LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Looking-Glass Chess

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.

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: A Classic

Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is most definitely a classic novel of children’s literature. Some may even argue that it is the epitome of the Golden Age. Not only did it receive huge popularity shortly after its publication over 100 years ago, the book has remained successful and continues to be read by children of today. So the question that arises is – why. Why has Alice experienced so much fame and recognition?

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For one, this novel is so different than the other books that we have read. Carroll’s style of nonsense is very innovative and ingenious. He combines reality, fantasy, and nonsense in a manner that brings the reader into a whole new world. Wonderland, although extremely bizarre and random, somehow makes sense. There are rules and explanations to all the weirdness which readers are amused and entertained by.

Another factor that has made Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a classic is the fact that it is adored by both children and adults alike. The style and tone of the text is very reminiscent of a child’s imagination. For children, they are mesmerized and enthralled by the mysteries of Wonderland and the magical creatures. As a little girl, I was personally captivated by the Cheshire cat. In fact, I distinctly remember playing Alice with my stuffed animal cat, Fluffy. This personal memory takes me to my next point that adults love the novel, too. For grown-ups, rereading Alice brings back sentimental memories and feeling of nostalgia. They are transported back to their childhoods and to a world full of creativity, dreams, and imagination. As a results of this popularity by both children and adults, Alice has continued to survive through many generations of readers and remain a classic.

Another reason why Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is classified as a classic is the unique manner in which Carroll plays with the text along with the illustrations. Never before, have we seen the actual physical words of a novel intertwine with pictures or incorporate playful pieces. For example, the poem of the mouse’s tail is actually written in a spiral pattern, like that of a tail. I have to admit, I actually had fun turning my book around and around in order to read the poem. There are also multiple pages with lines of asterisks, almost resembling twinkling stars. These examples are fun, playful ways in which Carroll captivates his audience.

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In conclusion, Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland remains a sentimental piece of children’s literature. As a classic, it has remained successful among multiple generations and is adored by both children and adults. Moreover, Carroll introduced readers with a brand new style of writing that had never before existed. He created Wonderland – a land of nonsense, dreams, imagination, and nostalgia.

Just an indication of how popular Alice remains today – here is a blog that is completely devoted to the novel.

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Carroll Forever Young

What interested me most about the author Lewis Carroll was this ability to hold onto his own childhood in order to write these tales. I think part of the reason Alice was such a hit with children was because he was a child himself, and therefore knew just how much to engage the child and how much to make him or her think. In a way the “cult” of childhood entrapped Carroll, making him a permanent resident throughout his later years. This mindset of youth allowed him to think both logically and nonsensically, because children have the ability to process both even if they cannot fully understand why yet.

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However, Carroll’s imprisonment in the “cult” of childhood caused controversy amongst adults whom attempted to understand the author more clearly. I myself found questionable the fact that his friendships with young girls would end once they reached the age of fourteen. At first I considered that it was because of his child-like mentality, and once they reached a certain age he stopped being able to relate to them. They would sort of out grow him while he remained a child in his mind. However, reading about how his relationships with young girls affected his writing had me question this theory.

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This is where the “Victorian Child Cult” influences the “Carroll Myth.” The Victorians were under the impression that child nudity was an expression of innocence. Back in Carroll’s time, the fact that he possessed pictures of nude children was not as heavily questioned as it is in more modern times and still is today. It might be a product of change and our generation, but we now see Carroll more so as a questionable man than during his life or even shortly after his passing. Time has caused us to call into question the essence of the Child Cult and caused us to make Lewis out to be the bad guy. The truth is, we may never know the true nature of his relationship’s with young girls, but I do strongly believe that time and modern circumstances have caused us to question to innocence of those relationships more and more.

