29 July 2017

Lewis Carroll describes sleep paralysis

This past week I've been reading The Humorous Verse of Lewis Carroll (Dover, 1933), where I found the following in Canto V of Phantasmagoria:
"Who's the Knight-Mayor?" I cried.  Instead
       of answering my question,
"Well, if you don't know that," he said,
"Either you never go to bed,
Or you've a grand digestion!"
The following verse is above, under the illustration by Arthur B. Frost.  I shouldn't need to point out that "Knight-Mayor" is a pun on "nightmare."

The phenomenon is also alluded to in this early poem by Carroll:
(from The Rectory Magazine, 1850)

Methought I walked a dismal place
Dim horrors all around;
The air was thick with many a face,
And black as night the ground.

I saw a monster come with speed,
Its face of grimmliest green,
On human beings used to feed,
Most dreadful to be seen.

I could not speak, I could not fly,
I fell down in that place,
I saw the monster's horrid eye
Come leering in my face!

Amidst my scarcely-stifled groans,
Amidst my moanings deep,
I heard a voice,"Wake! Mr. Jones,
You're screaming in your sleep!"
I won't review the entire book, which I am not adding to the blog category of recommended books (because it's exhaustively comprehensive rather than selective), but I will excerpt a few tidbits:

An uncommon word:
"That's plain, said I, as Tare and Tret..."

Tare is familiar to anyone who has worked a balance in a chemistry lab.  Tret is related:
Tare and Tret, commercial terms, are deductions usually made from the gross weight of goods. Tare is the weight of the case or covering, box, or such-like, containing the goods; deducting this the net weight is left. Tret is a further allowance (not now so commonly deducted) made at the rate of 4 lb. for every 104 lb. for waste through dust, sand, etc
What looks like an umlaut over an e...
Sadly, sadly he crossed the floor
And tirlëd at the pin:
Sadly went he through the door
Where sadly he cam' in.
... I found explained at Mental Floss:
The mark that prevents two adjacent vowels from combining into one syllable is called a “diaeresis” or “trema.” You see it in French (naïve, Chloë, Noël) and in the pages of the New Yorker (coöperate, reëlection).
Although it doesn't separate two vowels here, I presume it serves the same function for the poet, indicating a pronunciation of two syllables as tirl-led, rather than mashed together as "turld."

And the word "tirl" defined: "To make a rattling or clattering sound by twirling or shaking (to tirl at the pin, or latch, of a door.")

 Apostrophe usage in The Hunting of the Snark perhaps also for indicating a rhythm?:
When the verdict was called for, the Jury declined,
As the word was so puzzling to spell;
But they vetured to hope that the Snark wouldn't mind
Undertaking that duty as we'l.
And finally, what I interpret as a touching allusion to aging and death:
"We are but older children, dear,
Who fret to find our bedtime near."
Related: other TYWKIWDBI posts about sleep paralysis.

Addendum:  More on the use of diacritics (in this case by Tokien) to indicate pronunciation:
English uses the the diaeresis too, but it has mostly been dropped -- I think chiefly because English typewriters didn't have one. If you look in old books, you will occasionally see words like coöperate, skiïng and naïve. As cooperate was at one point a new word... people used the diaeresis to make it clear how it was supposed to be pronounced.
With a hat tip to reader Drabkikker for the link. 


  1. Tolkien used the diaeresis for similar purposes when rendering Elvish in English, as an aid to pronunciation: either to indicate that two vowels are to be pronounced separately (e.g. eär, "ay-ar" not "eer"), or that a final e is not silent (e.g. Oromë "oh-roh-may" not "oh-roam").

    (Source: bottom-most reply in this thread).

  2. I came down to make the same Tolkien comment, as well as to point out that many editions of Shakespeare also use the diaeresis, presumably to preserve the rhythm of the lines. It's also interesting to note that in Japanese, for instance, vowels are always pronounced distinctly and separately; kawaii rhymes with Hawaii, not Kawai. Diaeresis marks are not used in Romaji translations; it's simply how the language functions.

  3. Start writing your book on sleep paralysis. :-)

    I look forward to reading (a rough draft maybe) of your collections and comparisons of sleep paralysis descriptions in literature.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...