An author of epic fantasies, Terry Brooks, postulates "that good fantasy is social commentary combined with good storytelling," and further that fantasy worlds "mirror our own and tell us things about ourselves that need to be said and understood." Both points Brooks mentions support the concept behind Lewis Carroll's stories of The Alice Books. The second book, in particular, Through the Looking- Glass, reveals Carroll's view on just how similar reality and fantasy can be.
At the start of the second book, and in a half-awake, dreamy state Alice imagines a "bright silvery mist" (111) blurring the divide between her reality and the looking glass realm. Despite a whimsical arrival, Alice quickly realizes life on the other side of the mirror occurs within the framework of an unconventional chess game. Glancing around the fireplace, "chessmen down in the hearth among the cinders" "walking about, two and two" (113) attract her attention. After observing the chess society, she focuses in on an exchange between the Red King and Queen as they try to find their crying daughter. Despite being invisible, "Alice was very anxious to be of use" (114) and so, using her comparatively giant size, she picks the pair up and plops them at their daughters side.
In the following chapter, The Garden of Live Flowers, Alice and the Red Queen reach the summit of a hill over looking the fantasy country. There, she sees an endless pasture with "little green hedges" "divided up into squares," appearing as a chessboard. Following her observations she exclaims,
"It's a huge game of chess that's being played — all over the world — if this is the world at all, you know. Oh, what fun it is! How I wish I was one of them! I wouldn't mind being a Pawn, if only I might join — though of course I should like to be a Queen best. 
Shortly following her aerial viewing of the world Alice joins the game as a pawn with the goal of reaching a Queen position. By joining, Alice relinquishes invisibility and the controlling power she had over the chess pieces. Now, a little pawn in the same game, Alice loses control of her destiny and constantly senses an unseen hand propelling her movements throughout the fantasy world.
1. Why would Alice relinquish the power she had over the chess pieces to join the game? Does she seem desperate to join? Why? Is she lonely? Would Alice best be described as oblivious or rational when compared to other characters in the story? Can she be considered both? How so?
2. The presence of an "unseen hand" guiding Alice through the looking-glass world reveals the lack of control she has over the journey of life. What religious undertones does Carroll imply here?
3. Were parlour games popular in the Victorian Era? If so, who would play them (children, adults, etc)? Why does this matter to Carroll?
4. Why are the chess pieces red and white instead of black and white? Were these typical colors of the Victorian chess sets?
5. In Through the Looking-Glass, Carroll blurs the divide between reality and fantasy. Does MacDonald do the same in Phantastes? Also, compare the leading character in the two books. Would The Alice Books be vastly different had the protagonist been an older man? Does gender matter in fantasy?
Last modified 11 March 2009