The Walrus and the… Butterfly?!

AKA The Walrus and the Carpenter or the… Whatever, Just Make It Three Syllables!

Analyzing Alice in Wonderland books is endless fun. What was the Caterpillar smoking? Did Lewis Carroll hate little boys? Who is the Queen of Hearts, really? Why a rabbit hole??? Countless questions have been discussed by authors, critics, philosophers and fans ad infinitum. But sometimes when it comes to the Alice books, there may actually be less than meets the eye.

The Walrus and the Carpenter for those that need a refresher, is a poem recited to Alice by Tweedledee in the fourth chapter of Through the Looking-Glass. It tells the tale of the aforementioned Walrus and Carpenter tricking some young, ignorant oysters into joining them for a beachside walk, after which they eat the mollusks (presumably) alive while pretending to feel bad about the whole thing. The poem is as creepy as it is long.

Is it possible that The Walrus and the Carpenter is some sort of presentment on the dangers of blindly following one’s leaders into the unknown? Sure, that’s possible. What is almost definitely not possible, however, is that The Walrus and the Carpenter is some sort of religious statement, especially about Jesus Christ. Many folks over the years have naturally wondered if the Carpenter represents, you know, the Carpenter. But Lewis Carroll was deeply religious and super into JC, making that scenario highly unlikely. (How religious? He loved the theater, but would walk out in the middle of plays he didn’t consider pious enough. ) Making the Jesus scenario all but impossible is the fact that LC didn’t give one whit if the Carpenter was a Carpenter or something else.

the walrus and the carpenter or butterfly or baronet

Maybe “didn’t give one whit” is a slight exaggeration, as Carroll did indeed originally write the second carnivorous character as a Carpenter. But when his illustrator John Tenniel protested that Walrus + Carpenter = Lame Combination, LC offered to change Carpenter to Baronet* or Butterfly, if Tenniel preferred to draw one of those instead. Tenniel eventually came around to the Carpenter, and the name of countless oyster bars the world over was forever solidified. It’s definitely hard to believe that LC would be so flexible on this issue if he really had some Jesus issues to work out via the Carpenter. In case you are wondering, this Butterfly/Baronet story comes to us straight from the horse’s mouth in the form of a letter from Lewis Carroll to one of his later illustrators, Harry Furniss. Sorry to burst your bubble, Matt Damon!

Are you surprised that the Carpenter could have been any old thing, as long as it was three syllables?

* If you are reaching for your dictionary, I beat you to it!

baronet: a member of a British hereditary order of honor, ranking below the barons and made up of commoners, designated by Sir before the name





About Heather Haigha

Heather Haigha is your intrepid guide for all adventures under ground, through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole and sometimes even real life! Read her whimsical musings on the Alice Is Everywhere blog, and hear the melodious sound of her voice on the Alice is Everywhere podcast.