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When I was in college I had a class on 19th century literature that I really enjoyed. There was a lot of good stuff written in English literature during the 19th century, Dickens, Lewis Carroll, the great romantic poets such as Shelley and Byron. Some of the memorable 19th century authors led lives that were as fascinating and eccentric as anything they ever wrote, which made the course even more enjoyable. A few of them led lives so bohemian that if they had written them as novels no publishing house would have ever touched them.
Lewis Carroll, who wrote Alice in Wonderland, was one of the odder writers of English Literature. He didn't do anything particularly outrageous during the course of his life, he was nothing like Shelley and Byron who were serious party animals, but he wrote some crazy stuff. He must have loved witty nonsense, because there is a lot of it in the Alice stories, which is kind of weird considering that he was a highly educated and rather brilliant mathematician. We tend to think of mathematicians as being people who are engaged in the business of the complete opposite of nonsense. They deal in numbers and formulas and equations and stuff that has to make complete sense or its pretty much useless.
Carroll wrote a book called, The Hunting of the Snark, which is, from beginning to end, utter nonsense.
It is extremely witty and entertaining nonsense, but a complete departure from anything you would readily recognize as logic. It is just charming nonsense. Nevertheless, there are people all over the world who have belonged to organizations for over 100 years who were and are completely convinced that there is some kind of hidden message in the book and have dedicated their lives to finding it. Needless to say, no one ever has, but like all fanatics, they are undeterred by failure, even 100 years of it. There were several students in my class who were convinced of a hidden message in The Hunting of the Snark, and spent numerous hours discussing it endlessly. Thus I learned, somewhat against my will, that some people have thought that the secret is contained in a riddle, others that it is encoded in the text, and yet others who believed that it could only be discovered by the use of complex mathematical formulas based on dimensions found at Oxford University, where Carroll spent his entire adult life. I could never get on board with any of these theories because I always thought that Carroll was just having a bit of fun. Maybe his nonsense writing was a refreshing departure from the overwhelming logic of mathematics. Maybe he just wanted a little nonsense break as a way of relaxing. My fellow students who were desperately seeking something more mysterious and meaningful in the book were quite disgusted with me. I believe they developed a sincere belief in my simplemindedness.
I'm sorry, but I can't help thinking that sometimes things in history and literature that we don't understand are no more meaningful that people having a laugh. Look at those people who went out in the middle of the night and created those complex giant crop circles in England as a joke. It must have been a lot of hard work measuring and creating those things in the dark but that didn't seem to deter them. I suppose it was worth it to them when people started carrying on about aliens and whatnot the next day.
To this day there are all sorts of people that believe that the Nazca lines in Peru that cover hundreds of square feet are signals meant for aliens flying around in flying saucers. What's to say that they are really anything more mysterious than a bunch of lads who had a little too much joy juice and decided to have a bit of a lark and draw some crazy things on the ground that can only be seen from the surrounding mountain tops? Maybe they did it on a dare or a bet or to impress some girls and decided to do more when they saw everyone running around the next day declaring that the Gods had an art class during the night. Frankly, I can't really see the significance of drawing a giant monkey or spider as a signal to aliens anyway. What's a giant monkey supposed to signify? Seems like an awful lot of hard work to draw a monkey when you could have just made a big “X” marks the spot or something. If I were an alien looking to land I would have found a giant monkey completely ridiculous. I mean, if you were piloting a flying saucer would you rather land it on a giant “X” or a giant monkey? Unless, of course, the aliens were monkeys, in which case I guess it makes more sense. Or not.
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