Why Is a Raven Like a Writing Desk?

n the whimsical world of Wonderland, the Mad Hatter’s tea party is a merry dance of riddles and wordplay. Amidst this delightful chaos, the Mad Hatter asks a peculiar riddle: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” The riddle is presented with a flourish, yet its answer remains elusive. Alice, like us, is left scratching her head. Carroll himself claimed there was no answer, but that hasn’t stopped countless readers and scholars from trying to crack the code.

In a later edition of Alice’s Adventures, Carroll provided a possible answer: “Because it can produce a few notes, albeit very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!” At first glance, this answer seems as nonsensical as the riddle itself. Upon closer examination, the word ‘nevar’ appears to be ‘raven’ spelled backward, reflecting the ‘wrong end in front’ notion in the second sentence. This smart reversal by Carroll suggests a solution as playful as the riddle itself.
Carroll’s Own Musings on the Matter


Lewis Carroll, the pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was a master of literary nonsense and playful linguistics. Wordplay, puns, and riddles populate his works, with Lewis Carroll’s infamous Hatter’s riddle standing out as one of the most renowned. Carroll’s own answer to Lewis Carroll’s riddle, provided in a later edition of Alice’s Adventures, reflects his love for puns and wordplay. He proposes that a raven and a writing desk can both generate a few notes, although they are very dull. Neither one is ever placed with the wrong end facing forward. Fans of his work, including members of the Lewis Carroll Society, continue to appreciate and analyze his unique contributions to literature.

The word ‘nevar’ in Carroll’s answer is a classic case of “raven” spelled with “the wrong end in front”. This clever play on words gives a nod to the riddle’s nonsensical nature and adds to the overall whimsy of Wonderland. So, while Carroll’s answer might not be definitive, it certainly matches the playful spirit of the Hatter’s riddle.
The Role of Absurdity in Carroll’s Work

Absurdity is a key element in Carroll’s works, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, creating a whimsical world that defies traditional logic and encourages readers to let their imaginations roam free. This playful absurdity is reflected in the Hatter’s riddle, which turns traditional logic on its head and sparks the reader’s imagination like a box of fireworks.