Why Is A Raven Like A Writing Desk? (05/12)

Possibly the politest question that the Mad Hatter asks of anyone, is a riddle of VERY dubious quality. It’s that one up the top, heading this whole piece of writing. But here, let me provide you with more context:

“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
“No, I give it up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.
“Nor I,” said the March Hare.
Alice sighed wearily. “I think you might do something better with the time,” she said, “than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers.”

Step aside, Mr J Depp - you cannot compare to Mr M Short.

Step aside, Mr J Depp – you cannot compare to Mr M Short.

Thus, one of literature’s greatest mysteries was born. Lewis Carroll never intended to answer this riddle, framing it as an example of just how unhinged the Hatter has become, but fan bases are rabid – they make demands. And so answers had to be found, and whilst some are quite clever, none were the intended answer.

(You can find some answers here – have a good read!)
Whilst a big fan of Carroll’s writing as a whole, this particular scenario is one that I often keep front of mind, if tucked slightly to the side. The part I try to learn from it is, “Don’t ask a question in your writing to which you do not have a ready answer”. As I already said, Carroll didn’t appear to ever want or need to answer this question in his story, but later he was forced to come up with one, which was added as a foreword or note in later editions. I don’t like that – I wish in a way he’d been able to dig his heels in and say “no, you’ve missed the point”, but I guess it’s hard to do so when the readers and your publishers are saying otherwise. But I do think it’s a good lesson – for questions or otherwise.
I find for my stories, my characters and events to ring true, they need to fit into reality. To do this, I need to ask myself questions about why, or who, or when this happens, and it’s not until I can answer these that I am comfortable it’s the right way to go. In the story about Port Amble this is a constant circling exercise, as I need to be sure the places I’m making fit, the people are engaged in their own lives, and the main character intersects with them in a realistic fashion. And yes, I too have asked questions in my book to which you will not receive an immediate, or even an obvious answer. But I have learnt from Carroll’s plight, and I am not going to leave such a cliffhanger of a mystery.
Not unless I can think up something REALLY good…

~ by nick on December 5, 2013.

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