What would Lewis Carroll Make of It?

June 1, 2023   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

The first of Lewis Carroll’s whimsical books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland [normally referred to as Alice in Wonderland], was written for a little girl named Alice, his friend’s daughter. It began at a picnic in July 1862; Lewis Carroll [his pen name] told Alice Liddell and her sisters the story of a young girl who fell asleep in a meadow but woke up or dreamt that she did when a white rabbit passing her was chattering to itself. What followed was her famous fall down the rabbit hole, and the very quirky story then ensued.

Of the new list very recently compiled by the BBC of the 100 favourite children’s books ever worldwide, Alice in Wonderland ranks second after Where the Wild Things Are.

The child, Alice, asked the author/mathematician to write the story for her, and he produced a “hand lettered” version. A visitor to the Liddell home saw the storybook and opined that it should be published, for which publication Lewis Carroll revised and expanded it.

At that time, children’s books were meant to contain great moral lessons, as I think they are today as well, but Carroll understood children better, and he broke all the rules with his eccentric ideas and the whimsy of his writing.

It is also widely considered that Alice in Wonderland is a parody of those Victorian times, a completely justified cartooning of the society and politics in which Carroll and British children saw themselves surrounded. Vicious, tyrannical, ridiculous. Ripe for ridicule. That is an adult’s indulgence, but the children have loved Alice’s tale, as well as Carroll’s second book, Alice Through the Looking Glass and What She Found There (published 1871), and his several silly poems, like The Walrus and the Carpenter and You Are Old, Father Willam, since the mid-1800s.

I couldn’t help wondering what Lewis Carroll would make of this world a mere 150 or so years later. This gelatinous churn of humanity, some of which seems barely human, has evolved to humanity at its very worst. He wouldn’t have to exaggerate anything- simply take notes of all we see and hear on our zillions (sic) of news feeds and scramble to keep up with the craziness that is our daily fare.

The Queen of Hearts, the Cheshire Cat, the Eat-Me Mushrooms to grow bigger or smaller, the flamingo as a croquet mallet, the Mad Hatter, the Cook, the Dormouse, the March Hare – well, you can read the book (again, I hope) – will meet their equals in the characters that are ru(i) running (sic) this world now.

There is a hazy hierarchy in Alice’s world- the King and Queen of Hearts appear to have a zany command over their kingdom, but it is all a sham, for however often the Queen declares of a certain soul, “Off with his head!” heads never actually roll.

In this 21st Century world, there are so many levels of society vying to hold on to command, whether those commands be just as ineffectual as the Queen of Heart’s or a reign of terror, or a reign of persuasive lies is the hold on the obedience of their nations’ populace.

There are tyrants in this time and age, so evil they should only exist in horror movies or comic books. Such creatures are eternal in history, and the chronicles about them still fill us with dread. Yet, that circle goes round and round: the people, the soldiers, live in misery and die unthinkable deaths, and the tyrants reap the riches, along with their devoted makers of weapons. As it has always been, it still is.

Hard to imagine the likes of Putin ordering his Russian militia to strike hospitals, schools, civilian residents, maternity clinics and so on in Ukraine, but he does. Hard to know how Carroll would find a way to mock him, but perhaps, mocking is all we have left.

Hard to chuckle at the destruction of forests if we think in Disney terms of Bambi and his kin fleeing the fires and machinery of destruction, coming to reduce their forest home to rubble, while babies of the Indigenous southern population cry in fear. But perhaps the cinemas should be showing movies like that non-stop.

We have all the technology in the world to bring influence to bear to change the tide of history. The fact is that there is so much access to people, anywhere, anyhow, to educate and inform. We no longer have to be led by tyrants; we no longer need to acquiesce to the truly suicidal destruction of our planet.

The overwhelming power of the internet can be manipulated – indeed, it is being manipulated: to persuade us to approve of harm, to agree to depression, to allow the poorest, struggling folk of our societies – everywhere – to give up and die. All our huge riches in this country, in so many counties, frittered while we longed to find another way. Without deflecting labels, we would never agree to all the comforts belonging to a few folks while huge numbers of our own starve. Without lies, we would never agree to create those comforts in the most damaging way.

Without planned apathy, we would stand up for our world and ourselves.

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