The following entry presents criticism of Carroll's stories Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1872). See also, Lewis Carroll Criticism.
Classics of children's literature, Lewis Carroll's richly imaginative fantasy stories Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass have earned a reputation as serious works of art. The stories, as Donald Rackin has said, "often say to us more than Carroll meant them to say." Alice's dream-world adventures have since the 1930s been read by many scholars as political, psychological, and philosophical metaphors, and as literary parodies. Widely translated, quoted, and adapted for various media, the Alice books are considered enduring classics whose ideas, disguised as "nonsense," are provocative enough to enthrall critics and philosophers alike.
The son of a country pastor, Dodgson led a quiet childhood, showing a precocity in mathematics and parody. He went to Oxford at age eighteen, and was made a fellow of Christ Church two and a half years later. He was to remain there for the rest of his life, lecturing in mathematics and writing an occasional parody on a local political matter. A bachelor in the serious, male-dominated world of Oxford, Dodgson liked to entertain young girls with his story-telling; he invented toys, mathematical games, and puzzles for their enjoyment, and he maintained a whimsical correspondence with young girls throughout his life. The "Alice" of his stories was Alice Liddell, daughter of Henry George Liddell, the dean of Christ Church. On a boat trip up the river Isis with Alice and her two sisters on July 4, 1862, Dodgson invented the story which he later published, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In 1871, following the great success of the first story, Carroll published its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. He died early in 1898 and is buried in Guildford, Surrey.
Plot and Major Characters
In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice falls into a rabbit hole and emerges in the imaginative world of Wonderland, where she soon discovers that the solid, logical laws of science no longer apply. In Wonderland, Alice grows and shrinks, animals talk, and language makes little sense. She meets a peremptory hookah-smoking Caterpillar, a dodo, then a Duchess with an ever-smiling Cheshire Cat. The Cheshire Cat directs Alice to a tea party with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse. The Wonderland Queen—a playing-card Queen of Hearts—introduces Alice to the Gryphon, who takes her to the Mock Turtle, and, after telling Alice about the Mock-Turtle's education, the two perform a dance, called the Lobster Quadrille. Alice then finds herself at a trial where she has to give evidence. Finding the trial absurd, she tosses the playing-card participants into the air. Her dream comes to a sudden close, and she finds herself awake on a river bank with her sister. In Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Alice steps through a looking-glass and into the backwards world she has seen from her drawing-room. The Looking-Glass world resembles the chess game Alice has been playing with, and Alice herself becomes a pawn for the White Queen. She meets other live chess pieces, a garden of talking flowers, and insects that resemble her toys. She again encounters a series of fantastic characters who entertain her as well as test her patience. Alice finds herself variously in a railway carriage, in the woods, and in a little shop. She is introduced to Tweedledum and Tweedledee, who relate to her the verse tale of the Walrus and the Carpenter, and to Humpty Dumpty, who invents meanings for words and explains the nonsensical poem "Jabberwocky ." She encounters the Looking-Glass equivalents of the March Hare and...
(The entire section is 105,518 words.)