Through the Looking-Glass "There's Nothing Like Eating Hay When You're Faint"

Lewis Carroll

"There's Nothing Like Eating Hay When You're Faint"

Context: The Looking-Glass House, which Alice enters when the mirror above her fireplace turns into mist, is a reversed world that serves as the setting for the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865, by the Reverend Charles L. Dodgson, under the pen name of Lewis Carroll. It is a place where everything is illogically logical in a backhanded way. It is peopled by dream-world figures from Mother Goose verses, by talking flowers, and by chess men. Well-known poems are parodied in "Tweedledum and Tweedledee," "I give thee all," and even "Hushabye Baby." The author introduces one poem, "Jabberwocky," that he had written as a scholarly joke fifteen years earlier, in parody of an Anglo-Saxon poem, while he was studying at Christ Church College, Oxford. Now, when Alice meets Humpty Dumpty, he explains its meaning and gives her a lecture on portmanteau or suitcase words, that pack two meanings into one. In the line: "'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves," he explains that "slithy" combines "slimy" and "lithe," and "toves" are "something like badgers–they're something like lizards, and they are something like corkscrews." While children are being amused by the funny situations, the author's virtuosity with words and his vast store of whimsy cannot help impressing adults. As Alice and Humpty Dumpty talk, a crash shakes the forest. Soldiers come running from all directions, followed by horsemen, and finally by the White King, along with his two messengers. He explains to Alice that he must have two,–to fetch and carry: one to fetch and one to carry. The exhaustion of one messenger causes the king to become alarmed and hungry.

". . . I feel faint–give me a ham-sandwich!"
On which the Messenger, to Alice's great amusement, opened a bag that hung round his neck, and handed a sandwich to the King, who devoured it greedily.
"Another sandwich!" said the King.
"There's nothing but hay left now," the Messenger said, peeping into the bag.
"Hay, then," the King murmured in a faint whisper.
Alice was glad to see that it revived him a good deal. "There's nothing like eating hay when you're faint," he remarked to her as he munched away.
"I should think throwing cold water over you would be better," Alice suggested: "–or some sal-volatile."
"I didn't say there was nothing better," the King replied. "I said there was nothing like it." . . .