it was intended. (When you lead and end with references to testicles, you can never be certain how readers will react. . .)
Jan. 9th, 2008 02:47 am (UTC)
I must have this book. I loved Myers' art in HARLEM, and the whole controversy surrounding the endnote makes me love him more. Great post, Kelly!
Jan. 9th, 2008 01:55 pm (UTC)
Thanks, Kate. And I seriously adore the whole endnote thing. I mean, I loved the endnote when I read it, but I didn't really appreciate its complete nonsense nature until I read the NY Times letters.
Jan. 9th, 2008 04:11 am (UTC)
Wonderful! Super-cool post, Kelly--thanks!
Jan. 9th, 2008 01:56 pm (UTC)
You are most welcome. Although it's mostly Christopher Myers who deserves the thanks, I believe.
Jan. 9th, 2008 01:20 pm (UTC)
Jan. 9th, 2008 01:57 pm (UTC)
I knew you'd like it. Next time you're at a store, check out the whole book (if you can find it). It reminds me of some stuff I remember seeing when I was a kid (early 70s poster art, I think), only there's a complete freshness to it that reads as "new."
Jan. 9th, 2008 03:39 pm (UTC)
early 70s poster art,
EXACTLY! what I was thinking!...
Jan. 9th, 2008 09:59 pm (UTC)
I've always loved Through the Looking-Glass (much better than Wonderland), and it's great to see someone do something new with it. I especially love his attitude in the endnote and the NYT letter--which shows he got all the way into the spirit. Doesn't the LCS remember how over-the-top all the characters in the Looking Glass were?
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )

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