A Contrived Math In Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark


In Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark, the Butcher wanted to convince the Beaver that two plus one is equal to three, and he did it the “easy” way:

Taking Three as the subject to reason about —
A convenient number to state —
We add Seven, and Ten, and then multiply out
By One Thousand diminished by Eight.

The result we proceed to divide, as you see,
By Nine Hundred and Ninety and Two:
Then subtract Seventeen, and the answer must be
Exactly and perfectly true.

As this was written by Lewis Carroll, the math checks out:


In case you didn’t notice, it doesn’t matter whichever number you start with. The answer would be the same as the initial number (in the Butcher’s case, the number was 3). This will be more apparent when the above equation is written as an algebraic equation:


This can be simplified into:


The two 992’s cancels out each other. Thus,







Posted by

My name Edmark M. Law. I work as a freelance writer, mainly writing about science and mathematics. I am an ardent hobbyist. I like to read, solve puzzles, play chess, make origami and play basketball. In addition, I dabble in magic, particularly card magic and other sleight-of-hand type magic. I live in Hong Kong. You can find me on Twitter` and Facebook. My email is edmarklaw@learnfunfacts.com

20 thoughts on “A Contrived Math In Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark

  1. Why is it that people are quite happy, and even sound proud in some cases, to admit they aren’t good at maths? Few people would feel quire as happy with saying they are useless at English. Even fewer admit to being unable to read, but maths? Quite happy to admit. Not right. Somehow it’s become acceptable. Probably starting at home, and reinforced at school
    Having said that, I enjoyed your post.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I often asked myself the same question. Perhaps denying the importance of issues (not only maths) which seem to be too difficult to be understood is a way to cope with failure and frustration. I think that not being able to grasp maths quite often is the failure of teachers. If teachers start the wrong way, kids might try to avoid further exposure to it. Maths should be tought to kids as a toy to play with. (However, I would not use Carroll’s math puzzles to introduce maths to children. The Snark puzzle described in Edmark’s article perhaps could be used once equations are introduced, e.g. in 5th grade.)


  2. Hi
    Thanks for liking my post on Mason jars.I visited your blog and really liked it.
    Although I am a moron at math, I love using Lewis Carroll references in my writing. You might like my posts Food Moments and Six impossible things before breakfast. Both these have Lewis Carroll references.

    Liked by 2 people

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