LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

Malnutrition and Imaginary Meals in Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan

Upon looking for sources for my paper, I stumbled upon an article that talked about how hunger and malnutrition are represented in Alice in Wonderland, as a commentary on the famines of the Victorian era. According to the article, Lewis Carroll included the tiny pieces of food, about the place, to express that Alice is essentially scrounging for her meals. She is lucky to stumble upon something, but is often left looking about for more food to return her to normal. In the Victorian era, there were enormous food shortages, causing the price of food to be raised to an intolerable level. As a result, meals became hard to come by. Considering Lewis Carroll saw this occurring, and experienced it himself, he felt the need to use it as a theme in Alice in Wonderland, and seek a solution for it.
At one point, in the novel, Alice meets the caterpillar, smoking atop a giant mushroom. When leaving, he tells her that one side will make her small, and one side will make her big. Alice then attempts to regain her original size, and upon doing so, realizes the value of the mushroom. From then on, Alice stores the mushroom pieces in her apron, thinking that she can use them as needed. This mushroom is thus Carroll’s solution for Victorian society–to find food in nature.

In Peter and Wendy, the lost boys complain about having to occasionally make believe their dinners. I personally found this to be one of the most pitiable situations in the book, and I was curious as to why J. M. Barrie might have written such scenes. After reading about the high price of food in the Victorian era, I wondered if perhaps Barrie was also making a commentary about the Edwardian era, through Peter and Wendy, by expressing that, due the food shortages, little boys and girls sometimes had to imagine they had meals. The Edwardian era, however, was described as a golden age between the Victorian era and World War I, hence I am led to believe that the food shortages improved. What I did read was about a Poor Law that was implemented, which gave relief funds to unemployed women, but not to unemployed able-bodied males. As a result, if one was married to an unemployed male, one was cut off from funds, as well. Upon reading this, I wondered about the financial situation of the Davies boys, and if the imaginary meals were an idea thought up by Barrie to quell their growling stomachs, rather than that of society as a whole. Children often play make believe, when it comes to tea parties, but in Peter and Wendy there is an obvious expression that these boys are hungry, despite having nothing,

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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.


Humpty Dumpty’s Meta-Narrative


As per our discussion in class, Lewis Carroll–through the agent of his characters–was able to insert a philosophy of language and literary comprehension. Humpty Dumpty most explicitly demonstrates this throughout his interaction with Alice, when she reveals her confusion and the difficulty of understanding the poem “Jabberwocky” presents her. Humpty Dumpty swiftly informs her that he deconstruct the ambiguity of the words (and of course goes on to translate an entire stanza).

Humpty Dumpty is actually discussing the linguistic side to Alice’s encounter with the surreal. Her wonderland/looking-glass world does exist under the same conditions as “the real world,” therefore, the semantics and pragmatics of language there would not follow the same rules.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”
“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master      that’s all.”
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

I brought up the point that perhaps Carroll was trying to illustrate that meaning is subjective to the individual, and that when reading the text, the reader should also be applying their own meaning, unadulterated by others opinions. Carroll deliberately wrote “Jabberwocky” to be an interactive work, so that readers wouldn’t be subjected to a poem that already had an abundant amount of interpretations (which it still does), but by using nonsensical words instead, no one could fully claim they knew what the intended meaning was.

The conversation between Alice and Humpty Dumpty also address the connection between language and reality. Throughout Alice’s adventure, she confronts the problem of existence and the true nature of things as a result of the altered label she is no longer familiar with. Conceptually she is able to conjure an image of whatever is being discussed, but she is consistently disoriented by the skewed definitions, and the arbitrary nature of the conversations she finds herself participating in.

Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice that he makes up the definitions of the words he uses, which would indicate a complete irrelevancy to any message he was trying to convey–except the message Carroll is conveying through Dumpty, which is (in part) an understanding of human expression through language.


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Carroll and The White Knight

The White Knight was one of the most intriguing characters I read in Through the Looking Glass. But through our class discussion, it was interesting to learn that Carroll wrote the Knight as himself. This had me coming back to a point that was made which was that he was still in a child like state of mind. Being that this is a rumor, we cannot be sure of Carroll’s true character, but I feel that many points that we have studied lead to that conclusion. Through a character sketch of the White Knight, we can see how nonsensical Carroll truly was.


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To support my hypothesis that he was stuck in a child-like state of mind, we can look to how he saw himself in the White Knight. The man was very silly, making little sense. He could not stay on his horse, he made up ridiculous inventions and the reader could also sense his potential feelings towards Alice. But does this mean that Carroll knew he acted this way? Or did he see his actions as normal? Clearly he did not see the world of the Knight as normal, thus all of the nonsense surrounding his character. But if we think about him as a person and what we have learned through research and presentations, can we say that he was still stuck in a state of juvenile mentality? Could these stories point to a psychological issue that was not seen during his time? We cannot be too sure. But one thing is for sure, that Carroll understood how far left he acted and that he was not like the “grown-ups” of his time period. We can see this through the White Knight and the world he creates for Alice. The nonsense of his characters can speak for what he was truly like, a child possibly stuck inside a man’s body.


