In Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Hatter’s famous riddle: Why is a raven like a writing desk?, has no answer. In Tim Burton’s movie Alice in Wonderland, Johnny Depp while playing the Mad Hatter asks Alice the same question in three occasions.
From Chapter 7, A Mad Tea Party:
Why is a raven like a writing desk?
Have you guessed the riddle yet? the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.
No, I give it up, Alice replied. What’s the answer?
I haven’t the slightest idea, said the Hatter.
Nor I, said the March Hare.
When he wrote the book, Carroll had no answer for the riddle either, nor did he intend there to be one. However, over subsequent years, so many people asked him the answer that in the preface to the 1896 edition he wrote:
Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter’s Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer, viz: Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat; and it is NEVAR put with the wrong end in front! This, however, is merely an afterthought; the riddle as originally invented, had no answer at all.
Note that L.C. spells never as NEVAR, which is RAVEN written backwards.
It has been claimed that Carroll is satirizing philosophical paradoxes and riddles. As a logician he may be poking fun at our need for an answer to every question. In reality it is not a riddle at all, but a pseudo-problem masquerading as a riddle. He believed that most riddles are fallacious because they lead the reader to believe that such events are possible or even answerable.
More possible answers to the riddle
Carroll is not the only person to offer an answer after the fact, other solutions have also been given, the best known being:
Because Poe wrote on both.
Other suggestions include:
- Because the notes for which they are noted are not noted for being musical notes. (Sam Loyd)
- Because there is a “b” in both and an “n” in neither.
- Because each one starts with “e”. (James Michie)
- Because they both have inky quills.
- Both have quills dipped in ink. (David B. Jodrey, Jr.)
- Because it slopes with a flap. (Cyril Pearson, en su Twentieth Century Standard Puzzle Book)
- They both have legs.
- Because they correspond! A writing desk is used to correspond. And a raven responds with a caw, a caw-response. (Israel Cohen)
- Because the raven has a secret aerie and the writing desk has a secretary. (again Israel Cohen)
Ultimately, it could be true to say that the real answer to the question is that there is no answer. Can you find one?
Maybe to find the real answer we have to investigate the things that start with the letter M, like Mad Hatter and Mercury.
Post author: Daniel Semper