Follow the White Rabbit…
…is a web page on nallon.com freely available for people to post and read Alice related items, especially allusions to the Alice books in film, television, novels and theatre.
The Matrix famously makes reference to Wonderland when Neo (Keanu Reeves) is told to "follow the White Rabbit" but it’s Through the Looking Glass that has the more fearful existential parallel for Alice, like Neo, only exists in someone else’s dream (the Red King) and "if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?"
Harry Potter is following in Alice’s footsteps when becomes a living chess piece in The Philosopher’s Stone for Through the Looking Glass is the story of Alice crossing a chessboard in order to be made a Queen. Basil and Sybil Fawlty play the tetchy Red King and Queen chess pieces in Steve Nallon’s version of the tale.
In the opening credits of the Walt Disney’s Alice inWonderland Lewis Carroll’s name is mis-spelt ‘Lewis Carrol’. Disney’s Mickey Mouse makes a brief appearance in Steve Nallon’s show as the mouse swimming along side Alice in the pool of salty tears. However, when Steve’s Alice points out that Mickey is merely an ink-drawing in salt water he dissolves and dies!
The English philosopher Bertrand Russell believed that the Alice stories were unsuitable for children under the age of fifteen. Russell quoted Through the Looking Glass believing the idea to exist as someone else’s dream to be "very instructive from a philosophical point of view. But if it were not put humorously, we should find it too painful."
Carroll was unhappy with the printing quality of the original edition and so ordered a second print run. In a typical Wonderland up-side down way the official ‘First Edition’ was in reality the Second Edition (dated ‘1866’ though published in 1865). Only 22 copies of the flawed edition are known to survive. One of these ‘original’ First Edition’s was sold in 1998 for $1.5million.
‘Lewis Carroll’ is the pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (the ‘g’ in Dodgson is silent). ‘Lewis’ is derived from Lutwidge (in English Ludovic or Louis). ‘Carroll’ is a variation on the name Charles that originates from the Latin Carolus.
Charles Dodgson, according to the memory of Alice Liddell, the original Alice, ‘carried himself upright, almost more than upright, as if he had swallowed a poker.’ He was a thin man who walked eighteen miles a day, timed to take five hours and twenty-five minutes. In the show Kenneth Williams as ‘Lewis Carroll’ takes Steve to task for his "modern interpretation" of his story.
There are a surprising number of ‘death-jokes’ in the Alice stories. The most murderous comes from Humpty Dumpty. Alice tells him she is seven years and six months and that she can’t help getting older. He replies, "With proper assistance, you might have left off at seven." In Steve Nallon’s re-invention of the tale Humpty Dumpty is played by Johnny Vegas.
Alice changes size twelve times in the Wonderland story and with each alteration comes doubts as to her true identity. Alice fears most of all she is becoming lower class. Steve Nallon combines concerns about size and social status by having his ‘Alice’ played by three famous representatives of the British class system, each from different ‘heights’ of social respectability. There is the ‘upper-class Alice’ (Penelope Keith), the ‘social-climber Alice’ (Patricia Routledge) and the ‘northern lower-middle class Alice’ (Maggie Smith).
Carroll invents numerous words in his Alice stories, most famously in the opening of his poem Jabberwocky: 'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves / Did gyre and gimble in the wabe. James Joyce took Carroll’s word inventions to extreme in Finnegan’s Wake. The novel pays its own tribute to Carroll and Alice in Joyce’s line ‘Alicious, twinstreams twinestraines, through alluring glass or alas in jumboland?’
Although the mushroom the Caterpillar tells Alice to eat distorts her perception of space and time it is not a so-called ‘magic mushroom’ (Amanita muscaria). The John Tenniel drawing is a plain topped mushroom, suggesting perhaps the non-toxic Amanita fulva. Magic mushrooms have completely different markings (red capped and splattered). That said, a copy of Stimulants and Narcotics was found on Lewis Carroll’s book shelf. In Steve Nallon’s show the Socratic philosophising Caterpillar is played by Homer Simpson.
The original title of the book given as a present to the real Alice was Alice’s Adventures Underground. However, for publication Carroll wanted to avoid the possibility that people might think the book was about coal mining and so changed the title to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Lewis Carroll was a member of The Society of Psychical Research. It seems he believed in ‘thought reading’ or ESP as we might call it today. In the Alice stories the Caterpillar reads thoughts of Alice and Tweedledum and Tweedledee claim to be able to do the same.
