LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Looking-Glass Chess

on February 21, 2013 11:12pm

The Looking-Glass world that Alice enters in Through the Looking-Glass (And What Alice Found There) is undoubtedly a creation from the logical mind of Charles Dodgson. It is described as having “a number of tiny little brooks running straight across it from side to side, and the ground between was divided up into squares by a number of little green hedges, that reached from brook to brook.” This description is obviously a chessboard, which is a theme throughout the story. Alice encounters all of the pieces in the chess game that help her, a pawn, to reach the other side of the board and become a queen herself within 11 moves.

Being a thorough man, Dodgson included a picture of the chessboard in the Looking-Glass world of the moves that are made in the story in the exact order they take place.

Looking-Glass Chess


Alice begins her journey upon meeting the Red Queen at the forefront of the white piece’s side of the chessboard, who then allows her to be a pawn for the white team. The Red Queen tells Alice, “you’re in the Second Square to begin with: when you get to the Eighth Square you’ll be a Queen.” In the above picture we can see Alice begins as a pawn in the second square for move number one. Next, Alice “ran down the hill and jumped over the first of the six little brooks,” which puts her in the Third Square. After this sentence, we see three rows of asterisks, which are used throughout the story to signify that Alice has moved into the next square.

Alice then rides an unusual railway that jumps across a brook, sending Alice into the Fourth square, which is the home of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. After their discourse and poems she meets the White Queen, and she follows after her across a brook, which takes her into the Fifth Square. To her astonishment, the queen becomes a sheep, and the surroundings become a small shop of goods. She suddenly realizes she’s on a boat and rows through this square. At the end, she’s in the small shop again and she jumps across a small brook in the shop into the Sixth Square.

In the Sixth Square, Alice has a pedantic lesson with Humpty Dumpty, who teaches her the imaginative aspect of language. Leaving him, she meets the White King and his soldiers and encounter a problem regarding Plum Pudding and a group of strange animals. After leaving the Lion and Unicorn behind, Alice enters the the Seventh Square.

In the Seventh Square,  Alice is almost taken by the Red Knight. However, The White Knight comes to her aid, takes the Red Knight, and accompanies Alice to the edge of the Eight Square.

At this point, Alice jumps across the final brook and suddenly is crowned a queen. This is not the end of the game though.

Alice then attends her own coronation dinner. The Red Queen and all other attendants aggravate Alice to the point where she throws a tantrum. In her fury, Alice grabs the Red Queen and shakes her, taking the piece and winning the game.

Thus, in eleven total moves, Alice moves across the chessboard as a pawn and becomes a queen. She then takes the Red Queen and wins the game. The only issue, which even Dodgson confesses, is that the sides take their turns out of order. However, the actual moves can be mapped out and recorded as Alice journeys across the Looking-Glass world. Such a complex scheme truly proves Dodgson to be a logic-loving and mathematical genius because one can read this novel through the distant view of a chessboard.


3 responses to “Looking-Glass Chess

  1. mrmg0 says:

    I found your article about Alice and chess to be very interesting especially since you bring up a second major issue that the piece suffers if we consider “Through the Looking Glass” as an analogue for a chess game: one that also must be considered alongside pieces moving out of order and the white knight checking his own king. This issue originates in how the game ends, with Alice “taking” the Red Queen. However, for those of you who haven’t played chess, losing your Queen, though often utterly crippling, does not end the game. In fact, several games have been won by intentionally sacrificing your Queen to garner either an immediate checkmate or an inevitable one. The question then that we must turn to then is: Why? Why does the simple act of taking the Queen end the game.
    One possible explanation of this second oddity within the chess game may lie in the definition of “king.” In chess, the queen is the predominant force on the table. She can move the most squares and number of ways as well as having the second most “value” of any piece (after the King). However, in most examples of Royalty throughout history the Queen is a relatively passive force in the kingdom whereas the King is the “active” force in the kingdom amongst the royal duo. This then translates to the Red Queen taking on a role as pseudo-King. This status, of the active pseudo-King and the prime force of the Red side, then allows Alice to capture her and end the game.

  2. While my chess knowledge is indeed limited (my Dad always tried to teach me, but to his dismay, I could never grasp anything above checkers at Cracker Barrel), the most interesting part of this blog was the commentary regarding Alice as a pawn. Merriam Webster defines a pawn as “one of the chessmen of least value”, or “one that can be used to further the purposes of another” (Merriam Webster Online Dictionary). While Alice starts out as the least powerful piece, she ultimately ends up a queen at the end of the game. This incredibly difficult maneuver is evident by the challenging path that Alice pursues in order to reach her ultimate goal, which the blog accurately synopsizes. While Alice has the least power and essentially the least control in the game, she is still able to surpass all odds by making it to the position of a queen. Dodgson’s mathematical approach signifies his mental prowess, for in order to create an entire game and also structure a children’s story around it, as readers we are able to not only appreciate his creativity, but also his love of logic. While Wonderland and the Looking Glass World do not offer much in regards to sense or methodology, Dodgson still is able to incorporate elements of his intellect through the elaborate game of chess, which I find incredibly brilliant. Through our discussions in class, it is evident that Dodgson was certainly gifted in regards to his ability of mathematics, as he was a professor of the subject, but it is even more refreshing because the works that we have read by him have been anything but logic. In a world where nothing seems to make any sense, he finds chess as an outlet for Alice’s journey in order to create a degree of structure that the Looking Glass World lacks. As a strong proponent of structure myself, I appreciate this skillful move and I appreciate the peculiar mind of Dodgson that much more.

  3. kevinmgriffin says:

    As a reader of Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass (And What Alice Found There),” I found that one of my favorite aspects of the story was the use of a giant chess game and logic to determine what each of Alice’s moves would be. However, as someone who has played chess in the past, I found some of the parts of this tale to be a bit illogical. I found your analysis of the events that happen throughout the story to serve more as a summary of the different things that Alice encounters through her journey rather than an analysis of why these things would make sense or not in terms of a chess game, which is what I was hoping you would discuss a bit more. For example, why do you think it was that there were some moves that were out of turn? What was the reasoning for having the white pieces play twice in a row and skip the turn of the red team? It was discussed, very much to my agreement, that this could be representative of the fact that Alice is a child in the story, and therefore may not fully comprehend all of the rules that are entailed in a game of chess. It would be very characteristic of a child to try to play out of turn in a game of chess, and in a Lewis Carroll story, it is not unrealistic to think that he would allow one of his characters to do this. Another part of the chess game that I did not fully comprehend was why on the imaginary chess board that was presented to us the white queen, red queen, and Alice as a transformed piece, were not all placed together at the time that the three were at their party. If this were the case, it would seem that the other white queen would have been fully capable of putting the Red King into check in the same manner that Alice did by taking out the Red Queen. As stated previously, I am a reader that also plays chess, and I feel that it would have facilitated my understanding of the references to the chess game if there were played in a more logical way.

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