by Lewis Carroll
“‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
‘Oh, you ca’n’t help that,’ said the Cat: ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here'” (74).
This was a very odd book. But that might be expected. Although what stood out to me the most was its mix of absurdity and order. Or to be more precise, how distinct (and tyrannical) Wonderland politics were.
For one, the cards are designated by role:
“First came soldiers carrying clubs…next the ten courtiers: these were ornamented all over with diamonds… After these came the royal children: there were ten of them, and the little dears came jumping merrily along, hand in hand, in couples: they were ornamented with hearts” (92).
The impression I get from this is that there’s a hierarchy in the card suits: spades are gardens (if the picture is anything to go on), clubs are warriors and soldiers, diamonds are courtiers or nobility, and hearts are royalty. That indicates that there is actual structure to Wonderland. Even if its laws, justice, and punishment are illogical.
I think that’s what makes it so interesting from a worldbuilding point of view (which may not have been an aspect that was on Carroll’s mind when he wrote it.)
The denizens of Wonderland obviously know that the Queen will execute anyone at the drop of a hat which indicates that they recognize that she has a form of authority. Even if the King actually had more lines and more to do than the Queen of Hearts.
But while they have a government (if you want to call it that) it’s a very fearful one. The Duchess reaction to the Queen or the Hatter’s mounting fear at the trial shows this quite clearly:
“But here, to Alice’s great surprise, the Duchess’ voice died away, even in the middle of her favourite word ‘moral,’ and the arm that was linked into hers began to tremble. Alice looked up, and there stood the Queen in front of them, with her arms folded, frowning like a thunderstorm” (106).
And later with the Hatter:
“All this time the Queen had never left off staring at the Hatter, and just as the Dormouse crossed the court, she said to one of the officers of the court, ‘Bring me the list of the singers in the last concert!’ on which the wretched Hatter trembled so, he shook off both his shoes” (129).
So while there’s authority, it’s a sporadic kind. One never knows who will be next to earn the Queen’s ire. And in a way, I think that’s part of what I find so appealing about it. There’s a sense of danger because none of it really makes sense, but it’s not anarchical. There’s order but it’s utterly mad.
It jumps around like a fairy tale, with no explanation of why events or places or creatures are connected. Additionally, the characters are quite frank about the possible violence and don’t spare qualms about being polite. While the latter if unusual in fairy tales, the former is definitely a staple of children literature I read. Not necessarily visceral violence but the direct sort, pecking out eyes and cutting off heads. That sort of thing.
Thinking on it now, I find the Hatter, and the Duchess to a lesser extent, to be the most bizarre characters. If only because most of the others could be described as small creatures or items (rabbit, mouse, caterpillar, cards) while the Hatter, by all accounts, seems like a real person who makes hat. Why is he even in Wonderland? By the time Alice shows up, he’s offended time, but how did he get there?
(I’m asking in the context of worldbuilding not the context of the text where it’s probably related to him being a hat maker and Wonderland technically being a dream.)
The Duchess is less odd to me because she’s described with”an uncomfortably sharp chin” which makes her sound a bit unusual herself (103).
On the subject of the Duchess, I also thought there was something fishy going on. Like a story that Alice didn’t learn, about what the Duchess was it trouble for. And I felt like something was up with the King.
Finally, I’m always for the whole concept of a world underground. Underground worlds, whether magical, mysterious, or mad are my favorite cup of tea.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. New York: Barnes and Nobles Books, 2004. Print.