We’re All Mad Here

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass are so well known to children that it may come as a surprise, for adults, that these books are about a lot more than a dreamy land.  We remember the frazzled rabbit, the crazy Hatter’s tea party, the disappearing cat with the creepy grin, the Tweedle brothers, and the bloodthirsty queen.  And most of us, if we were young enough, (or brave enough to watch the Tim Burton movie), had nightmares about at least a few in that list.

But both books also contain political and social commentary, logic and math problems, and linguistic jokes galore.  Lewis Carroll, a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was a lecturer, teacher, and mathematician at Christ Church in Oxford.  His cleverness has lots of dialogue that goes right over kids’ heads, but lots of playfulness with words that kids love (at the time, it seemed like really good advice for life):

‘If everybody minded their own business,’ the Duchess said in a hoarse growl, ‘the world would go round a deal faster than it does.’ (Wonderland, Chapter VI)

The Red Queen tells Alice,

‘Curtsey while you’re thinking what to say, it saves time.'(Looking Glass, Chapter II)

One of the most quotable quotes, from the insane and disorderly trial:

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. ‘Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?’ he asked.

‘Begin at the beginning,’ the King said gravely, ‘and go on till you come to the end: then stop.’ (Wonderland, Chapter XI)

And when Alice is falling down the rabbit hole:

“I wonder if I shall fall right THROUGH the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward!” (Wonderland, Chapter I)

And then, sometimes, Charles Dodgson just gets a little weird.  When you were a kid, did you know the caterpillar was smoking a hookah?  I sure didn’t.

(“Bless you!”

“–No, it’s a hookah.”

“Can I get you a tissue?”)

And I went on with my sheltered life.  Ya gotta wonder, sometimes, if the author got a little desperate for writing material and tried some drastic new methods:

Lewis Carroll tells his whole long haranguing, trippy story to a friend, rabbits and scary queens and kittens and all,  “…and then she woke up.”

Friend, after a long pause, “Um, you been snacking on the mushrooms again, Charles?”

And that is why it became a kids’ story.

Well, in honor of Alice’s Trippy Adventures, today’s post has some riddles, straight out of the books.  The first person with the right answer–you can tell us in the comments section–wins that fabulous glow of pride that comes from the knowledge that you were right.  Blind your friends with it.  And no fair googling the answers!

1.  Why is a raven like a writing desk?            (the Hatter asks this to Alice at his Tea Party)

2.  “First, the fish must be caught.”

That is easy: a baby, I think, could have caught it.

“Next, the fish must be bought.”

That is easy: a penny, I think, would have bought it.

“Now cook me the fish!”

That is easy, and will not take more than a minute.

“Let it lie in a dish!”

That is easy, because it already is in it.

“Bring it here! Let me sup!”

It is easy to set such a dish on the table.

“Take the dish-cover up!”

Ah, THAT is so hard that I fear I’m unable!

For it holds it like glue—

Holds the lid to the dish, while it lies in the middle:

Which is easiest to do,

Un-dish-cover the fish, or dishcover the riddle?’

(The Red Queen recites this to Alice in Through the Looking Glass)

And finally, just for fun, a short short version.  We’ve never seen it so quick.  Don’t blink.  (Actually it does the blinking for you.)

At the end, all I can think is, “Look out! Here come the Boy Scouts!”

What did you think of the Alice books, as a kid or an adult?  Tell us your guess to the riddles!

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5 thoughts on “We’re All Mad Here

    • I agree–I think the story line is odd enough that it stuck with me longer than, say, Disney-princess movies did–and now I feel like I can better explain the things I thought were strange, like the Cheshire cat. Though, I think some of its beauty is that it isn’t entirely explainable.

  1. Pingback: E. Nesbit: The Enchanted World in Real Life « Elena In English

  2. When I was a child I love Alice curiosity that is present till today…Her adventures in Wonderland is one kind of riddle that sublimate all this Lewis Carroll riddles which maybe lead to our one riddle from wonderland 🙂 Thank you for this post !

    • What an interesting thought! Perhaps the riddle of Alice’s adventures gives us just enough of a trail to keep following… I also loved Alice’s curiosity and fearlessness. Thanks for your comment!

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