April 3, 2020

H is for Humpty and Horses

        (My theme for this year’s A-Z Challenge is traditional English language nursery rhymes, and their block printed illustrations.)

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

        But really, what did you expect when you asked horses to mend something so delicate?
        This is one of a class of nursery rhymes that began as riddles, which is why I don’t like any of the illustrations that make Humpty Dumpty look more-or-less like a real person.  Everybody knows he’s not supposed to be a human!  If I were to do an illustration of this one, I think I would make a bunch of horses and courtiers sitting around together scratching their heads and frowning in concentration as they try to assemble a big eggshell jigsaw puzzle.  Most illustrations depict Humpty before the fall, although there are a few gruesome ones of the carnage.  Even as a riddle one has to wonder whether there is anything that all the king’s horses could be expected to put together without even opposable thumbs, but as a story it becomes even sillier.  Humpty’s foolishness in sitting on the wall, the king’s foolishness in sending his horses to repair the damage…  It would be a tragic tale if it weren’t so funny.
        Of course Humpty Dumpty’s most famous appearance is in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass (1871), where he is a ridiculously smug and irritating fellow whom Alice tries hard not to offend, even though she can’t figure out whether the cloth around his middle is a belt or a cravat.  He also claims “When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less.”  This is an attitude encountered all too often among insufficiently precise speakers and writers, but once a word has had its meaning scrambled frequently enough, not all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can put it back together.
        My final illustration is even more meta: a picture of a boy looking at a picture of Humpty Dumpty.  Humpty Dumpty is possibly the single most widely recognized nursery rhyme character.  At any rate, he’s got to be right up there at the top of the list, so it’s easy to see that this boy is reading a book of nursery rhymes.
        How do you like your eggs?  Over easy or over hard, hard-boiled, or scrambled, or devilled?  (Or made of tofu or chocolate?)
        A final note for impressionable children: Don’t balance fragile things in precarious places.

[Pictures: Wood block print by Joan Hassall, c 1955 (Image from Opie, The Oxford Nursery Rhyme Book);
Illustration by John Tenniel from Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, 1871 (Image from Wikimedia Commons);
Color woodcut by David Frampton from My Son John by Jim Aylesworth, 1994.]


Rob Z Tobor said...

I do like that you do these A to Z's in your own way and stick with a timescale that suits you. . . . I have always loved a rebel. I used to be a bit more rebellious than I am now, but as I get older I find hiding is something I enjoy more . . . .

Hope the world is treating you well at present as its rather volatile and full of uncertainty.

Sue Bursztynski said...

You might like to try Jasper Fforde’s The Big Overeasy if you haven’t yet. Humpty was murdered.

Not keen on most Easter eggs, since you ask. They are made of poor quality chocolate. The only good ones I ever tasted were handmade at a chocolate shop in my area that has long gone, alas!

Kathe W. said...

eggcellent post! Cheers!

Kristin said...

I like my eggs scrambled. Or in an omelette. Or even fried easy.

Melanie Atherton Allen said...

Hello Anne! Glad to see you are doing the challenge again this year! I have my set of Nydam original block-print magnets up on my fridge, where they are both useful and ornamental. I like your ruminations here on Humpty Dumpty, as well as the images you have selected to go along with said ruminations.

And yes, I don't really see that the horses can be of much help, in the re-assembly process.

It is very interesting to think of Humpty Dumpty as a warning for the linguistically imprecise.

I am not myself doing the A to Z challenge this year (as I could not think of a theme, and I felt weird about going without), but you could stop by Atherton's Magic Vapour anyway, if you liked. I am posting random chit-chat on Sundays.

Operation Awesome said...

Great theme choice.
I read once that Humpty Dumpty was actually the name of a cannon, but somehow it became a nursey rhyme and was drawn as an egg so as not to scare children.

I like poached eggs over grits.

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Rob, thanks for stopping by. The world is indeed crazy these days, but that just means that now saying hello to you is exactly the same as saying hello to my neighbors down the street!

Sue, I agree - I have become such a chocolate snob! I love all the colored foil, though. =) I've read some of Jasper Fforde, mostly Thursday Next, I think. I'll have to check out The Big Overeasy.

Ha ha, Kathe. Good one!

Kristin, I usually like scrambled best, too.

Melanie, I am glad to see you and was so disappointed that you aren't doing posts all month. I am delighted to hear that you're posting some random chit-chat, and I shall definitely check it out.

Operation Awesome, the cannon theory is another of those that sounds plausible enough, but has no real evidence to support it. Any other theory in which something historical falls down and breaks would be about equally likely to be true!

Sonia Dogra said...

Hi. Thanks for this treat. Such a novel idea and I'm speechless seeing that you have already put up a decent list beyond the prescribed date. Great job!

A Tarkabarka Hölgy said...

I never thought of him as human, but honestly the rhyme never says he isn't. Welp, that's disturbing...

The Multicolored Diary

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Zalka, it is meant to be a riddle, so that's why it never explicitly says what it's talking about -- but also why you shouldn't necessarily be expected to know!

Deborah Weber said...

I have a soft spot for Humpty. I have a vintage cast-iron bank of Humpty on his wall, and it makes me smile every time I see it. And I take secret pleasure in knowing he's outwitted his famous demise, and is not about to break.

Jade Li said...

I forgot how irritating he was in Alice in Wonderland. Maybe someone shoved him off from behind the fence?

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Ha, Deborah, your Humpty is really hard-boiled!

Jade, I wouldn't be a bit surprised. =)

Ronel Janse van Vuuren said...

I like the first illustration -- it feels familiar :-)

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