has given birth to a largesse of fantasy writers, but none has quite caught
the fancy of the world at large so much as the creator of the ubiquitous and
ever inquisitive Alice. Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge
Dodgson into a wealthy family in Cheshire, England, on January 27, 1832.
His Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland (1865), Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice
Found There (1871) propelled him to the pinnacle of literary notoriety, even
during his own lifetime.
As a child, Carrol loved to
create poems, stories, and drawings to entertain his brothers and sisters.
At Christ Church, Oxford,
he studied mathematics and
eventually received his degree before deciding to stay on as a faculty
member on the condition that he would enter the clergy and remain single,
which he did. While there, he lectured, wrote books on mathematics, tutored, and
took up photography as a serious hobby at a time when most people considered
it more of a curiosity than a legitimate discipline.
But life for Carroll
wasn't easy. He suffered from a bad stammer, which made lecturing and
teaching difficult. He preached only occasionally after his
ordination in 1861. Despite his stammer--or perhaps because of
it--he spoke easily with children, whom he often photographed. He
had seven sisters of his own.
When he was 24 years old, a new dean, Henry George Lidell,
arrived at Carroll's church with his three daughters, Lorina Charlotte,
Edith, and Alice, whom Carroll quickly befriended. During a July 4th picnic, he began telling Alice a story. The result was
the birth of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The book was
eventually published under the title, Alice's Adventures Under Ground.
The story centers on a seven-year-old girl named Alice who falls
asleep in a meadow and dreams that she plunges down a rabbit hole. At
first, she finds herself too large--and then too small--for her own good.
She meets strange and unearthly characters such as the Cheshire Cat, the Mad
Hatter, the March Hare, and the King and Queen of Hearts, and she
experiences wondrous, strange, and often frightening adventures, all the
while trying to make sense of a nonsensical world. She awakens to
reality only after rejecting her dream.
Carroll never forgot the day on which
he invented Alice's remarkable adventures. Later in life, he wrote, "I
can call it up almost as clearly as if it were yesterday—the cloudless blue
above, the watery mirror below, the boat drifting idly on its way, the
tinkle of the drops that fell from the oars, as they waved so sleepily to
and fro, and (the one bright gleam of life in all the slumberous scene) the
three eager faces, hungry for news of fairy-land..."
Alice begged him to write the stories down, and a few months
later, he did, in part because he thought it had a good chance to sell a lot
of copies. The book was illustrated by popular British cartoonist
John Tenniel, and it was published in 1865. Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland, along with its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass,
became one of the most popular children's books in the world.
"Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her
sister on the bank and of having nothing to do ... when suddenly a White
Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her. There was nothing so very
remarkable in that ... but, when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its
waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to
her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a
rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and
burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in
time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge. In
another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the
world she was to get out again."
Carroll published the follow-up bestseller, Through the Looking Class,
in 1871. Perhaps even more popular than its precursor, the
story features the often quoted poems, Jabberwocky and The Walrus
and the Carpenter.
"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax -
Of cabbages - and kings -
And why the sea is boiling hot -
And whether pigs have wings." - from The Walrus and the
some biographers have portrayed Carroll to be a shy, awkward
recluse who was comfortable only around young girls, he was actually
very charming and sociable. Although he never married, many of his
friends were women, and he wrote several love poems to them. He loved
to hold dinner parties and afterward made detailed charts of where his guests
sat and what they ate.
Carroll enjoyed trips to the theater and to art galleries,
and he traveled extensively throughout Russia with a friend. He also
wrote nearly a hundred thousand letters in his lifetime, along with a
pamphlet entitled Eight or Nine Wise Words about Letter-Writing.
He once observed, "I'm beginning to think that the proper definition of
'Man' is 'an animal that writes letters.'"
By the end of his life, Carroll had become a celebrity who
had grown weary of all of his admirers and autograph hunters who wanted to meet
him. Lewis Carroll died in 1898.
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