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Carryl, Charles E. 1841–1920

Carryl, Charles E. 1841–1920

(Charles Edward Carryl)

PERSONAL: Born December 30, 1841, in New York, NY; died July 3, 1920; son of Nathan Taylor Carryl; married Mary Wetmore, 1869; children: Guy Wetmore, Constance.

CAREER: Worked for railroad companies, 1857–72; stockbroker, 1872–1904; children's book writer, 1884–1920.


The Stock Exchange Primer, Sears and Cole (New York, NY), 1882.

Davy and The Goblin; or, What Followed Reading "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," illustrated by E.B. Bensell, Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 1885, published as Davy and the Goblin, illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt, Unicorn Publishing House (Parsippany, NY), 1988.

The Admiral's Caravan, Century (New York, NY), 1892.

The River Syndicate and Other Stories, Harper (New York, NY), 1899.

Charades by an Idle Man, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1911.

A Capital Ship; or The Walloping Window-Blind, illustrated by Paul Galdone, Whittlesey House (New York, NY), 1963 published as The Walloping Window-Blind, illustrated by Ted Rand, Arcade (New York, NY), 1992, illustrated by Jim LaMarche, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books (New York, NY), 1994.

The Camel's Lament, illustrated by Charles Santore, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor to Stories of the Sea, Scribner (New York, NY), 1893.

SIDELIGHTS: Charles E. Carryl is best known for his unashamedly silly children's books, which relate the kinds of fantastical adventures found in the work of acclaimed British children's author Lewis Carroll. Carryl wrote his stories for his own children (one of whom would grow to be a writer), but when he published his stories, they delighted children throughout the States. "Though forgotten by the young of today," explained Douglas Street in the Dictionary of Literary Biography, "Carryl, at the end of the [nineteenth] century, was hailed as the American Lewis Carroll, his nonsense classic Davy and the Goblin (1885), the Alice in Wonderland of America…. The Goblin expanded the realm of possibility in American fantasy for children."

Carryl was born on December 30, 1841, in New York. His father, Nathan Taylor Carryl, was a well-to-do businessman, wealthy enough to send his child to private schools. However, by sixteen, Taylor had begun his primary career as a businessman. He worked for railroad companies until 1872, when he became a stockbroker—this was to be his profession into the early 1900s. While working as an officer of the railroad companies, however, he began the other important work of his life; he married Mary Wetmore in 1869 and together they raised two children, Guy and Constance.

Carryl raised his children through storytelling. The "nonsense fantasy world," as Street called Carryl's milieu, was developed for his children's amusement, but Carryl began in 1884 to amuse other children as well, by publishing the stories in a journal, St. Nicholas. Those stories were serialized and then published as Davy and the Goblin; or, What Followed Reading "Alice in Wonderland." In his first book, Carryl relates the story of a little boy's "believing voyage"—a series of adventures on which he is led by a goblin. Carryl's work is openly reminiscent of Carroll's, and even begins with his hero, Davy, reading Alice in Wonderland on a snowy Christmas eve. As Street explained, "It is undeniable that his creations were influenced by the nonsense stories of Lewis Carroll, yet Carryl was not merely an imitator. Davy and the Goblin and The Admiral's Caravan (1892) employ a technique of blending nonsense and reality that in modern terms might be considered cinematic." By following this world's logic in a bizarre fantasy land, moreover, the silliness of both were emphasized. Carryl always brought his sources vividly to the reader's attention; in some parts of Davy's journey, the boy met old literary favorites such as Sinbad the Sailor, Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk), Robin Hood, and Robinson Crusoe. In this way, Carryl was able to encourage his younger readers to love reading, and to find those books Davy seemed to know so well.

Carryl's second novel, The Admiral's Caravan, was put before the public much as Davy was: it first ran as a serial in St. Nicholas, and was then published in book form in 1892. The stories in it were not composed in the same way as Davy and the Goblin, however: by the time Carryl wrote his second book, his stories were no longer spun for his children's pleasure, but rather because it pleased Carryl. The Admiral's Caravan chronicles the adventures of a little girl named Dorothy, who follows some living statues on a journey into a nonsensical world. In The Admiral's Caravan, nonsense played an even larger role than it did in Davy and the Goblin, for Carryl at times allowed the narrative to become carried away with verbal tomfoolery, puns and quibbles. "There are instances in this story," Street commented, "in which nonsense and wordplay seem to serve the author's whim, having little impact on the plot itself." The book was less successful than Davy, perhaps because of this deeper appreciation for sophisticated language games.

Carryl's next books, The River Syndicate and Other Stories and Charades by an Idle Man, followed in the path of the first two books: they blended nonsense with logic in order to produce the weirdest and most amusing adventures. Carryl continued to write such stories until his death in 1920, and some of the final nonsense lyrics were only collected and published in 1963. That last collection, A Capital Ship; or The Walloping Window-Blind, was received warmly, suggesting that Carryl's nutty writing continues to allure children. Christian Science Monitor contributor Guernsey La Pelley described the volume as "a buoyant book with the kind of silly charm which usually appeals to beginning readers, and will also make older readers smile nostalgically."

Indeed, Carryl's work has proved popular enough that his nonsense rhyme about the ship named the Window-Blind was twice more published in the late twentieth century. A 1992 edition, titled The Walloping Window-Blind, was illustrated by Ted Rand. A Publishers Weekly contributor found that edition both "stylish" and "spare," and went on to praise the "imagery, impeccable rhymes and perfect scansion." Reviewing the 1994 edition of the same poem with illustrations by Jim LaMarche, Booklist reviewer Kathryn Broderick found the work a "bedtime story that will surely stir the imagination," while a Publishers Weekly contributor called The Walloping Window-Blind a "classic nonsense poem," which, when blended with LaMarche's artwork, was "pure magic."

Further nonsense verses are presented in The Camel's Lament, published in 2004, with illustrations by Charles Santore. The rueful tale of a camel who is complaining about how other animals have it better than the lowly dromedary, the poem details such inequalities in each new stanza, from the kind of food other animals eat to the way they are fed or employed. This book, according to Booklist critic Ilene Cooper, "certainly has all the hallmarks of child-friendly verse: a clever idea, humor, and a sprightly rhyme." A Kirkus Reviews contributor also had praise for the same work, calling it "a droll, if not luminous, tribute to the humble camel." Similarly, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that the rhyming tale "unwinds with a lilting rhythm."



Attebery, Brian, The Fantasy Tradition in American Literature, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1980.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 42: American Writers for Children before 1900, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1985, pp. 122-126.

Jordan, Alice M., From Rollo to Tom Sawyer and Other Papers, Horn Book (Boston, MA), 1948.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1979.


Booklist, May 1, 1994, Kathryn Broderick, review of The Walloping Window-Blind, p. 1603; July, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of The Camel's Lament, p. 1842.

Christian Science Monitor, November 14, 1963, Guernsey La Pelley, review of A Capital Ship; or The Walloping Window-Blind, p. 2B.

Entertainment Weekly, May 13, 1994, Leonard S. Marcus, review of The Walloping Window-Blind, p. 72.

Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2005, review of The Camel's Lament, p. 861.

Publishers Weekly, March 23, 1992, review of The Walloping Window-Blind, p. 71; March 14, 1994, review of The Walloping Window-Blind, p. 73; October 18, 2004, review of The Camel's Lament, p. 63.

Sing Out!, spring, 2006, review of "The Walloping Window-Blind" (song), p. 98.

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