Why is a raven like a writing desk?

In the world of literature and riddles, few questions have perplexed and captivated readers as much as the enigmatic riddle posed by the Mad Hatter in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” Despite its apparent nonsensical nature, this riddle has sparked countless interpretations, debates, and creative endeavors. In this article, we will explore the origins of the riddle, examine different interpretations, delve into the symbolism behind it, and unravel the enduring charm it holds in popular culture.


The riddle first appears in Chapter 7 of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” during a peculiar tea party hosted by the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. As Alice becomes entangled in their nonsensical conversation, the Mad Hatter abruptly poses the question, leaving Alice puzzled and desperate for an answer.

The Origin of the Riddle

Lewis Carroll, the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, crafted this whimsical riddle for his beloved children’s book published in 1865. While Carroll never explicitly provided a definitive answer to the riddle, he revealed in later correspondence that it originally had no answer at all. The riddle was born out of Carroll’s love for wordplay and his desire to create a puzzle that would provoke imaginative thought rather than a straightforward solution.

The Different Interpretations

Lewis Carroll’s Intention

Though Carroll initially designed the riddle without a solution, he later proposed several potential answers himself. One interpretation he offered was that both ravens and writing desks produce notes, albeit of different kinds. Another suggestion was that the riddle was intended to have no answer at all, emphasizing the absurdity and illogical nature of Wonderland.

Possible Explanations

Over the years, numerous enthusiasts and scholars have proposed their own interpretations of the riddle. Some theories speculate that the riddle is a play on words, such as the similarity between “nevermore” (a word famously associated with ravens) and “never-ending” (a quality often attributed to writing desks piled with unfinished work). Others believe it is a nod to Carroll’s fascination with the macabre, drawing parallels between the dark, mysterious nature of ravens and the solitary, introspective act of writing.

Literary Analysis

Symbolism and Metaphor

Many literary experts suggest that the riddle carries symbolic meaning beyond its surface absurdity. Ravens have long been associated with mystery, death, and the supernatural while writing desks symbolize creativity, imagination, and the written word. Some argue that the riddle represents the dichotomy between chaos and order, the merging of the fantastical with the mundane, or the interplay between the conscious and subconscious mind.

The Connection between Ravens and Writing Desks

Despite the initial intention of Carroll to create an unsolvable riddle, some creative minds have proposed intriguing connections between ravens and writing desks. One interpretation suggests that both are linked through their association with Edgar Allan Poe, renowned for his poem “The Raven” and his work as a writer. Another explanation explores the shared characteristic of being used by authors to express their thoughts and ideas.

The Charm of the Unsolvable Riddle

One of the enduring qualities of the riddle lies in its refusal to yield a definite answer. This ambiguity invites readers and thinkers to explore their own interpretations, fostering imaginative thinking and encouraging a deeper engagement with Carroll’s whimsical world. The riddle’s open-ended nature challenges conventional thinking, pushing us to embrace the absurd and embrace the joy of intellectual play.

Popular Culture References

Over the years, the riddle has transcended the pages of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and seeped into popular culture. It has been referenced in various forms of media, including literature, music, film, and art. The riddle’s enigmatic nature and cultural significance have solidified its place as a symbol of the unconventional and mysterious.


In conclusion, the riddle “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” continues to captivate readers and puzzle enthusiasts alike. While its true meaning may forever remain elusive, the riddle’s enduring charm lies in its ability to spark imagination, provoke thought, and challenge our perceptions of logic. As we ponder the whimsical world of Wonderland, we are reminded that sometimes the journey itself is more important than the destination.


Q: Is there a definitive answer to the riddle “Why is a raven like a writing desk?”?

A: No, Lewis Carroll originally crafted the riddle without a specific answer in mind. However, he later proposed various interpretations, and countless enthusiasts have offered their own ideas over the years.

Q: Why did Lewis Carroll create an unsolvable riddle?

A: Carroll was known for his love of wordplay and puzzles. By creating an unsolvable riddle, he aimed to challenge readers’ imagination and engage them in creative thinking rather than providing a straightforward answer.

Q: Are there any hidden meanings or symbolism behind the riddle?

A: Many literary analysts suggest that the riddle carries symbolic meaning beyond its surface absurdity. Ravens and writing desks have been associated with various themes, such as mystery, creativity, chaos, and order.

Q: How has the riddle influenced popular culture?

A: The riddle has permeated popular culture and has been referenced in literature, music, film, and art. It has become a symbol of the unconventional, mysterious, and thought-provoking.

Q: Can we interpret the riddle differently based on our own perspectives?

A: Absolutely! One of the riddle’s charms is its open-ended nature, allowing readers to interpret it based on their own experiences and perspectives. It invites imaginative thinking and encourages individual engagement with the puzzle.

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