FREDRIC BROWN – Night of the Jabberwock. E. P. Dutton, hardcover, 1950. Paperback editions include: Bantam #990, April 1952; Morrow-Quill, 1984. British edition: T. V. Boardman, hc, 1951.

FREDRIC BROWN Night of the Jabberwock

Based on two pulp stories: “The Gibbering Night” (Detective Tales, July 1944) and “The Jabberwock Murders” (Thrilling Mystery, Summer 1944).

   I recently took a couple days to re-read the greatest book ever written in the English Language, Fredric Brown’s Night of the Jabberwock, which can’t be beat in terms of structure, action, characterization, or much of anything else for that matter.

   The tale is of a night in the life of “Doc” Stoeger, middle-aged editor of a small-town weekly newspaper — the kind of publication now put out by a syndicate if it exists at all, in a town that nowadays has become a suburb or a fiefdom of Wal-Mart.

   But back in 1950, the small town and its paper were vibrant, charming bits of Americana, just like Brown’s novel, which starts off with Doc putting his sleepy little paper to bed, sadly looking at the front-page news of a church rummage sale and wishing he could somehow just once break a major story.

FREDRIC BROWN Night of the Jabberwock

   What follows is a night of wonderland-style adventures and reverses, as a mysterious visitor initiates him into The Vorpal Blades, a select club devoted to serious study of Lewis Carroll, major stories fly into his lap like scattered playing cards, he becomes a small-town hero, a hunted fugitive, kidnap victim and kidnapper himself.

   All this is tossed off with the deceptively easy style only Fredric Brown could do so well. And speaking of Tossed Off, someone should go through this book with a calculator and see how much Doc drinks during the course of an evening; every chapter is punctuated by him having two or three drinks, then sobering up, then drinking again, drinking more, sobering… at some point it gets a bit ridiculous, but somehow the humor only adds to the charm of this witty and elegant adventure through a looking-glass.

FREDRIC BROWN Night of the Jabberwock

   By the way, this sent me back to re-reading Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, books I hadn’t seen since childhood. And I have to say their charm was sadly lost on me.

   There’s some excellent doggerel there, perhaps up to the level of Edward Lear, but in their hurry to get from one scene to another, the stories never seem to get anyplace; colorful characters never do anything interesting, and conversations all consist merely of people contradicting Alice.

   Or am I missing something?