*The video is a scene from Through the Looking Glass. a movie that was produced about the book. This scene is where the White Knight rescues Alice from the Red Knight. I hope you enjoy!

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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.


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.


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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Character Analysis of the White Knight


In Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, Alice encounters a White Knight in Chapter Eight, titled “It’s My Own Invention.”  Alice’s character is based on one of Carroll’s favorite child friends, Alice Liddell, so is too far-fetched to say that Carroll inserted himself in this second story about Alice, not as a Dodo this time, but as the White Knight?  There are many clues to this from the White Knight’s description to his actions that can point to this connection between the author and this character of the White Knight.

The White Knight is described as having “shaggy hair” (Carroll 207) and “mild blue eyes” (Carroll 214), and although this is minimal as anyone could have shaggy hair and blue eyes, Carroll did have these characteristics.  Also as discussed in class, it was brought up that the illustrator, Sir John Tenniel, decided to draw the White Knight in his image although that character was meant to be Carroll.  In the Introduction of the edition I read, this detail was mentioned in two places about Carroll writing himself into the story as the White Knight as an attempt at autobiography (Carroll xxiii) and about Tenniel substituting his image for Carroll’s (Carroll lxxix).

Sir John TennielLewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson

The White Knight by Sir John Tenniel

As for the White Knight’s behavior, he frequently falls off his horse and onto his head, which I interpret to be a representation of Carroll’s stuttering in real life.  In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, he writes himself and the Liddell family into the book as various animals Alice encounters down the rabbit hole.  Carroll was the Dodo, whose name came from the form of his real last name when he experienced his chronic stammer—“Do-Do-Dodgson” (Carroll xvi).  Thus, it would not be surprising if Carroll made an appearance again in his second volume based on Alice.  Another one of the White Knight’s habits is inventing new, albeit dysfunctional, objects, which is suggestive of Carroll’s own career of writing the first stories of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and his hobby from which these novels came from of telling tales to the Liddell siblings (Carroll xxxi-xxxiv).  Additionally, Carroll was rumored to have been obsessed or very attached to the real Alice Liddell (Carroll xxi-xxii, xxxv, xxxvii), and so it seems appropriate that the White Knight would try to take fictional Alice as “prisoner” (Carroll 205-207).

Dodo by Sir John Tenniel

In Through the Looking-Glass the White Knight guides Alice to queendom.  He cannot follow her across the brook to where she will become queen, and this can be seen as a metaphor for Carroll being unable to follow Alice as she grows up and leaves childhood especially after his breakup with the Liddell family (Carroll xxi-xxii, xxxv, xxxvii).  He wanted to keep Alice as his prisoner in both the story and in reality as Carroll was losing his child friend to the aging process and the rift with her family.  However, the White Knight cannot follow Alice as she matures as his character states twice (Carroll 207, 218).  Carroll creates scenes where Alice doesn’t follow the White Knight’s illogical inventions just as she did in real life when she no longer believed in Carroll’s made-up stories (Bjork & Eriksson 74).  Eventually, Alice in real life grows up and gets married and never interacts with Carroll again, and her becoming a queen and acquiring a “golden crown” (Carroll 219), which is an allegory for maturing and marriage (as a golden crown is to a golden ring, symbolic of matrimony), is an allegorical event for this.

This entire eighth chapter is almost an autobiographical mourning story as Carroll expresses his grief for Alice’s growing up and growing disinterest in what used to be their shared imaginary world.  This chapter allows the author to literally close the Alice chapter in his life so he could move on.  He does express his sadness at this seemingly one-sided relationship since the fictional character Alice does not cry and is not moved by the White Knight’s poem, which disheartens the White Knight (Carroll 218) just as the real Alice no longer took interest in Carroll’s stories disheartening him as well.  Yet, as the White Knight leaves, he tumbles off of his horse again.  Then Alice comments, “However, he gets on pretty easily” (Carroll 218), which could be taken to mean that the author has written Alice to feel sympathetic for him, and it also implies that he will be fine without Alice.


Bjork, Christina, and Inga-Karin Eriksson. The Other Alice: The Story of Alice Liddell and Alice in Wonderland. 1st. ed. Stockholm: Raven and Sjorgren, 1993. Print.

Carrol, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Ed. Hugh Haughton. Centenary ed. London: Penguin Group, 1998. Print. Penguin Classics.

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Its Emphasis on Consumption


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.


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: