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Lewis Carroll

England 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 Carpenter

Although 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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