Surely you have read of the beast in Carroll’s work; that manxome thing hidden behind a veil of language. Over the course of a handful of stanzas, the Jabberwock is sought and allegedly slain by a nameless hero, who then brings its head to his father as a trophy. Shortly thereafter, something curious happens. Despite the gory evidence in his son’s hands, the figure asks him a question that seems somewhat out of place:
“Hast thou slain the Jabberwock?”
After the celebratory outburst that follows, the first stanza is then repeated in its unsettling entirety, marking the end of the poem. The legend has been recounted and the battle has been won, yet the universe has somehow remained in a steady state. The sounds of victory have been drowned out once more by the slithiness of toves and the outgrabitude of mome raths. Something is clearly missing.
There is, perhaps, a solution to this puzzle. Even though the monster is only referred to as "the Jabberwock" throughout the poem, the title is actually “Jabberwocky-“ a mutation which goes entirely unexplained. In a poem that is largely centered around language and context, it is difficult to believe that this difference was not deliberately introduced.
Given this, suppose for a moment, “jabberwocky” is a plural noun, for which “jabberwock” alone is the singular. In reading the title of the poem, the reader then obtains access to information that the hero and his father will never have. The beast slain by our beamish boy is just one among many in a wilderness of terrible things with eyes of flame. Their sense of triumph over darkness is built on the foolhardy assumption that there is only one such behemoth. When the father asks “hast thou slain the Jabberwock?” he reveals a sense of uncertainty- perhaps he’s already thought it dead once, or even remembers taking a vorpal sword to its neck himself.
Carroll’s monster may yet have further depth. When the first stanza repeats, time has rewound to the poem’s beginning, producing what can be recognized as a strange loop. If this interpretation is correct, the reader is experiencing something eternal: perhaps it is a single hero damned to slay jabberwocks one after the other for all time, or perhaps it is generational in nature: the son believes he has slain the Jabberwock, then grows old to discover that it yet lives, and sends his own son to finish what he started. This happens every time the poem is read, whether it be by someone tangible, or Alice herself.
If this repetition by the reader is truly the instigating force, then, perhaps, from another angle, the valves of the Jabberwock’s heart are actually the inky tendrils of its own printed name. Whenever read aloud, the cadence of the reader’s voice serves as its pulse, reanimating the beast’s corpse and pumping black blood through its tulgey veins. Though the vorpal sword of the tongue ensures that the beast is beheaded through and through each time, that last stanza always returns. The Jabberwock itself is then a jabberwocky: an infinite repetition of its own monstrosity.
Now, I must ask you, dear reader: hast thou slain the Jabberwock? No matter your answer, the text will always be there, waiting for you to read it once more.