ife moves quickly in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass. As the Red Queen explains to Alice, "it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place" and, "to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that". Alice begins her journey as a pawn but she hopes to become a queen. To do this, she must make it to the eighth square where "it's all feasting and fun". While Alice rushes through the magical chessboard, she focuses her thoughts on reaching the eighth square as quickly as possible. She views the squares she must pass along the way as obstacles. For instance, when she stumbles upon the home of Tweedledum and Tweedledee, she thinks, "I ca'n'ot stay there long. I'll just call and say ‘How d'ye do?' and aks them the way out of the wood. If I could only get to the Eighth Square before it gets dark." Likewise, when Humpty Dumpty offers to recite a poem, Alice politely discourages him, "hoping to keep him from beginning". However, when the White Knight sings his song, both time and Alice freeze:
Of all the strange things that Alice saw in her journey Through The Looking-Glass, this was the one she always remembered most clearly. Years afterwards she could bring the whole scene back again, as if it had been only yesterday—the mild blue eyes and kindly smile of the Knight—the setting sun gleaming through his hair, and shining on his armour in a blaze of light that quite dazzled her—the horse quietly moving about, with the reins hanging loose on his neck, cropping the grass at her feet—all this she took in like a picture, as, with one hand shading her eyes, she leant against a tree, watching the estrange pair, and listening, in a half-dream, to the melancholy music of the song.
Alice's desire to become a queen resembles that of a child's desire to grow up. Children long to become adults but, upon reaching adulthood, are often disappointed and grow nostalgic for their childhood.
The Knight sings for Alice just as she is about to step into the eighth square and become a queen. The narrator's shift in tone — from playful to nostalgic — marks this important moment in Alice's development. Alice doesn't notice details such as "the mild blue eyes and kindly smile of the Knight" as she rushes through the chessboard but upon reaching the end, she suddenly appreciates the beauty of what she has seen. A shift in narrative style further accentuates this change. Throughout the novel, the narrator describes Alice's adventures through her perspective, only seeing what she sees and thinking what she thinks. However, as Alice listens to the Knight's song, the narrator jumps forward in time and observes her retrospectively. By viewing Alice from afar, as an image frozen in time, the narrator takes a metaphorical snapshot, just as Alice does when she leans against a tree and takes in the scene "like a picture". Moreover, this stylistic choice emphasizes the fleeting nature of Alice's position; as soon time is unfrozen, the beautiful moment will exist only in memory.
1. At the end of Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland, a similar shift in tone and narrative time occurs. Alice's sister
"pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, b e herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days."
How is this passage similar to the passage describing the Knight's song? How is it different? What does Carroll choose to narrate this scene in such a roundabout way — Alice's sister dreaming of an adult Alice recalling her childhood?
2. After the knight has finished his song, Alice breaks out of her sentimental mood and is ready to move onward and become a queen. Was she really sentimental in the first place, or did the narrator merely wish to perceive her as such? Many commentators have suggested that the White Knight represents Dodson (Alice in Wonderland, Norton Critical Edition footnotes, 181). Does this make the narrator less credible?
3. The world's first daguerreotype photograph was produced in 1835 and stereo daguerreotypes were popularized after the Great Exhibition in London in 1851. Dodgson was an amateur photographer and, in fact, took many photographs of Alice Liddell, upon whom he based Alice. Of what importance were photographs in Victorian England? How, if at all, did they influence literature and other forms of written description?
4. Alice thinks that her adventures were a dream but she cannot decide whether she or the Red King dreamt them. What might this passage suggest about the relationship between the Knight and Alice, the narrator and Alice, Dodgson and Alice Liddell, etc?
5. Through the Looking Glass is followed by a poem which poses a question: "Life, what is it but a dream?". Is this question merely rhetorical? How, if at all, is this question answered in Alice in Wonderland?
6. In both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Alice awakes from her adventures as if from a dream. In MacDonald's Phantastes, Anodos's adventures in Fairy Land are clearly not a dream. How does this difference affect the way in which we perceive these stories?
Last modified 9 March 2009