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"Why is a raven like a typing desk?"


The question in the flavor text is posed in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, in a scene with Alice, the Mad Hatter, and the Dormouse at the famous Tea Party. Alice is informed that riddles are being exchanged, and the Mad Hatter asks “why is a raven like a writing desk?” The guests attempt to puzzle the riddle out, and several pages later, the Hatter admits “I haven't the slightest idea.” The scene is meant to illustrate the topsy-turvy world into which Alice has fallen, with the whole book illustrating how confusing the adult world seems to children. When Alice asks about why they are wasting their time with riddles which have no answer, she's really asking a larger question about adults.

In an introduction to a later edition of the book, Lewis Carroll addressed the issue, saying “Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!” In the original preface, “never” was spelled “nevar,” which is “raven” backward. Carroll's pun was unfortunately lost to the red pen of a proofreader, confusing the issue of the riddle even further.

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