“The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things…”
– Lewis Carroll, The Walrus and The Carpenter, 1872
That Charles L. Dodgson was considered by many to be a serial pedophile had little to do with his celebrated creative legacy. After all, he was a distinguished Anglican clergyman, a pioneer in early photography, a gifted mathematician, and above all, a writer of great fictional prose. As he wandered through the English language over a hundred years ago, his literary and personal idiosyncrasies led him from subject to subject and metaphor to metaphor, spawning works that have continued to delight his readers ever since.
But perhaps his most enduring legacy comes from the lines of a little known poem called The Walrus and the Carpenter, whose insight into the world’s natural pecking order has inspired everything from a #1 Beatles hit to an indictment of organized religion to a strangely popular obsession with the oversized mustache. In each case, this magnificent Arctic creature is personified in ways that extend far above its place in the natural order of things, and as the walrus continues to work its way into the popular imagery of our time, it has achieved something that Dodgson, for all his efforts, never could: an escape from sexual disgrace.
At a time when natural conservation still seems like more of a hobby than a common social responsibility, the walrus is enjoying an unexpected renaissance, thanks in no small part to the astonishing rise in — of all things — Viagra. That’s right, Pfizer’s latest miracle drug has done more to rejuvenate the greater walrus population than an entire generation of Beatlemania, as Asian men are finally beginning to replace their traditional Eastern remedies with progressive Western equivalents.
Pharmaceutical alternatives are slowly replacing items like “crushed walrus penis” and “powdered reindeer horn”, and the walrus is only now emerging from the lethal shadow of the illegal animal trade. In the past, many lusty Chinese had no other medicinal recourse for erectile dysfunction but to grind up the privates of supposedly virile animals and consume them several hours before sex. But with Viagra and Levitra now selling like rice cakes, and with results that are literally worth bragging about, many “deficient” Hong Kong men are finally leaving the great mammal in peace.
For over 3,000 years, Chinese philosophers have embraced the same set of observable laws about the nature of the universe. These laws describe humanity’s basic role in the world, and how our interactions within that world impact our greater health and healing. They have survived dynastic change, cultural revolution and the rise of Western science, and most of them remain grounded in personal meditation and a deep sense of spirituality. In the East, everything is interconnected, and “optimum health” is principally achieved through a natural and organic balance. Unfortunately for some, that balance can be anything but “passive”.
To that end, Alaskan biologist Frank von Hippel has pioneered many great projects in the growing field of conservation biology, but he’s best known for drawing the link between the rise of Viagra and the decline of medicinal poaching. “A lot of the research I do is a lot more important than this,” he admits, “but I guess it has [public appeal] because it [deals] with sex and drugs.” Hipple co-authored a landmark study on the impact of Viagra on the status of several threatened species. In the paper, he suggests that men in Hong Kong have finally begun to give up Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for more “dramatic and verifiable results”.
But as Glenn Sant of the WWF responds, “Viagra really clouds the discussion of species conservation” because endangered species are often used to treat a variety of health issues. Another confounding variable is the natural bias of Hippel’s original study: it was funded by a research grant from Pfizer.
“I weep for you,” the Walrus said: “I deeply sympathize.” Perhaps Dodgson’s final tribute to his well-endowed creation was one of unflinching optimism. That they were both abused by the sexuality of others is certain: one in spite of sex, and the other because of it. Alice Liddell was, if anything, a kindred literary spirit, one who inspired great flights of fancy in a mind of perpetual youth. Their relationship was no more sexual than that of the walrus and his desperate Asian suitors. If nothing else, it provided the world with one of the classics of English literature, and in the same creative stroke, helped raise our awareness about a lowly Arctic mammal who was, until very recently, a prime example of the slow march of ancient tradition.