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The Walrus and the Carpenter speaking to the Oysters, as portrayed by illustrator John Tenniel

"The Walrus and the Carpenter" is a narrative poem by Lewis Carroll that appeared in his book Through the Looking-Glass, published in December 1871. The poem is recited in chapter four, by Tweedledum and Tweedledee to Alice. The poem is composed of 18 stanzas and contains 108 lines, in an alternation of iambic trimeters and iambic tetrameters. The rhyme scheme is ABCBDB, and masculine rhymes appear frequently. The rhyming and rhythmical scheme used, as well as some archaisms and syntactical turns, are those of the traditional English ballad.


The Walrus and the Carpenter are the titular characters in the poem, which is recited by Tweedledum and Tweedledee to Alice. Walking upon a beach one night when both sun and moon are visible, the Walrus and Carpenter come upon an offshore bed of oysters, four of whom they invite to join them; to the disapproval of the eldest oyster, many more follow them. After walking along the beach (a point is made of the fact that the oysters are all neatly shod despite having no feet), the two titular characters are revealed to be predatory and eat all of the oysters. After hearing the poem, the good-natured Alice attempts to determine which of the two leading characters might be the more sympathetic, but is thwarted by the twins' further interpretation:

"I like the Walrus best," said Alice, "because you see he was a little sorry for the poor oysters."

"He ate more than the Carpenter, though," said Tweedledee. "You see he held his handkerchief in front, so that the Carpenter couldn't count how many he took: contrariwise."

"That was mean!" Alice said indignantly. "Then I like the Carpenter best—-if he didn't eat so many as the Walrus."

"But he ate as many as he could get," said Tweedledum.

This was a puzzler. After a pause, Alice began, "Well! They were both very unpleasant characters—"


"The time has come," the Walrus said,

"To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax—
Of cabbages—and kings—
And why the sea is boiling hot—
And whether pigs have wings."

Through the Looking-Glass

In The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner noted that The Walrus and the Carpenter is one of the few poems in the whole of English literature to be remembered for its middle verse rather than its first (see right) and also that when Carroll gave the manuscript for Looking Glass to illustrator John Tenniel, he gave him the choice of drawing a carpenter, a butterfly, or a baronet (since each word would fit the poem's metre). Since Tenniel, rather than Carroll, chose the carpenter, the character's significance in the poem is probably not in his profession. Although the two characters have been interpreted, for instance, as two political types,[1] there is no indication of what they were intended to represent. Gardner cautions the reader that there is not always intended symbolism in the Alice books, which were made for the imagination of children and not the analysis of "mad people".

Many portions of the Alice tales can be tied only to sheer whimsy, and while Carroll's life observations do make themselves obvious from time to time, it is possible that "The Walrus and the Carpenter" is not one of them. Carroll's character the Duchess says in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that "everything's got a moral, if only you can find it".[2]


The Beatles' song "I Am the Walrus", written by John Lennon, was partly inspired by this poem. Lennon later realised that the poem was possibly an indictment of capitalism and was dismayed that he had chosen the walrus (the capitalist), who was the protagonist in Lennon's eyes.[3]

In the Kevin Smith film Dogma, Loki (Matt Damon) theorizes that the poem is an indictment against the major organised religions. In this interpretation, the Carpenter represents Christianity, since Jesus was a carpenter, while the Walrus, being fat and good-natured, like Buddha, represents Buddhism, or alternatively the Walrus with its tusks represents Hinduism, since the Hindu god Ganesha, having an elephant's head, has tusks. Loki then points out that the Walrus and the Carpenter, representing organised religions, trick the oysters into following them then proceed to devour them.

The Walrus and the Carpenter is adapted in almost every film adaptation of Through the Looking-Glass and almost any version of Alice in Wonderland that incorporates Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Notable exceptions are the 1972 film and Tim Burton's 2010 adaptation (however the picture of the Walrus is seen on the palace wall).

In Disney's Alice in Wonderland, an adapted version of the poem is narrated in song and spoken word by Tweedledee and Tweedledum. In this virtuoso performance, character actor James Patrick O'Malley performs all five voices, including that of Mother Oyster.[4] This version also differs somewhat on the ending, wherein the enraged Carpenter ends up chasing the Walrus with his hammer for what he has done, apparently because the Walrus had eaten all the oysters before the Carpenter could eat any. Mr. Walrus also appears at the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts as a meetable character, although this character makes very rare appearances. Walrus and Carpenter later appear in House of Mouse, voiced by Jim Cummings.

In the 1985 film adaptation, the Walrus and the Carpenter are portrayed by Karl Malden and Louis Nye, respectively.

In the 1999 television adaptation, the Walrus and the Carpenter are portrayed by Peter Ustinov and Pete Postlethwaite, respectively.

In the miniseries Alice, a modern adaptation of Through the Looking-Glass aired on SyFy in December 2009, the humans who are kidnapped and kept in Wonderland are referred to as Oysters. The head scientist who processes the Oysters is referred to as Carpenter, and his assistant as Walrus.

General use in language

  • As a part of the efforts towards integrating Indian States to form the Union after independence from Britain, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Mr. V. P. Menon had invited native kings to a conference to discuss the terms of accession. Some of them rejected the same by saying that it was an invitaton given to the oysters by the Walrus and the Carpenter meaning thereby that their kingship and kingdom will be lost forever on accession to Indian Union.


  1. J. B. Priestley New Statesman, August 10, 1957, p. 168
  2. Caroll, Lewis (1995). The Complete, Fully Illustrated Works. Gramercy Books. ISBN 0-517-10027-4. 
  3. David Sheff, All We Are Saying: The Last Major Interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, 2000
  4. Kathryn Beaumont, Ed Wynn. (1951). Alice in Wonderland. [DVD]. Walt Disney.

External links

eo:La Rosmaro kaj la Ĉarpentisto it:The Walrus and the Carpenter he:סוס הים והנגר ru:Морж и Плотник