Tag Archives: Lewis Carroll

“In His Own Write” one degree of separation from “Finnegans Wake”

In His Own Write and later lyrics by John Lennon, and their relation to James Joyce and Finnegans Wake

When John Lennon’s first book came out in 1964 it was suggested that he was influenced by James Joyce for his use of wordplay and nonsensical storylines.  In truth, he did not read Joyce until he heard of the alleged influence, and then picked up a copy of Finnegans Wake and his reaction was “it’s GREAT and I dug it and I felt like—here’s an old friend!”  Richard Gerber, in his article about the connection between Joyce, Lennon, and Lewis Caroll, said  “…his subsequent experience of Joyce’s novel confirmed Lennon’s conviction that wordplay was a valuable way to augment meaning, and studying Joyce encouraged Lennon to continue experimenting with language in his own prose, as well as in his lyrics.”  The use of the word play with portmanteau words (combined syllables or words to form new words with compound meanings), misspelled words, word puns, and so forth, can be traced back to Lewis Carroll who used them in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There.  Carroll’s works influenced Joyce to use his own portmanteau words and similar devices and both of them influenced Lennon to do the same in some of his lyrics e.g. “I am the Walrus”, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds,”  “Across the Universe,” “Come Together,” and others. Both Joyce and Lennon also used some of Carroll’s characters like Humpty Dumpty (The Eggman), and the Walrus.

As I experience them, “In His Own Write” contrasts with the later Lennon lyrics in that the story lines are bazaar but easy to get and the wordplay mostly enhances the meaning and the humor.  In later the songs, the  coherence of the lyrics dissolve into word music and images.  The alliteration, assonance, rhyme, and especially rhythm become more salient by obliterating the literal meaning of the overall lyric.   Consider the following examples from “I am the Walrus”

“Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye
Crabalocker fishwife pornographic priestess
Boy you been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down
I am the eggman, they are the eggmen
I am the walrus, goo goo goo joob”   

and

“Expert textpert choking smokers
Don’t you think the joker laughs at you? (Ha ha ha! He he he! Ha ha ha!)
See how they smile like pigs in a sty, see how they snied
I’m crying”

and from “Come Together”

“He bag production, he got walrus gumboot
He got Ono sideboard, he one spinal cracker
He got feet down below his knee
Hold you in his armchair you can feel his disease
Come together right now over me”

The later lyrics as with Finnegans Wake, or abstract art, circumvent some of the organizing features of more traditional forms to open up alternate pathways of expression.

For a detailed analysis of the connection between Lennon,Joyce, and Carroll,  see the article by Richard  Gerber: Goo Goo Goo Joob!:
The John Lennon/James Joyce Connection
Through Lewis Carroll’s “Looking-Glass”  at:

http://www.fisherpub.sjfc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=nepca

The following video contains an interview of John Lennon about In His Own Write in which he is asked if he was influenced by James Joyce.  The interview begins at 1:55

This following video is a brief performance by John Lennon of one of his stories from In His Own Write

Bill Sargeant

Advertisements