My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1871) by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson illustrate the child-ego’s attempt to mature and understand its own mortality in a world often found morally strange and ridiculous, a world that adults eventually learn to accept as normal.
Alice is faced with the cruelties and strangeness found in Wonderland in the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter and Alice must learn to choose sides quickly in order to survive.
Lewis Carroll, as many know the author, is but the name ”Lutwidge Charles” in its Latinate form and it shows how Lewis also wanted to be someone else within his own fantasy, as many adults often dream. And it is this idea of Life and Dreaming and Death and Mortality that haunt this child’s story with hidden Death Jokes that often go unnoticed when read as a child. As Alice is falling and falling down the rabbit hole, she remarks:
”’After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down-stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home!
Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!”
(Which was very likely true.)’ (p 20).
True, because she would be dead and unable to speak much of anything.
Before the story ever begins with Alice in Wonderland, Carroll includes a poem that refers to the three Fates and to the inability to escape one’s own mortality:
”Ah, cruel Three! In such an hour…Yet what can one poor voice avail / Against three tongues together… And ever, as the story drained / The wells of fancy dry…’Like pilgrim’s withered wreath of flowers / Plucked in a far-off land.’ And we are all headed that way, that far-off land one day, in the end; no one escapes Death.
In the beginning, Alice is chasing Time itself, as all children do as Time is quite an illusive concept, just as the Rabbit is, to the child Alice. ”Burning with curiosity, she ran across the field” after the Rabbit in the waistcoat with pocket-watch (p 20); and thus, when she crosses into Wonderland, Alice grows up, physically that is, but remains a child within. And when she is in this strange world, she chases material objects and finds that the world is easier in some ways and more difficult in others. ”’Things flow about so here!” she said at last in a plaintive tone, after she had spent a minute or so in vainly pursuing a large bright thing…” (p 178). We find her once again referring to ”bright things” but only after she has learned her lesson: ”How she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood…and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale” (p 118).
What did she learn? Alice found that although she must mature and leave her childhood, physically, that she can choose to never lose the child-ego within and to remain innocent and not heed to the cruelties of the adult world that is represented in the Red Queen; but after, Lewis Carroll writes, what does life really mean, whether as child or adult, and so he finishes the two tales by asking: ”Life, what is it but a dream?” (p 239). Indeed.
And so, Through the Looking Glass Ends with this poem on page 239 (try and find the name within if you can):
A BOAT beneath a sunny sky,
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July —
Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear —
Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.
Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.
Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.
In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:
Ever drifting down the stream —
Lingering in the golden gleam —
Life, what is it but a dream?
No name, you say?
Circle the first letter in each line and you will have your answer:
And the name appears:
And Alice shall live on forever.
But, I must ask, why is a raven like a writing desk?
Leave your answer below in the comments:
Carroll, Lewis. (1865, 1871) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass. New York: Signet Classic, 2000. Print.
CG FEWSTON was born in Texas in 1979 and now lives in Hong Kong. He’s been a Visiting Fellow at Hong Kong’s CityU, and a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy in Rome (Italy).
He’s the author of several short stories and novels. His works include A Father‘s Son, The New America: A Collection, Vanity of Vanities, A Time to Love in Tehran, and forthcoming: Conquergood & the Center of the Intelligible Mystery of Being; Little Hometown, America: A Look Back; and, The Endless Endeavor of Excellence.
You can read more about the author on Facebook @ cg.fewston – where he has 275,000+ followers