Published in 1865, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is celebrating its 150th Anniversary this year.
Alice has been quite busy during that time. She’s had her story adapted into several movies, TV shows, ballets, plays, operas, and theme park attractions. Her trip to Wonderland is quite well known around the world. What is less well known is Lewis Carroll’s (whose real name was Charles Dodgson) inspiration for the story.
Alice Was A Real Girl
Many of the characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland were based on real life people and places Carroll encountered during his life. Alice is inspired by a 10–year–old little girl named Alice Liddell. Carroll met Alice while tutoring at Oxford University. She was the dean’s daughter and one of the first to hear his fantastical story on a rowboat ride in 1862. She later begged Carroll to write it down. The date the fictional Alice’s adventure takes place is May 4th, which also happened to be Alice Liddell’s birthday. The dean himself, Henry Liddell inspired the character of the White Rabbit: He had a habit of always running late to church services due to the lengthy route he had to take from the Deanery to the Cathedral.
Alice’s sisters Lorina and Edith are thought to have inspired the character of Lory and Eaglet in the second chapter, ‘Pool of Tears,’ where it is written: “There was a Duck, and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet.” The duck was Canon Duckworth, a friend also accompanying the on the boat trip and Carroll himself was the Dodo as he often stuttered, causing him to pronounce his name as ‘Do–do–Dodgson.’
We’re All Mad Here
Our elusive friend the Cheshire Cat is said to be inspired by cheese! “Grinning like a Cheshire Cat” was a popular phrase during Carroll’s day perhaps because cheesemakers in Cheshire county (England) molded Cheshire cheeses with a cat’s grinning face. Another possible explanation is that he was inspired by the three grinning animals in the Liddell’s family arms.
The phrase ‘mad as a hatter’ has a ring of truth to it. During Carroll’s time hatters did indeed go mad due to the prolonged mercury exposure they faced while “felting,” which sometime lead to mercury poisoning and is known as mad hatter disease. People with the disease find it hard to socialize, with some of the syndrome’s symptoms listed as tremors, pathological shyness, irritability, personality changes, and memory loss. However, Carroll’s Mad Hatter is based on an eccentric British furniture dealer named Theophilus Carter who used to stand in the doorway of his shop in Oxford wearing a top hat.
Off With His Head!
The Queen of Hearts. She is thought to be inspired by Alice’s governess Miss Prickett who was nicknamed ‘Pricks.’ That would seem quite appropriate for a character so obsessed with thorny red roses, would it not? As for her need to chop off heads, that could very well be inspired by the dining hall in Christ Church, Oxford. In the hall there is a High Table where the senior members of the college would have dined, and when sitting at the Table one would see the portrait of Henry VIII staring down at you. Who is better known for his love of seeing heads roll than Henry VIII?
Published in 174 languages around the world, Carroll created the “nonsensical” literary genre when he introduced children to Wonderland. Many children have grown up and fallen in love with Alice’s tale, possibly even setting a daily goal of believing “as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” But no where can you find the love of Alice displayed more proudly than within the cosplay community. Grab a cup of tea and follow a few curious deviants down the rabbit hole as they portray their favorite Wonderland characters.
P.S. Learn more about the real identity of Lewis Carroll.
Lewis Carroll: Through a Glass, Darkly
We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad… You must be or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Why, if a fish came to me, and told me he was going a journey, I should say, ‘With what porpoise?”
Curiouser and curiouser!”
Twinkle, twinkle, little bat! How I wonder what you’re at! Up above the world you fly, Like a tea tray in the sky.”
Who are you?”
Off with his head!”
Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!”
- Who is you favorite Alice in Wonderland character and why?
- What would you like to see in future editions of Cosplay Friday?