Why Is a Raven Like a Writing-Desk? - Lewis Carroll

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In Chapter 7 of Alice In Wonderland, 'A Mad Tea-Party', the Mad Hatter puts this riddle to Alice. Unfortunately, neither he nor Alice know the answer.

Here are three of the most brilliant attempts:

[1]James Michie - because each begins with an e.

Aldous Huxley - [2]because there's a b in both, [3]because there's an n in neither.1

Not forgetting, "Because they both can fly, except the desk," from Paul H, an h2g2 researcher.

Peter Heath, in The Philosopher's Alice raises the point that the riddle has an infinite, or finitely huge, number of answers, i.e. all the negative properties that a raven would share with a writing-desk. For instance, neither is the Eiffel Tower, each is a not-rabbit, each is not-pink, presumably, and so on. 2

Contrarywise, it is also a WHY question, asking for the reason for any resemblance. The answer to WHY a raven is like a writing-desk, in this sense, could be 'Just because it is', or 'God made it that way', or 'That's the way things are', and so forth. WHY questions, like these, are notoriously difficult to answer satisfactorily, or may even be unanswerable outside of a religious or ideological context. Ask any parent!

Lewis Carroll's own answer, in the preface to the 1896 Edition, went as follows:

Enquiries have so often been 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, viz "Because it can produce few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is never put with the wrong end in front!" This, however is merely an afterthought; the Riddle, as originally invented, had no answer at all.3

1 These were taken from "The Annotated Alice" ed. Martin Gardner, 1970, p.75 - where other answers can be found 2 1974, p. 673 Annotated Alice p.75

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