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Its Emphasis on Consumption

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Caterpillar from Disney’s rendition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been regarded a sensation since its publishing in 1865 and is often revered as the the work that began the genre we know as Children’s Literature today. Though the tale is whimsical and lighthearted, it involves some materials that adults, especially parents, may find inappropriate. One may recall the hookah smoking caterpillar sitting atop a mushroom that causes Alice some trouble, eventually causing her to question her own identity. During her encounter with the caterpillar, she is advised to consume a bit of the mushroom to adjust her size, as she remarked her size was constantly changing and not appropriate for her journey. This consumption of mushrooms may be referring to hallucinogenic mushrooms.

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A scene from the Disney film also described in Carroll’s original tale 

The novel is centered around the phenomenon of consumption, whether it be drugs, food, or drink. Such explicit mention of drug use makes the tale seem inappropriate for children. It is often rumored that Lewis Carroll himself was under the influence of hallucinogens or psychedelics, perhaps LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide), during his authorship of the work. Many of the drug references come directly from Disney’s film version of the book rather than Carroll’s original work on which the movie is based; the film includes more substance abuse than the children’s book, including a walrus smoking cigars and bizarre scenes that depict characteristic behavior of drug abuse such as Alice’s encounter with the talking flowers and the rapid changing from night to day.  For this reason, it is rumored that each character represents a certain drug, much like it is rumored that each character in Winnie the Pooh represents a personality disorder. tumblr_lc4edpi17I1qas2h4o1_500Alice in Wonderland is often associated with drug abuse, with many referring to Alice’s adventures as an “acid trip.”  Popular culture’s obsession with Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has become a cult-like practice in which each character or scene is associated with a different substance, though this is ironic because the work, in addition to the film, was clearly intended for children yet so heavily loaded with drugs.

 

Here are some other images associating characters with drugs:

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John Tenniel and the World of Alice in Wonderland

giant aliceLewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland has inspired vast numbers of illustrations over the years. Illustrations by various artists, such as Peter Newell and Arthur Rackham, can be seen in the essay we read for this week by Roni Natov. Also featured among these images are illustrations by John Tenniel, who worked closely with Carroll and whose illustrations accompanied the novel upon its original publication .

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John Tenniel was born in London in February 1820. He studied at the Royal Academy, but as an illustrator and cartoonist he was primarily self-taught. He exhibited (and sold) a painting at the Society of British Artists at the age of 16, and he later exhibited at the Royal Academy as well. He worked on illustrations for several books, including Thomas James’s Aesop’s Fables and Charles Dickens’s The Haunted Man. Tenniel is also well-known for his cartoon work for Punch, a Victorian humor magazine begun in 1841. He contributed many illustrations to the magazine, becoming chief artist in 1846 and keeping the position until his retirement in 1901. In 1864, Tenniel agreed to work with Carroll on the illustrations for Alice in Wonderland, creating 42 wood engravings to accompany the story. Tenniel was knighted in 1893, and he died nine years later in February 1914.

white rabbitTenniel’s illustrations provide a detailed mirror of the events in Carroll’s text. The first illustration of the story, depicting the White Rabbit, helps to ease the reader into Alice’s fantasy world as seamlessly as Carroll accomplishes this transition in the text. In the story, Alice notices a “white rabbit with pink eyes” who becomes remarkable not when he speaks but when he takes a watch from his waistcoat-pocket. Tenniel’s illustration likewise combines elements of the natural and familiar to create a new and unusual scene. The rabbit is depicted naturalistically and is placed in a realistic field of grass and dandelions. His clothes and pocket-watch are familiar objects as well. However, the combination of these elements, in addition to his upright posture and human hands (a feature shared by many of the animals in the illustrations), creates something unexpected and signals the entrance into a world of fantasy. As the story continues, Tenniel’s illustrations capture the nonsense and peculiarity of the world that Alice travels through, reflecting Carroll’s story and creating an enduring appeal for readers today.

For more information on John Tenniel and his work, visit the links on this page.
For a gallery of all the Alice illustrations, visit this page.

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