Lewis Carroll was a lecturer in mathematics who loved puns. The school lessons discussed by the Mock Turtle (played by Alan Bennett in Steve Nallon’s version) go from ten hours to nine hours until on the eleventh day when they stop. The Gryphon explains that they are called ‘lessons’ because "they lesson". In Steve Nallon’s re-invention of Wonderland the Gryphon (voiced by Peter Sallis of Wallace and Gromit fame) offers an equation that proves 2 equals 1.
The origin of the Cheshire Cat’s grin is of much dispute for Lewis Carroll officienardos. One theory is that images of grinning lions were popular on local inns in Cheshire where Carroll lived as a boy. Another idea is that Cheshire cheeses were moulded in the shape of a grin. A third thought is that the grin is based on a stone carving of a cat’s head that can be found in the church where Carroll’s father was rector. The fourth and most obvious bit of thinking is that Lewis Carroll simply made it up. In Steve Nallon’s show the grinning Cheshire Cat is played by Tony Blair.
Second to Shakespeare Lewis Carroll is the most quoted writer in books of quotations. Although over a century old many phrases have a distinctly modern feel. When the Red Queen says, "Here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place" she might well be describing our contemporary lifestyle. The Queen of Hearts (played in the show by the despotic Anne Robinson) saying, "Off with their heads!" has been known to be used by the present Queen Elizabeth when talking to her own gardeners about pruning roses.
Freudian interpretations of Wonderland include the teory that the fall down the rabbit hole represents intercourse, landing on leaves is equivalent to the arrival in the womb and Alice’s emergence from the salty pool of tears of her own making is the breaking waters of child-birth! ‘Aggressive oral sadism’ and ‘anal-retentive’ are some of the milder phrases used to describe Carroll and his work. The violent forcing of the Dormouse into the teapot has also caused some concern. However, large tea-pots were where Victorian children hibernated their pets. As Freud himself said, "Sometimes a cigar is just a good smoke!"
Giving things labels and naming them (the basics of semiotic theory) is a central theme in the Alice stories. Alice famously makes the mistake of assuming that the label on a bottle and the contents of the bottle are one and the same. In life Carroll set out to prove that labels mean more than people’s own senses. When in charge of the wine cellar at his university college Carroll swapped labels on wine bottles so that the best label went on the worst wine. The diners seeing a good label always thought the worst wine tasted the best.
Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) had a stutter (or ‘hesitation’ as he called it) and would introduce himself as ‘Do-do-do-dson’. Hence, he was known as ‘Dodo’, a creature that makes a brief appearance in Wonderland. Dodgson was an inventor, like the kindly White Knight ("It’s my own invention!"). Among Dodgson’s theoretical inventions a travel chess set with attachments to be placed in holes on a board, a word game where words were created from various square letters (essentially a prototype Scrabble) and a betting system that guaranteed winnings at the Derby. The latter he pointed out was impractical because no bookmaker would ever accept such a combination of bets.
There is much cruelty and violence in the Alice books. In life Carroll opposed hunting sports and was a campaigner again vivisection. He once though did make himself attend the amputation of a patient’s leg at St Bartholomew’s Hospital to see if he the stomach to witness such an event.
Strange animals abound in the Alice stories, several of which get eaten. Two contemporaries of Carroll at Oxford University, father and son William and Frank Buckland kept an sort of zoo that included monkeys, eagles and bears. They ate moles, bluebottles, panthers and crocodiles. The Rossettis whom Carroll knew well also kept odd animals, including an armadillo and a kangaroo. Many think that the wombat that slept on their dining-table may have been the inspiration for the Dormouse. In Steve Nallon’s show the sleepy baby dormouse is played by David Beckham.
The most famous comic inversion of Carroll is the Queen of Heart’s call of "Sentence first – verdict afterwards" at the trial of the Knave of Hearts. The phrase is still has a terrible echo today whenever totalitarian regimes put prisoners in jail without trial.
The Mad Hatter might have been made mad as a result of the mercury hatters used when hat making.
Carroll would not tolerate jokes about religion or the Bible. However, some people have read the pigeon calling Alice a serpent as a reference to the Garden of Eden. Lewis Carroll’s theology was slightly out of step with his time. He never accepted the co-relation of an infinity of punishment for wrongs committed within a finite time and although as a clergyman he had to believe in Hell he refused to accept anybody existed there.
A recent movie to make homage to Wonderland is Spirited Away. The huge-headed Yubaba and her bawling monster baby look exactly like the Duchess and her pig-child and Chihiro, like Alice, falls down a hole that never seems to end.