22: Barrel - Part 3

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Barrel - Part 3
A whirlpool!
Title text: A whirlpool!


In the first two comics in the Barrel series, the boy is floating in the ocean in a barrel, making fairly innocent points about life's uncertainty. In this comic, the view has zoomed out considerably, and the boy is seen to be on the edge of a gigantic whirlpool. Thus, there is now a palpably heightened sense of danger, though the boy's reaction continues to be innocent wonder.

The comic's visual composition is reminiscent of a classic 1919 illustration by Harry Clarke, made for Edgar Allan Poe's 1841 short story "A Descent into the Maelström." In the short story, the main character escapes from drowning by using a barrel to escape The Maelström.

This is the third in a six-part series of comics whose parts were randomly published during the first several dozen strips. The series features a character who is not consistent with what would quickly become the xkcd stick figure style. The character is in a barrel.

After Randall released the full The Boy and his Barrel story on xkcd, it has been clear that the original Ferret story should also be included as part of the barrel series.

The full series can be found here. But below they are listed in the order Randall has put them in his collection linked to above:


[A large and deep vortex is in the center; spinning water covers the whole panel. A boy in a floating barrel is near the edge, apparently about to be sucked in.]
Boy: wow!


  • This was the 23rd comic originally posted to LiveJournal.
  • Original title: "Monday's Drawing"
  • Original Randall quote: "The saga of the boy and his barrel continues! (Part 1 and Part 2)"
    • There are links to the pictures of the two first parts.
  • This comic was posted on xkcd when the web site opened on Sunday the 1st of January 2006.
    • It was posted along with all 41 comics posted before that on LiveJournal as well as a few others.
    • The latter explaining why the numbers of these 41 LiveJournal comics ranges from 1-44.
  • One of the original drawings drawn on checkered paper.

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Like the previous cartoons in this series, the theme is wonder. In a situation that would have almost all of us screaming with fear, this little boy somehow sees the grandeur and majesty before him rather than the danger. BinaryDigit (talk) 11:12, 23 March 2013 (UTC)

The boy expressed optimism in 'Barrel - Part 1.' In 'Ferret,' Cueball expresses his dreams. However, in 'Barrel - Part 2' the boy expressed disappointment. The first two may be consistent with 'wonder' but the last isn't. Here, in 'Part 3,' he's more likely to be expressing awe than wonder. It depends on the inflection of the word, "Wow." --DP9000 (talk) 22:30, 6 March 2016 (UTC)

Didn't anyone notice that WOW upside down is actually MOM? Thus continuing the "Barrel - Part 2"... 22:22, 14 May 2014 (UTC) Žmale

Not relevant here but see 1117: My Sky for the upside down WOW. --Dgbrt (talk) 20:30, 15 May 2014 (UTC)

There has always been an undercurrent of threat in the series. A boy in a barrel is a precarious proposition, even on a calm ocean. When that threat finally manifests, it takes the very personal form of a whirlpool. Compared, for instance, to a 100 mile storm-front, a whirlpool is only a threat if you enter the vortex. But, if you do, it will literally drag you under. --DP9000 (talk) 22:30, 6 March 2016 (UTC)

The boy in this fable is an Everyman. As the 'Title Text' from 'Part 1' implies, we all set out on the ocean of life, alone, but with hope. 'Ferret' shows that dreams and imagination can sustain us, when life doesn't go our way. 'Part 2' shows how hard it is to find a human connection and how hard we'll strive to find one. 'Part 3' represents the hazards we face in life. The personal nature of this hazard makes it more likely to have come from within than from without. --DP9000 (talk) 22:30, 6 March 2016 (UTC)