Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland

Essay by Tim Link October 1995

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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...