Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

Did you read and enjoy Lewis Carroll\'s

Alice in Wonderland books as a child? Or better still, did you have someone
read them to you? Perhaps you discovered them as an adult or, forbid the
thought, maybe you haven\'t discovered them at all! Those who have journeyed

Through the Looking Glass generally love (or shun) the tales for their
unparalleled sense of nonsense.

Public interest in the books--from the
time they were published more than a century ago--has almost been matched
by curiosity about their author. Many readers are surprised to learn that
the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and a host of other absurd and captivating
creatures sprung from the mind of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a shy, stammering

Oxford mathematics professor.

Dodgson was a deacon in his church, an
inventor, and a noted children\'s photographer. Wonderland, and thus the
seeds of his unanticipated success as a writer, appeared quite casually
one day as he spun an impromptu tale to amuse the daughters of a colleague
during a picnic. One of these girls was Alice Liddell, who insisted that
he write the story down for her, and who served as the model for the heroine.

Dodgson eventually sought to publish the
first book on the advice of friends who had read and loved the little handwritten
manuscript he had given to Alice Liddell. He expanded the story considerably
and engaged the services of John Tenniel, one of the best known artists
in England, to provide illustrations. Alice\'s Adventures in Wonderland
and its sequel Through The Looking Glass were enthusiastically received
in their own time, and have since become landmarks in childrens\' literature.

What makes these nonsense tales so durable?

Aside from the immediate appeal of the characters, their colourful language,
and the sometimes hilarious verse ("Twas brillig, and the slithy toves/did
gyre and gimble in the wabe:") the narrative works on many levels. There
is logical structure, in the relationship of Alice\'s journey to a game
of chess. There are problems of relativity, as in her exchange with the

Cheshire Cat:

"Would you tell me please, which way I
ought to go from here?"

"That depends a good deal on where you
want to get to."

There is plenty of fodder for psychoanalysts,

Freudian or otherwise, who havehad a field day analyzing the significance
of the myriad dream creatures and Alice\'s strange transformations. There
is even Zen: "And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like
after the candle is blown out..."

Still, why would a rigorous logical thinker
like Dodgson, a disciple of mathematics, wish children to wander in an
unpredictable land of the absurd? Maybe he felt that everybody, including
himself, needed an occasional holiday from dry mental exercises. But he
was no doubt also aware that nonsense can be instructive all the same.

As Alice and the children who follow her adventures recognize illogical
events, they are acknowledging their capacity for logic, in the form of
what should normally happen.

"You\'re a serpent; [says the Pigeon] and
there\'s no use denying it. I suppose you\'ll be telling me next that you
never tasted an egg!"

"I have tasted eggs, certainly," said

Alice... "But little girls eat eggs quite as much as serpents do, you know."

Ethel Rowell, to whom Dodgson taught logic
when she was young, wrote that she was grateful that he had encouraged
her to "that arduous business of thinking." While Lewis Carroll\'s Alice
books compel us to laugh and to wonder, we are also easily led, almost
in spite of ourselves, to think as well.

FURTHER READING:

Lewis Carroll. Alice\'s Adventures in Wonderland
& Through the Looking-Glass, with an introduction by Morton N. Cohen,

Bantam, 1981.

Lewis Carroll: The Wasp in a Wig, A "Suppressed

Episode of Through the Looking-Glass, Notes by Martin Gardner, Macmillan

London Ltd, 1977.

Anne Clark: The Real Alice, Michael Joseph

Ltd, 1981.

Raymond Smullyan: Alice in Puzzleland,

William Morrow and Co., 1982.