A Little Bit of Nonsense

Along with many others, I have often wondered: why is a raven like a writing desk? Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (whose pen name was ‘Lewis Carroll’) posed this riddle in his literary nonsense work of Alice in Wonderland (1865). In the story, Alice is having a tea party with the Mad Hatter when he asks her this question. At first the matter is dropped but a little while later he brings it up with her again–

“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.”

So, does the riddle have an answer?

Carroll was asked this so many times himself that in the 1896 edition of the book he felt compelled to answer these questioners with a published answer.

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, viz: ‘Because it can produce a few notes, tho 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.

Okay. So he didn’t intend for there to be an answer but he thought of a couple answers over the years he considered the riddle. I Googled and found out others have thought of more. I find them quite amusing, so here’s part of the list of answers to why a raven is like a writing desk.

  • Because the notes for which they are noted are not noted for being musical notes. (Sam Loyd, 1914)
  • Because Poe wrote on both. (Sam Loyd, 1914)
  • Because there is a B in both and an N in neither. (Aldous Huxley, 1928) –Haha, very funny. This one might be my favorite.
  • Because it slopes with a flap. (Cyril Pearson, undated)

Have any of you heard of more good answers or thought some up of your own?

Note: I don’t have a typo in my second quote from Carroll. Did any of you catch his pun?

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