One of the most daunting mysteries in Disney’s long history–one that was left without answers for more than 158 years, has finally been solved, and classic Disney fans around the world can finally sleep in peace at night because of it.
Mankind has long been a chief purveyor of truth, of answers, of knowledge–well, perhaps a purveyor of a version of man’s truth. But over the course of history, humans have instinctively been seekers of knowledge and answers and reasons as well. Mysteries intrigue us, whether they are days old or decades old. And we are often mesmerized by mysteries from ancient times too.
History’s Many Mysteries
We want to know who constructed Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England, more than 5,000 years ago. Where exactly was Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, entombed in 30 BC? Whatever became of American aviator Amelia Earhart? How did teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa die, who did it, and where are his remains? Who really killed President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas, in November 1963? Was it really Lee Harvey Oswald? Did he act alone? Did Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson play a role in the assassination?
More recently, we want to discover the truth about what happened to little Madeline McCann in Portugal in 2007. And where is that Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 that disappeared from radar on March 8, 2014, over the South China Sea?
We are fascinated by mysteries that are never solved. Though we want resolution for mysteries surrounding the disappearance of children, etc., a part of us enjoys the intrigue of a never-solved mystery, as it spurs our imaginations to create possible solutions that fit with the details and circumstances surrounding the mystery.
Not so with a Disney mystery, more than 158 years in the making.
An Age-Old Disney Mystery
Disney began making his feature-length animated films that fans today refer to as “the classics” in 1937. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs made motion picture history when it first premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater in Los Angeles, California, on December 21, 1937.
The success of the film, coupled with the public’s warm reception of the first-ever fully-animated feature-length film, nudged Walt Disney and his troops to move forward with others, like Pinocchio (1940), Dumbo (1941), Bambi (1942), Cinderella (1950), and more. But in 1951, Walt Disney Animation released an animated film that not only delighted fans and charmed children; it also made fans–then and over the years to come–ponder a question that no one had ever pondered, save for an English poet and mathematician in 1858 named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.
Most know Dodgson by his pen name and his most famous works–Lewis Carroll and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1858), respectively.
Disney drew inspiration from Carroll’s tale of a curious young girl and her journey down a rabbit hole that leads to a crazy upside-down Wonderland world where everything was nonsense–where nothing was what it is because everything was what it isn’t, and contrariwise, what it was, it wasn’t, and what it wasn’t, it was, to loosely quote the young protagonist.
Unlike the remakes of today, Disney only gained inspiration from Carroll’s works in order to create his masterpiece animated classic. But he was careful to lend credit to Alice’s original creator, weaving quotes and rhymes from Carroll’s works throughout the film. And one of those quotes has led to a mystery that fans of Disney’s classics, as well as fans of Lewis Carroll’s books, have long been unable to solve.
A Completely Non-Sensical Tea Party with Non-Sensical
In both versions of the story, Alice is hot on the trail of a white rabbit who is obsessed with the fact that he’s late. But her journey to discover where the white rabbit is going and why he’s so full of angst over the time takes her to some of the most whimsical, strange places and events in Wonderland, including a tea party where far more than tea is being served.
She meets the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, and in both takes on the tale, the conversation during afternoon tea turns toward riddles. The Mad Hatter asks, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Alice responds by repeating the riddle, pondering its answer, only to have the Mad Hatter yell it back to her, as though he’d never heard the riddle, and both the March Hare and the Mad Hatter accuse Alice of being “stark-raving mad.”
For some, the riddle is just more from the script read by beloved Disney actor Ed Wynn, who lent his voice to the crazy Hatter. But for diehard Disney Classics fans, the riddle is one without an answer–a mystery, if you will–one that has been unsolved since Carroll first published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland nearly 160 years ago.
A “Stark-Raving” Solution
Lewis Carroll wrote the riddle to be one that would never have a solution. But his “Alice” book was so popular that fans began to mail him letters, inquiring about the answer to the quip from the Mad Hatter. He received so many requests for the answer that he finally created one, though fans’ guesses seem far more intriguing and well thought out.
Carroll finally gave the answer to the riddle, “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” His response was nearly as non-sensical and confusing as his many works, including the terrifying tale of The Jabberwocky (1871) in Alice Through the Looking Glass:
“Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat, and it is nevar put with the wrong end first.”
Carroll intentionally spelled never using the backward spelling of the word raven. And though his “solution” to the riddle makes sense, fans’ solutions seem more appropriate:
Edgar Allen Poe wrote on both of them.
They both produce notes, but neither are musical.
They ought to be made to shut up.
Fans of Disney’s classic animated films can surely sleep better tonight, finally knowing the solution to the 158-year-old mystery to which we were first introduced in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, all about a little black bird and a desk.