Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There
By Lewis Carroll
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, more commonly known by the Disney title Alice in Wonderland, is a book of fantasy and the minds imagination. The book takes us on the fanciful travels of a girl named Alice as she follows the proverbial white rabbit down a hole and into a whole new world. In this new strange land Alice experiences and meets a variety of odd characters including talking flowers, Humpty Dumpty, various live chess pieces, and Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. The main purpose of the story is to thoroughly confuse the reader into trying to make sense of the nonsense. The book is a satire on man’s attempts to understand what is truly meant to be gobbledygook. For example Carroll satirizes the “white man” when he has Humpty Dumpty attempt to interpret The Jabberwocke – a nonsensical poem full of made up words.
The story begins when Alice is playing with her kitten and suddenly beings to realize that the chess pieces on the chess board are moving around and talking like human people. As she leans into further explore she finds that they are growing to her own size and she encounters a new land that she has never known. In the beginning she encounters a group of talking flowers – who find the petals of her petticoat fascinating but plain – and introduce her to the Red Queen. It is here where she finds her true purpose in this strange land. Alice wishes to become a Queen and the Red Queen then informs her that she can be a queen too, all she must do is follow a set of directions to cover certain “squares” (here is a reference to the chess board that has inevitably turned into this fanciful world) and she will become a queen. Alice sets out to follow these instructions along the way and through her adventures meets a rather peculiar crew of characters. She meets with a white knight who makes lots of inventions which make no sense and hears a tragic tale of a Walrus, Carpenter and some baby oysters from Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb. In addition she meets a rather pompous Humpty Dumpty and a very sad frightened White Queen.
In the end Alice finally manages to make it to the 8th square and finds herself crowned a Queen. However things take a turn for the worst as she is seated at a massive banquet in her honor between the two Queens – white and red – who make the dinner increasingly difficult and confusing. She begins to get flustered and just as everything seems to get out of control she is awoken by her kitten – Her Majesty – meowing and patting her face. She then finds herself dreadfully silly and thinks that it is all a dream but then as she looks at the chess board she begins to doubt that it was a dream. Here Carroll blurs the lines between imagination and reality by having the main character doubt the reality of her situation.
Why is this book “dangerous?”:
The Book Through the Looking Glass has been criticized and critiqued throughout the ages despite its widespread popularity among children and adults. There are three main arguments circulating about the flaws of the book. One major problem that many libraries and esteemed authors had with the novel is that it is “too strange and full of nonsense.” Even famous fantasy writers such as Terry Pratchett and L Frank Baum both have openly stated that they disliked the book. Baum says that his books were “fantasy with purpose” while Alice stories were just nonsense.
The second major criticism that was responsible for widespread challenges and several bannings across the United States is the association with drug highs. In society Alice in Wonderland has been associated with acid and LSD trips. In fact artwork from the book (and in more recent years the Disney cartoon production) have been printed on the acid papers. Because of this association many schools have construed the book as having drug references and a promotion of using the drug by showing a somewhat “pleasurable” experience as the outcome. For specific examples, in a small town in New Hampshire it was challenged in 1980 for references to drug trips, and they said that it was inappropriate because it was suggestive to students to experiment. In a similar case in the early 1900s it was suspended from the classroom use at Woodsville High School in Haverhill, NH because it contains “expletives, references to masturbation and sexual fantasies, and derogatory characterizations of teachers and of religious ceremonies.”
The final major criticism came from an international source. In 1931 Through the Looking Glass was banned by the Chinese governor of Hunan Province. The reasoning behind the banning was that “Animals should not use human language and that is was disastrous to put animals and humans on the same level.”
Personally after reading the text I could see some potential beliefs for the drug references especially when it comes to the Knight that Alice encounters walking through the woods. The Knight is clearly unstable and his nonsensical talk far outstrips some of what is read up to that point in the story and could definitely be interpreted as his being on a drug trip. However, in my opinion, in our present day society it has become so common to refer to anyone acting in a strange manner as “being on drugs” that I hardly think that unless a small children’s book is explaining the art of rolling a joint that it will make that much of an influence on whether the child experiments as an adolescent. And in reference to the China Ban, I think it is completely preposterous to say that animals can’t be portrayed with humanistic characteristics because if that is the case then they must have a universal ban on all Disney movies.