Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Lutwidge Dodson, was known primarily for his books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. He did write several other books including A Tangled Tale, Sylvie and Bruno and one of his last works, The Hunting of the Snark, which was published on March 29, 1876.
The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits) is classic Lewis Carroll nonsense verse in which a crew of ten characters – a Bellman, a Boots, a Bonnet-maker, a Barrister, a Broker, a Billiard-marker, a Banker, a Butcher, a Baker, and a Beaver – set out to hunt the Snark, an animal which may turn out to be a highly dangerous Boojum.
After crossing the sea guided by the Bellman’s map of the Ocean—a blank sheet of paper—the hunting party arrives in a strange land. There its members split up to hunt the Snark: “They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care; / They pursued it with forks and hope; / They threatened its life with a railway-share; / They charmed it with smiles and soap.” Several odd adventures later, the Baker calls out that he has found a Snark, but when the others arrive, the Baker has mysteriously disappeared.
They hunted till darkness came on, but they found
Not a button, or feather, or mark,
By which they could tell that they stood on the ground
Where the Baker had met with the Snark.
In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away –
For the Snark was a Boojum, you see.
Carroll’s poem has been variously interpreted as an allegory for tuberculosis, a mockery of a notorious Victorian court case, a satire of the controversies between religion and science, the repression of Carroll’s sexuality, and an anti-vivisection tract. Or perhaps it represents a “voyage of life,” “a tragedy of frustration and bafflement,” or “Carroll’s comic rendition of his fears of disorder and chaos, with the comedy serving as a psychological defense against the devastating idea of personal annihilation.” Right.
Dash It All
This day in 1990 marked the beginning of the Hyphen War in Czechoslovakia. Although the USSR had fallen a year earlier, the official name of the country was still the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. President Václav Havel proposed merely dropping the word Socialist from the name, but Slovak politicians wanted another change – the spelling of the name with a hyphen (i.e., Republic or Federation of Czecho-Slovakia ), as it was spelled from Czechoslovak independence in 1918 until 1920, and again in 1938 and 1939. President Havel agreed to the change, but the Czechoslovak parliament in typical political fashion resolved that the country’s long name was to be spelled without a hyphen in Czech and with a hyphen in Slovak.
This solution was found to be not only dumb but unsatisfactory, and less than a month later, the parliament reversed itself. Problem not solved. Although the Slovaks were demanding a hyphen, the Czechs called it a dash. The Czechs usually use the same term for both; Slovaks use different terms. Thus the Hyphen War began. Oddly enough, the Czechs did not call it the Dash War.
While the Hyphen War was not really a hot war (nor a cold war), it demonstrated differences between Czechs and Slovaks about their identity, that perhaps they really weren’t meant for each other. The slippery slope: the frequent bickering over minor issues, the trial separation, and in 1992, both sides said yes to splitsville. The country was split into two states – the Czech Republic and Slovakia – in what is called the Velvet Divorce (or for some, the Vel-vet Divorce).