Wonderland is packed with puns, nonsense characters and baffling moments. The White Queen resolves to believe six impossible things before breakfast – so here are six of our favourite things to know about Alice In Wonderland.
It’s all real!
Well, Alice is real. Sort of.
See, Alice was a real girl; she’s based on Alice Liddell, the 10-year old daughter of Oxford University’s Vice-Chancellor (and Lewis Carroll’s boss). On a boat trip down the Thames, Carroll came up with these stories to entertain Alice and her sisters.
Recently, Judy Dench played Alice Lidell in a play called Alice and Peter, which imagined how she might have felt about being the inspiration for a book that was read by so many people. It tells the story of the time she met Peter Llewelyn Davies (played by Ben Whishaw), one of the boys who Peter Pan was based on.
We’re lucky she had pester power
Lewis Carroll didn’t expect to publish Alice’s adventures when he first came up with them. In fact, it was only because Alice and her sisters kept asking him to tell them the stories over and over again that he eventually wrote them down.
He did it so that the girls could enjoy the stories without him having to get involved. Thank goodness Carroll was a bit lazy, or we’d never have had Alice In Wonderland!
That first version was called Alice’s Adventures Underground, and it didn’t even include the Mad Hatter or Cheshire Cat. Some of the other titles he went through included Alice’s Hour in Elf Land, Alice Among the Fairies, and Alice Among the Goblins.
It’s got a number of famous fans
The Red Queen isn’t a particularly likeable character in Alice In Wonderland. That clearly didn’t matter to Queen Victoria, though: she invited Carroll to dedicate his next book to her. A dutiful subject, Carroll took the Queen at her word, and cheerfully presented her with his mathematical paper ‘An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, With Their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraic Equations’. It’s perhaps not quite what her majesty was expecting.
Other famous fans include the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and the artist Salvador Dali. And musicians are definitely Alice fans: Stevie Nicks, the Beatles and Taylor Swift all have songs inspired by her trip to Wonderland.
Mock Turtle Soup was a real thing
On her journey through Wonderland, Alice meets the Mock Turtle. Quite reasonably, Alice asks the White Queen what on earth a Mock Turtle is, and the Queen explains that it’s what Mock Turtle Soup is made from.
It sounds like just another example of Lewis Carroll’s brand of enjoyable nonsense. In fact, it’s a real recipe, popular in the Victorian era. You could try asking for a bowl of it in Kemp’s Restaurant downstairs, but that’s probably not a good idea – it’s made from cow’s brains, hooves and assorted organs (ew).
Lewis Carrol is a Dodo
Lewis Carroll based the character of the Dodo on himself. Because of his stammer, Carroll (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) would often say his surname as “Do-Do-Dodgson.”
Carroll also suffered from a rare neurological disorder, now called Alice In Wonderland Syndrome. It can cause hallucinations and make objects (including your own body) appear bigger or smaller than they are. Many people think that might have been the inspiration for all the growing and shrinking that Alice does in the story.
A raven isn’t really like a writing desk
So, why is a raven like a writing desk? Well it’s hard to say. The Mad Hatter’s riddle has been confounding readers for years, and there’s a reason for that: Lewis Carroll later admitted that he didn’t have an answer at all.
Of course, that hasn’t stopped people from trying to solve it. One popular answer is that “Edgar Allen Poe wrote on both” (because he used a writing desk, and because he wrote a famous poem called The Raven). Aldous Huxley proposed a different answer: “because there is a B in Both and an N in Neither” (a wonderfully nonsensical suggestion that Carroll might have approved of).
Later, Lewis Carroll did try and come up with an answer. He proposed that a raven is like a writing desk “because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front” (if that one doesn’t make sense, try reading ‘nevar’ backwards). Unfortunately, an editor ‘corrected’ his spelling, which rather ruined the joke.
Can you do any better?
Our Youth Theatre Company performs Alice Back In Wonderland here from 26-29 July, and tickets are available now.