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Questions with No Answers

November 29, 2009
We all know that there are some questions that simply have no answer. I believe that the Hatter’s Riddle is one of those unanswerable questions, right up there with “what is the meaning of life?”
“Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the Hatter asks Alice, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” When Alice finally gives up and asks the Hatter why, he replies, “I haven’t the slightest idea.”

There is no real answer.

People have crafted all sorts of answers to the Hatter’s Riddle, and there have even been contests for the best answers, but there is no real answer. Lewis Carroll said in a preface for an 1896 version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, “Enquiries have been so often addressed to me, as to whether any answer to the Hatter’s Riddle can be imagined, that I may as well put on record here what seems to me to be a fairly appropriate answer… This, however, is merely an afterthought; the Riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all.”

Perhaps Carroll purposefully left this riddle unanswered, or perhaps he simply didn’t think of an answer when he was first telling the story to the Liddell girls. Either way, if the author doesn’t know the answer to his own question, how could we possibly know?

People always strive to find answers even when there aren’t any. Humankind’s need to answer the unanswerable has led them to imagine “fairly appropriate answers.” We just don’t like unresolved questions, but sometimes we have to accept that there is no true answer and move on with our lives.

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2 comments

  1. Susan…I think your reasoning here is fantastic. You’re right. We often spend so much time trying to read into words and actions that we forget to see what’s really there.

    I recently finished reading a book called Hate List by Jennifer Brown–it’s an incredibly powerful book about a girl who survives a school shooting–her journey is very much about this task…trying to see what is really there. It’s worth reading if you think you might enjoy it!

    One thing your post made me consider, however, is this: What if Carroll is trying to tell us that it is not the answer that matters…but the question? Or, even more, the journey to the answer?


  2. Susan,

    Nice analysis. We seem to have an innate need for answers(witness Alice constantly seeking them). Sometimes in life there aren’t any, or the answers don’t make sense.

    It is intriguing that Carroll devised a riddle with no real answer.



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