Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 1, Page 47
Fall 1991
Mouse Tale

     This is a tale of two tails, and of a University of Delaware
student who noticed that they were different.
     The tails are found in chapter two of Lewis Carroll's Alice's
Adventure Underground, one version in the original 1864 handwritten
manuscript and the second version in the 1865 published edition.  In
both versions, the "long and sad tale" told by the mouse to Alice
after they crept out of the pool of tears is presented visually as a
twisting tail of words.
     But an investigation by Gary Graham, now a 20-year-old University
sophomore, led to the discovery of a previously unrecognized visual
and verbal four-way pun in the children's classic.
     Graham, who was preparing a high school research paper on the
differences between the two manuscripts, wondered why Carroll had
changed the wording of the tale.
     "I liked the original poem better and that's why it stuck in my
mind," he said.  The first stanza of the original tale reads, "We
lived beneath the mat, Warm and snug and fat, But one woe, and that
was the cat!" In the published version, the poem is completely changed
and the first stanza reads, "Fury said to the mouse, That he met in
the house, 'Let us both go to law: I will prosecute you-"
     Graham pointed out the change to a fellow student at Pennington
School in New Jersey who was studying puns in Alice's Adventure.  The
two teenagers went to their English teacher, Nancy Fox, and further
investigation by the three led to the discovery that Carroll had
changed the tale to create yet another of his word games. The second
version was a four-way pun that no scholar had deciphered for 127
     "Mrs. Fox suggested that we look up both tail and tale in the
Oxford Companion to English Literature, and we found a 'tail-rhyme'
was a pair of rhyming lines followed by a single line of different
length. We plugged the revised mouse's tale into the description, and
it fit. The original tale didn't," Graham said.
     Traditional tail-rhymes have a shorter "caudal line" or tail than
the couplets that precede it. Apparently, in the revised version,
Carroll deliberately lengthened the caudal lines in the four stanzas
of his mouse's poem so that, if printed traditionally, the tale would
take the shape of a mouse with a long tail.
     After confirming that their discovery was new, the two students
and their teacher wrote an article for Jabberwocky, the British
journal of the Lewis Carroll Society. They also presented their
findings last spring before the Lewis Carroll Society in New York
     According to their article, the four puns they discovered
include: "(1) the word 'tale' signified the story the mouse is
telling, but includes the tail visually; (2) the word 'tail' signified
the tail of the mouse but includes the tale it tells; (3) the tale is
told in the poetic form of the tail-rhyme; and (4) the line structure
of the triplets (two short lines, then a longer line) resembles the
shape of a mouse."
     Martin Gardner, a mathematician and well-known authority on Lewis
Carroll, said in a New York Times article that this the first time he
knows that "teenagers have made a Carrollian discovery." But Graham
said "it was a fluke," and that he probably won't continue to study
Carroll's works.
     "I loved English 110 and I like to write," he said, "but I'm
leaning toward a major in economics and would like to become a pilot
like my father."
                                   --Cornelia Weil