In the Twinkling of an Eye

- Sarah Ellis, column editor


by Sharon McQueen

Sharon McQueen is a doctoral student of Children's Public Library Services and Children's Literature at the School of Library and Information Studies of the University of Wisconsin - Madison

‘Twas brillig, and the slithy [1] tomes [2]

   Did gyre and gimble in the nave [3].

Librarious [4] nave! O, various [5] nave!

   Where opposies [6] and oppsies [7] have homes. 

[1] Many of the Alice poems are parodies of poems and songs of Carroll’s day. They often begin in much the same way as the original. (See The Old Man’s Comforts and How He Gained Them.) Therefore, I begin Pyrocodex in the manner of Jabberwocky.

[2] A book, especially a large, heavy one. The tomes, as living creatures, supplant Carroll’s toves.

[3] The middle part of the body of a church, used in this case as the innermost holy of a library.

[4] Of, or pertaining to, a library.

[5] Characterized by variety.

[6] Opposies are creatures of opposing viewpoints who, none the less, coexist.

[7] Oppsies are creatures of opposite viewpoints who, none the less, coexist.

“Beware the Pyrocodex [8], my girl!

   The breath that burns, the eyes that latch

Onto words like Huckleberry [9], Lorax [10], and hurl [11],

   And roommate [12], and Shakespeare [13], and snatch!” [14], [15]


[8] A great, fire breathing monster who lives to destroy challenged or banned books.

[9] The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) banned for being “racially offensive.”

[10] The Lorax by Dr. Seuss challenged in the Pacific Northwest by those involved in the logging industry.

[11] Slang term meaning to toss one’s cookies!

[12] Daddy's Roommate by Michael Willhoite banned for homosexual themes.

[13] Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare banned because of homosexual themes that aren’t there. It “encourages homosexuality” because the leading character Viola (a heterosexual woman) disguises herself as a boy.

[14] There is a theater story, possibly apocryphal, regarding a production of the musical The Fantastiks at a Catholic boy’s school. The word “rape” is repeatedly sung in one number, but it merely means “to kidnap.” Looking to substitute another one syllable word, the priest directing the production decided upon the word “snatch.” The lyrics then read:

You can get the snatch emphatic.
You can get the snatch polite.
You can get the snatch with Indians,
A truly charming sight.
You can get the snatch on horseback,
They all say it’s new and gay.
So you see the sort of snatch
Depends on what you pay.
If true, this episode marks the greatest censorship blunder of all time.

[15] Vera Carp from the play Greater Tuna:

“We need to send out a snatch squad…  Well, we do. We need to send out a book snatchin’ squad to the Tuna High School Library to check those dictionaries. Now, we have a list of words that have been declared possibly offensive or misunderstandable to pre-college students. Now the words are: hot, hooker, coke, clap, deflower, ball, knocker and nuts. Now after much prayer and soulsearching with the Lord, the Committee has decided not to include the word snatch on this year’s list. We know some of you have very strong feelings about snatch, but we just can’t afford to change our letterhead at this time.”

She took her vorpal [16] rights [17] in hand:

  No time it took to track him down –

For there he stood by Truffula [18] Tree,

  His blaze leaving nary a noun.

[16] Alexander L. Taylor,writing on Carroll, explains how to get “vorpal” by taking letters alternately from the words “verbal” and “gospel.” While it is highly unlikely Carroll had this in mind, McQueen felt this would be descriptive for her purposes.

[17] The American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights

[18] The species of tree in The Lorax, the tuft of which is used to knit Thneeds (A Fine-Something-That-All-People-Need).

And, as in uffish [19] thought he stood,

   (As if he could be thinking!)

It burbled [20] words most scattergood [21]

  (She sharoonk [22], her courage shrinking.)

[19] According to Carroll, “a state of mind when the voice is gruffish, the manner roughish, and the temper huffish.”

[20] According to Carroll, “If you take the three words ‘bleat,’ ‘murmur,’ and ‘warble,’ and select the bits I have underlined, it certainly makes ‘burble’.”

[21] Wasteful.

[22] ] Sharoonk is an elision of  “Sharon shook and shrank!” It is used as a verb.

Quoth, “Censorship!” and “Torch a book!”

  (He never paused a bit.)

Quoth, “Banning and barring and gobbledygook!” [23]

  (And horrors!) “KiddyLit!!!” [24]

[23] You know!

[24] Doctor Anne Lundin (SLIS, UW-Madison) hates this term! Hates it!!

One, two! Red, blue!

     fish     fish     fish     fish

  (O read between the lines!) [25]

The wordoosious [26] blade went through and through

  For such must befall such swines. [27]

[25] If you had read between the lines, you would have sounded very like Dr. Seuss.

[26] Wordoosious is an adjective meaning that the item described is wondrously wordy. A wondrously wordy item can kill anything, given time.

[27] So the plural form of swine is swine. How much sense does that make?! Besides, it doesn’t rhyme. 

“And hast thou slain the Pyro-C [28]?

  There’s warrrylings [29] you need know –

Stay on your guard - and ever be,

  For others anon will grow!”

[28] Short for Pyrocodex.

[29] A common McQueenism meaning many little things to worry about and be wary of. While “wary” has one “r” and "worry" has two, warrrylings” contains three! Can you see the seriousness of the situation then?

‘Twas brilling, and the slithy tomes

   Did gyre and gimble in the nave.

Librarious nave! O, various nave!

  Where opposies and oppsies have homes.

happy books


Sharon McQueen

Volume 3, Issue 3, The Looking Glass, 1999

Site design and content, except where noted © The Looking Glass, 1997. Send all mail regarding The Looking Glass c/o The Toronto Centre for the Study of Children's Literature. Images© Bernard Kelly, 1997. (Tenniel images in the public domain.) "The Annotated Pyrocodex"© Sharon McQueen. Last updated February 1, 2013.

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