I'm surprised that so little has been written here about A Tangled Tale. This is almost certainly my favourite work of Carroll's after the Snark and the Alice books, and is almost unique in bringing together his talents as a mathematician and a story-teller.
On one level, the tale can be enjoyed simply as a story in itself - you don't have to appreciate the mathematical problems at all. The characters of "Balbus" and "Mad Mathesis" in particular stand out in my mind is being amongst Carroll's best and I always feel a little sad that he never had the opportunity to develop them further.
But I think the best part of the book is the Appendix, in which he discusses the solutions to the problems as sent in by readers to The Monthly Packet, where the "knots" were originally published. The good-natured fun that he makes of his contributors in the process is a delight to read, with lines such as "I fear it is possible for Y.Y. to be two Y's". It may be seen as a little cruel at times - he discusses this at one point in the "Answers to Correspondents" section - but I found the overall tone utterly charming.
Guy, I wholeheartedly agree (and sorry to have taken so long to reply): A Tangled Tale is one of my favourite pieces of Carroll too, and I concur with everything you say about the characterisations, the solutions and the whimsical style - not to mention the fun of actually working out the problems. I'm always a bit sad that it seems to be so little known and discussed.
"The level of factual accuracy is beside the point. This is an encyclopaedia entry." - Wikipedia editor
Thanks for that. I have a question relating to Knot X: the initial quote "Yea, buns, and buns, and buns!" is attributed to an "Old Song", but the same line also turns up in the "Three Badgers" song in Sylvie and Bruno. Was there really an old song with this line, or was Carroll having a joke with his readers?
Also, an observation. Near the end comes the following passage:
The shades of evening granted their unuttered petition, and “closed not o’er” them (for the butler brought in the lamp): the same obliging shades left them a “lonely bark” (the wail of a dog, in the back-yard, baying the moon) for “a while”: but neither “morn, alas”, nor any other epoch, seemed likely to “restore” them [...]
I wondered about this "chopped-up" quotation for ages before a bit of nifty googling gave me the answer. It's from the start of "Isle of beauty fare thee well," by Thomas Haynes Bayly:
Shades of ev’ning close not o’er us, Leave our lonely bark awhile, Morn, alas! Will not restore us Yonder dim and distant isle. Still my fancy can discover Sunny spots where friends may dwell; Darker shadows round us hover – Isle of beauty fare thee well.
‘Tis the hour when happy faces Smile around the tapers light; Who will fill our vacant places? Who will sing our songs to-night? Through the mist that floats about us Faintly sounds the vesper-bell Like a voice from those who love us Breathing fondly, fare thee well!
When the waves are round me breaking, As I pace the deck alone, And my eye is vainly seeking Some green leaf to rest upon; When on that dear land I ponder Where my old companions dwell, Absence makes the heart grow fonder -- Isle of beauty fare thee well.
Interestingly, Bayly was the first known writer to use the phrase "Absence makes the heart grow fonder". Never knew that!
Last Edit: Feb 23, 2011 5:35:38 GMT -5 by guybarry