To the illustrator Henry Holiday, Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark was a “tragedy”. That might have been Carroll’s intention in 1874, when he started to write the poem as one of the many chapters of his Sylvie and Bruno project. But when the poem was published as a separate book in 1876 with more than 500 lines, it turned out to be a tragicomedy.
Page from a letter (1876-01-04) by C.L. Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) to Henry Holiday about Holiday’s illustration to the chapter The Beaver’s Lesson. The two lines at the bottom are notes written by Henry Holiday.
The Hunting of the Snark needs to be read at least twice. It is crossover literature. You read it differently at different ages. The book is an excellent example for crossover literature (and crossover picture books): Children read it as a nonsense story. It is “dark”, but funny nevertheless. Adult readers (at age hundred-forty or so) know more. Some of them will recognize the textual and pictorial references in Lewis Carroll, Henry Holiday and Joseph Swain’s tragicomedy..
Henry Holiday’s illustration to the final chapter of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark has been published almost 150 years ago. Children probably will not understand that the illustration is a reference to the burning of Thomas Cranmer. He and the Baker (the ambivalent hero in The Hunting of the Snark) perhaps hoped that after having left their 42 articles behind, the Boojum won’t get them.
The image serves to compare two illustrations:
Henry Holiday’s illustration to the chapter The Vanishing in Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (1876). The complete illustration is on the upper left side. A 135° couterclockwise rotated detail from that illustration has been rendered on the upper right side of this comparison image.
Source: 1st edition of The Hunting of the Snark (April 1876).
Faiths Victorie in Romes Crueltie (published by Thomas Jenner, c. 1630). Immediately to the right side of the fire, Thomas Cranmer is depicted burning his hand.
License: CC BY-SA 4.0.
Source: Folger Digital Image Collection
The rotated detail from Henry Holiday’s illustration neither is a “claw” nor a “beak”. I assume that it depicts a fire. And there is a hand in both fires. Carroll and Holiday almost too successfully made sure that the readers of The Hunting of the Snark don’t understand their references to Thomas Cranmer too early: Carroll’s tragycomedy was published in 1876. In 1994, Angus MacIntyre suggested: “The Baker’s 42 Boxes are the original Protestant Articles of 1553, with Thomas Cranmer’s name on each.” in The Reverend Snark, Jabberwocky 23(1994), p. 51~52. Henry Holiday’s pictorial reference (I started to search for it in 2010) to Thomas Cranmer’s burning confirms the link between The Hunting of the Snark and Thomas Cranmer.