Context and definition
Carroll published Through the Looking-Glass in 1871. Near the beginning, Alice discovers and reads "Jabberwocky". The word "vorpal" appears twice in the poem, which describes a young boy's quest to slay a monster called the Jabberwock:
- He took his vorpal sword in hand:
- One, two! One, two! And through and through
- The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
- He left it dead, and with its head
- He went galumphing back.
As with much of the rest of the poem's vocabulary, the reader is left to guess at the meaning of "vorpal" from the context. It is commonly assumed to mean "deadly" or "sharp", but could also be referring to the material of which the sword is composed. Some readers have imagined other properties the word could describe. Alexander L. Taylor points out in his Carroll biography The White Knight that "vorpal" can be formed by taking letters alternately from "verbal" and "gospel".
Carroll himself once wrote, "I am afraid I can't explain 'vorpal blade' for you—nor yet 'tulgey wood.'"
The term has been occasionally used in fantasy media, often referring to a sword with a wavy or unusually curved blade. It is also used to describe a supernaturally powerful weapon that magically severs heads.
The Vorpal Blade is the primary weapon for Alice in American McGee's Alice and Alice Madness Returns, though it takes the appearance of a decorated kitchen knife than a sword. It was Alice's weapon for slaying the Jabberwocky in the movie Alice in Wonderland.[further explanation needed] The vorpal sword, bearing an appearance similar to a khopesh, appears in Once Upon a Time in Wonderland as the weapon used to imprison the Jabberwocky; when impaled with it, she is rendered immobile and her powers are neutralized. It is held by Jafar rather than Alice in this series.
In the popular Vertigo comic book series Fables a blade known as the Vorpal Sword is wielded by Little Boy Blue on multiple occasions. Although its true powers are never fully explained; it is readily apparent that the Vorpal Sword is capable of easily cutting through practically any non-enchanted item in even the weakest hands, as well as easily deflecting any blow.