‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is a story that’s enchanted children and adults alike since it was published in 1865, 150 years ago (woah, is it really that old!?). It has been classed as one of the world’s most influential novels, and having read it for the first time about a week ago, I can understand why.
Lewis Carroll‘s strange characters are seen and described by Alice, a little girl who stumbles into Wonderland when she sees a white rabbit in a waistcoat and jacket run past and follows it down a rabbit-hole. Her world is turned upside-down as she explores a wonderful new land filled with interesting characters she’d never have dreamed of meeting. She changes size every few minutes, trying to reach a size that will allow her to open and get through a door through which she has seen a magical garden that she longs to reach.
“It was much pleasanter at home….when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered around by mice and rabbits.” – Alice
I was enchanted by Carroll’s masterpiece. I loved delving into a land of wonder and curiosity and exploring it through Alice’s eyes.
Lewis Carroll is a man with an extraordinary imagination and an inspirational author. To be able to create so many iconic and memorable characters within the confines of just two short books is admirable. Admittedly, I enjoyed the first book more than the second, but this may simply be down to familiarity prior to reading- film adaptations usually include Tweedledum and Tweedledee from the second book, but apart from them, ‘Through The Looking-Glass’ isn’t so widely known as the first book and its characters.
However, Carroll very cleverly designed the second book to play out also as a chess game– each chapter being another of Alice’s moves, as a pawn, across the board, only to finish her adventure by becoming Queen and taking the Red Queen, therefore winning the game. The start of my edition has a couple of pages detailing Alice’s moves, and when she makes them, in context with the story. The planning to have this chess game work if it were to be played out in real life must have been extensive- even the idea itself is that of a genius.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – White Queen
The Hatter is the character that I feel most drawn towards. This is probably because he, the March Hare and dormouse are having an endless tea party, but I also love his madness and unpredictability. He’s a brilliant character- completely mad!- but also very likable.
I love the ambiguity of the stories, where it’s not entirely clear whether everything is happening or Alice is dreaming. The second book resolves this when Alice wakes up at the end of the chess game and is still in the armchair she was sitting in at the start. For once, though, you don’t feel cheated as a reader that ‘it was all a dream’.
I think it’s a common conclusion that Lewis Carroll must have been on drugs whilst he wrote the Alice stories. Propelled to find the truth, I looked into the background of the books and found out some interesting things.
For starters, Lewis Carroll was not the author’s real name. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote under the pen name ‘Lewis Carroll’, a clever pseudonym which was actually a play on his real name. He translated his first two names into the Latin ‘Carolus Lodovicus’ and then anglicised it into ‘Lewis Carroll’. Even his pen name was cleverly invented!
The story of Alice came about when Dodgson was on a boat with the Liddell sisters, whose family he had come to be very good friends with. The sisters were called Lorina, Alice and Edith. Whilst they were drifting on a boat down The River Thames, Dodgson entertained the Liddell girls by telling them a story- that of a girl named Alice exploring a whimsical world full of unusual characters. Alice Liddell fell in love with the story and badgered Dodgson to write it down. When he did, he titled it ‘Alice’s Adventures Under Ground’, and illustrated it himself.
When it was to be published later on, John Tenniel illustrated the story with the pictures most widely recognised today. However, I actually quite like Carroll’s illustrations. They’re detailed and beautiful- and Alice is brunette, just like Alice Liddell!
“Oh, you can’t help that….we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.” – Cheshire Cat
Alice’s cat in the story is called Dinah, which was the name of the Liddell family cat. Speaking of cats, I also looked into the background of the Cheshire cat, as it dawned upon me that I didn’t know whether Cheshire cats were fictional or a type of cat that actually existed (obviously I’m aware that real cats can’t grin!). I discovered that the concept of a Cheshire cat has been around since the 18th century, where the phrase ‘Cheshire cat’ was used ‘to describe anyone who shows their teeth and gums in laughing’.
A possible origin of the phrase ‘grinning like a Cheshire cat’ is that Cheshire, an English county, has numerous dairy farms, hence the cats grin due to the abundance of milk and cream nearby!– but it’s not definitive that this is the true origin, it’s just one possibility. It’s possible that Lewis Carroll was inspired for the Cheshire cat in his story by a 16th century sandstone carving of a cat that appears to be grinning, at St. Wilfred’s Church in Grappenhall, Cheshire. The Cheshire cat sits alongside the Hatter as one of my favourite characters in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. One of my favourite things about him is that he can disappear and reappear, and doesn’t need to be on the ground. A somewhat iconic moment in the story is when the cat disappears bit by bit, until all that’s left of him is his grin.
“Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” – The Hatter
Perhaps one of the most famous quotes from the book, spoken by the Hatter at the mad tea-party, this riddle was written as nonsense. It has no answer. However, this hasn’t stopped people trying to work one out. Among the suggestions are:
‘Because Edgar Allan Poe wrote on both.’
‘Because the notes for which they are noted are not noted for being musical notes.’
And, after being badgered by people nonstop since the book’s original publication, Lewis Carroll himself wrote an answer to the riddle he had intended to be pure nonsense– though he said that, in the original book, there was no answer. Carroll’s answer, in the end, was: ‘Because it can produce few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!’ Carroll spelled ‘never’ as ‘raven’ written backwards- there’s no end to his whimsical prowess.
And I think that’s just about that! Since it was first published, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ has never been out of print, and has been translated into around 100 different languages! I don’t think it will ever become an unpopular story, and a legendary author will be kept forever alive within its pages.
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Have a very happy un-birthday!- unless today is your birthday, in which case, enjoy it all the more!
“..that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents….And only one for birthday presents.” – Humpty Dumpty
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