"The Walrus and the Carpenter" is a narrative poem by Lewis Carroll that appeared in his book Through the Looking-Glass, published in December 1871. The poem is recited in chapter four, by Tweedledum and Tweedledee to Alice. The poem is composed of 18 stanzas and contains 108 lines, in a alternation of iambic trimeters and iambic tetrameters. The rhyme scheme is ABCBDB, and masculine rhymes appear frequently. The rhyming and rhythmical schema used, as well as some archaisms and syntactical turns, are those of the traditional English ballad.
The Walrus and the Carpenter are the titular characters in the poem, which is recited by Tweedledum and Tweedledee to Alice. Walking upon a beach one night when both sun and moon are visible, the Walrus and Carpenter come upon an offshore bed of oysters, four of whom they invite to join them; to the disapproval of the eldest oyster, many more follow them. After walking along the beach (a point is made of the fact that the oysters are all neatly shod despite having no feet), the two titular characters are revealed to be predatory and eat all of the oysters. After hearing the poem, the good-natured Alice attempts to determine which of the two leading characters might be the more sympathetic, but is thwarted by the twins' further interpretation; for example, the Walrus apparently regrets his actions and cries, but mostly because now there are no more oysters for him to eat.
In The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner noted that The Walrus and the Carpenter is one of the few poems in the whole of English literature to be remembered for its middle verse rather than its first (see right) and also that when Carroll gave the manuscript for Looking Glass to illustrator John Tenniel, he gave him the choice of drawing a carpenter, a butterfly, or a baronet (since each word would fit the poem's meter). Since Tenniel, rather than Carroll, chose the carpenter, the character's significance in the poem is probably not in his profession. Although the two characters were interpreted as two political types in Carroll's own time, there is no indication of what they were intended to represent. Gardner cautions the reader that there is not always intended symbolism in the Alice books, which were made for the imagination of children and not the analysis of "mad people".
Many portions of the Alice tales can be tied only to sheer whimsy, and while Carroll's life observations do make themselves obvious from time to time, it is possible that "The Walrus and the Carpenter" is not one of them: Carroll's character the Duchess says in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland that "everything's got a moral, if only you can find it.
The Walrus and the Carpenter is adapted in almost every film adaptation of Through the Looking-Glass and almost any version of Alice in Wonderland that incorporates Tweedledee and Tweedledum. A notable exception is the 1972 film.
In Disney's Alice in Wonderland, an adapted version of the poem is narrated in song and spoken word by Tweedledee and Tweedledum. In this virtuoso performance, character actor James Patrick O'Malley performs all five voices, including that of Mother Oyster. This version also differs somewhat on the ending, wherein the enraged Carpenter ends up chasing the Walrus with his hammer for what he has done, apparently because the Walrus had eaten all the oysters before the Carpenter could eat any.