Through the Looking-Glass main character Alice standing opposite her own reflection

Through the Looking-Glass

by Lewis Carroll

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1751

Alice is sure the whole thing is not the white kitten’s fault. It must surely be the fault of the black kitten. Dinah, the mother cat, who has been washing the white kitten’s face, certainly has nothing to do with it. The mischievous black kitten, however, has been unwinding Alice’s ball of yarn and in all ways acting naughty enough to cause the whole strange affair.

While the black kitten is curled up in Alice’s lap, playing with the yarn, Alice tells it to pretend that the two of them can go right through the mirror and into the looking-glass house. As she talks, the glass of the mirror grows misty and soft, and in a moment Alice is through the mirror and in the looking-glass room. The place is very strange; although the room looks just the same as the real room she had seen in the mirror, the clock and the fire and the other things in the room seem to be alive. Even the chessmen (Alice loves to play chess) are alive.

When Alice picks up the White Queen and sets her on the table, the White Queen screams in terror, thinking that a volcano has shaken her about. The White King has the same fear, but he is too astonished to cry out. They do not seem to see or hear Alice, and although she wants to stay and watch them and read the king’s rather funny poetry, she feels she must look at the garden before she has to go back through the looking glass. When she starts down the stairs, she seems to float, not even once touching the steps.

In the garden, every path Alice takes leads her straight back to the house. She asks Tiger Lily and Rose and Violet whether there are other people in the garden, hoping they might help her find the right path. The flowers tell her there is only one person, and Alice finds her to be the Red Queen—but a very strange chess figure, for the Red Queen is taller than Alice herself. As Alice walks toward the Red Queen, she once more finds herself back at the door of the house. Then Alice figures out that in order to get to any place in this queer land, one must walk in the opposite direction. She does so and comes face-to-face with the Red Queen.

The queen takes Alice to the top of a hill. There, spread out below them, is a countryside that looks like a large chessboard. Alice is delighted and says that she would love to play on this board. The Red Queen tells her that they will play; Alice will be the White Queen’s pawn, and they will start on the second square. At that moment, however, the Red Queen grabs Alice’s hand and they start to run. Alice has never run so fast in her life, but although she is breathless, the things around them never change at all. When they finally stop running, the queen tells Alice that in this land one has to run as fast as one can to stay in the same place and twice as fast as one can to get somewhere else. Then the queen shows Alice the pegs in the second square of the chessboard and tells her how to move. At the last peg, the Red Queen disappears, leaving Alice alone to continue the game.

Alice starts to run down the hill, but the next thing she knows she is on a train filled with insects and having quite an unpleasant time because she does not have a ticket. All the insects talk unkindly to her, and, to add to her discomfort, the train jumps over the brook and takes them all straight up in the air. When Alice comes down, she is sitting under a tree talking to Gnat, who is as big as a chicken and very pleasant. He tells her about the other insects that live in the woods; then he too melts away, and Alice has to go on alone.

Turning a corner, she bumps into two fat little men called Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the funniest little creatures she has ever seen. Everything they say seems to have two meanings. They recite a long poem about a walrus and a carpenter and some oysters. Then, while they are explaining the poem to Alice, she hears a puffing noise, like the sound of a steam engine. Tweedledee tells her that it is the Red King snoring, and, sure enough, they find him asleep. Tweedledee tells Alice that the Red King is dreaming about her and that if he stops dreaming Alice will be gone for good. Alice cries when they tell her she is not real but only a part of the Red King’s dream.

As she brushes her tears away, she sees Tweedledum staring in terror at something on the ground. It is an old broken rattle, and the two foolish men get into a terrible fight over it—that is, they talk a terrible fight, but neither seems very eager to have a real battle. The Crow flies over and frightens them, and the funny men run away into the woods. Alice runs too, and as she runs, she sees a shawl blowing about. Looking for the owner of the shawl, Alice sees the White Queen running toward her. The White Queen is a very odd person; she lives backward and remembers things before they happen—for example, she feels pain before she pricks her finger. While the queen is talking, she turns into a sheep, and Alice finds that she and the sheep are in a shop. It is a very curious shop; the shelves are full of things that disappear when Alice looks at them. Sometimes the boxes go right through the ceiling. Then the sheep gives Alice some needles and tells her to knit.

As she starts to knit, the needles become oars, and Alice finds herself and the sheep in a little boat, rowing in a stream. The oars keep sticking in the water, and the sheep explains that the crabs are catching them. Alice picks some beautiful, fragrant rushes that melt away as soon as she picks them. To her surprise, the river and boat soon vanish, and she and the sheep are back in the shop. She buys one egg, although in this shop two are cheaper than one, and the egg begins to grow larger and larger and more and more real, with eyes, a nose, and a mouth. Then Alice can tell as plain as day that the egg is Humpty Dumpty.

She has an odd conversation with Humpty Dumpty, a conversation filled with riddles. They take turns at choosing the topics to discuss, but even though Alice tries to be polite, most of the subjects lead them to arguments. Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the meaning of the “Jabberwocky” poem, the one she had seen in the White King’s book. Then, while reciting another poem, Humpty Dumpty stops right in the middle and says that is all. Alice thinks this very strange, but she does not tell him so. She thinks it is time for her to leave, but as she walks away, a terrible crash shakes the whole forest.

Thousands of soldiers on horseback come rushing toward her, the riders constantly falling off their horses. Frightened, she escapes from the woods into the open. There she finds the White King, who tells her that he sent the soldiers and horses and that the loud crash she heard was the noise of the Lion and the Unicorn fighting for the crown. She goes with the king to watch the fight, which is indeed a terrible one. It is silly of them to fight for the crown, since it belongs to the White King and he has no intention of giving it away. After the fight, Alice meets the Unicorn and the Lion. At the king’s order, she serves them cake, a very strange cake that cuts itself as she carries the dish around.

A great noise interrupts the party. When it stops, Alice thinks she might have dreamed the whole thing until the Red Knight comes along, followed soon by the White Knight. Each claims her as his prisoner. Alice thinks the whole business silly, since neither of them can do anything except fall off his horse and climb back on again, over and over and over. At last, the Red Knight gallops off, and the White Knight tells her that she will be a queen as soon as she crosses the next brook. He is supposed to lead her to the end of the woods, but she spends the whole journey helping him back on his horse each time he falls off. The trip is filled with more queer conversation, but by this time, Alice is used to strange talk from her looking-glass friends. At last, they reach the brook. The knight rides away, and Alice jumps over the brook and into the last square of the chessboard. To her delight, when she reaches that square she feels something tight on her head. It is a crown, and she is a queen.

Soon she finds the Red Queen and the White Queen confronting her; they are very cross because she thinks she is a queen. They give her a test for queens that she apparently passes, for before long they are calling her “Your Majesty” and inviting people to a party that she is to give. After a time, the Red Queen and the White Queen go to sleep, and Alice watches them until they disappear. She then finds herself before a doorway marked “Queen Alice.” All of her new friends are there, including the queens who just vanished. The party is the most amazing experience of all. Puddings talk, guests pour wine over their heads, and the White Queen turns into a leg of mutton. Alice is exasperated, so much so that she seizes the tablecloth and jerks it, knocking everything from the table onto the floor. She then grabs the Red Queen and shakes her as she would a kitten. What is this? It is a kitten she is shaking, the black kitten. Alice talks to Dinah and both the kittens about the adventure they have all experienced, but the silly kittens do nothing but purr.

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