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13 January 2014

"Why is a raven like a writing desk?" - About the Mad Hatter and my new writing desk!


As soon as I realised that the English word for what my boyfriend handcrafted me for Christmas was "writing desk" I couldn't help but think about the Alice In Wonderland quote, when the Mad Hatter asks her: "Why is a raven like a writing-desk?".
I actually never thought too much about it because for me it was an obvious non-sense question, typical of Lewis Carroll (author of the Alice in Wonderland adventures) way of writing but out of pure curiosity (there's a bit of Alice in all of us after all ihih) I decided to check on the internet if I could find something about this sentence, if it had a subtle meaning for example. After a few clicks I found myself on the Wikipedia page of the Mad Hatter character and while reading I discovered some interesting fact about him too. For example, why are him and the March Hare always having tea?

The Hatter explains to Alice that he and the March Hare are always having tea because, when he tried to sing for the Queen of Hearts at her celebration, she sentenced him to death for "murdering the time," but he escapes decapitation. In retaliation, Time (referred to as a "Him") halts himself in respect to the Hatter, keeping him and the March Hare stuck at 6:00 forever. The tea party, when Alice arrives, is characterised by switching places on the table at any given time, making short, personal remarks, asking unanswerable riddles and reciting nonsensical poetry, all of which eventually drive Alice away.


I also discovered that the name "Mad Hatter" was clearly inspired by the phrase "as mad as a hatter". Mercury was used in the process of curing felt used in some hats, making it impossible for hatters to avoid inhaling the mercury fumes given off during the hat making process; hatters and mill workers thus often suffered mad hatter disease, mercury poisoning causing neurological damage including confused speech and distorted vision.

Hat making was the main trade in Stockport, near where Carroll grew up, and it was not unusual then for hatters to appear disturbed or confused; many died early as a result of mercury poisoning. However, the Hatter does not exhibit the symptoms of mercury poisoning, which include "excessive timidity, diffidence, increasing shyness, loss of self-confidence, anxiety, and a desire to remain unobserved and unobtrusive." The Hatter and the March Hare are initially referred to as "both mad" by the Cheshire Cat.


Back to the riddle, it appears in the chapter "A Mad Tea Party". The Hatter asks the much-noted riddle and when Alice gives up, the Hatter admits: "I haven't the slightest idea." 
Lewis Carroll originally intended the riddle to be without an answer; but after many requests from readers, he and others — including puzzle expert Sam Loyd — suggested possible answers! 
In his preface to the 1896 edition, Carroll wrote:

Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter’s Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer: "Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat; and it is nevar* put with the wrong end in front!" This, however, is merely an afterthought; the riddle as originally invented had no answer at all.

*Note that "nevar" is "raven" spelled "with the wrong end in front" (that is, backwards).

Loyd proposed a number of alternative solutions to the riddle, including "Because Poe wrote on both" and "Because the notes for which they are noted are not noted for being musical notes." 

I personally love Loyd's "Because Poe wrote on both" being I a deep fan of Mr Edgar.

BUT, back to my writing desk! Here are the pictures:



Isn't it gorgeous? :D My boyfriend made it for me out of a bare piece of wood and I'm so proud of him. This is officially the best gift ever received! Surely one of a kind and done with so much love. He didn't have all the appropriate tools to make it but with his genius and creativity he managed to make it anyway..in 3 days only by the way!! :P


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