A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Do anagrams in Lewis Carroll's poems prove he was Jack the Ripper?

March 7, 1997

Dear Cecil:

I heard there is a book purporting that Lewis Carroll and a close associate were actually Jack the Ripper. Supposedly done by a scholar, the book examined Carroll's "Jabberwocky," claiming there is a pattern in the nonsense words that reveals such messages as, "We killed the whores," etc. Have you ever heard of such a theory or book? If so, any ideas of your own on the subject? "Intriguing scholarship" or "skip this sheaf of academic drool and try spinning Ozzy Osborne LPs backwards?"

Cecil replies:

Stick with Ozzy. This drool doesn't even qualify as academic. Richard Wallace, author of Jack the Ripper, Light Hearted Friend (Gemini Press, 1996), spent "25 years in the data processing field," according to his bio, which for all I know means he spent a quarter century in the basement operating the paper shredder. The book proceeds from the following logic. Lewis Carroll loved anagrams. Anagrams reveal deep truths. The lines in Carroll's poetry can be formed into anagrams. Some of these anagrams strike certain crackpots as incriminating. Ergo, Lewis Carroll was Jack the Ripper.

For example, Wallace starts with this famous verse from "Jabberwocky":

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

And transmutes it into:

Bet I beat my glands til,
With hand-sword I slay the evil gender.
A slimey theme; borrow gloves,
And masturbate the hog more!

You get the picture.  Obvious lesson: if you know a guy with too much time on his hands, don't suggest he take up Scrabble.

True Confessions

Dear Cecil:

I'm glad to see your discussion of Richard Wallace's anagram "research."  Wallace's book was excerpted in the November 1996 Harper's. For a startling depiction of its true significance, you should see the response from Guy Jacobson and Francis Heaney, which appeared in the February 1997 Harper's letters column.

Cecil replies:

Goodness. Jacobson and Heaney write: "The first paragraph of [Wallace's] article contains a grisly confession." They rearrange the letters of:

This is my story of Jack the Ripper, the man behind Britain's worst unsolved murders. It is a story that points to the unlikeliest of suspects: a man who wrote children's stories. That man is Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, author of such beloved books as Alice in Wonderland.

and arrive at:

The truth is this: I, Richard Wallace, stabbed and killed a muted Nicole Brown in cold blood, severing her throat with my trusty shiv's strokes. I set up Orenthal James Simpson, who is utterly innocent of this murder. P.S. I also wrote Shakespeare's sonnets, and a lot of Francis Bacon's works too.

Guys, you rock.

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