In chapter 8 of Through the Looking-Glass, Alice encounters an unlikely hero called the White Knight who saves her from being taken prisoner. Though he is clumsy and awkward, Alice finds something intriguing about the knight:
Of all the strange things that Alice saw in her journey Through The Looking-Glass, this was the one that 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 — and the black shadows of the forest behind — all this she took in like a picture, as, with one hand shadowing her eyes, she leant against a tree, watching the strange pair, and listening, in a half-dream, to the melancholy music of the song. (ch.8, p.187)
One of the themes that Carroll seems to be trying to convey in this passage is the idea that time can be captured even though the fantasy must eventually come to an end. In this sense, the chronological placement is a key technique used by Carroll. The author has, in essence, been able to create a timeless setting. There are no days, hours, months, or years because the image of the knight exists solely within Alice's mind. The gleaming sun, the dazzling armor, and the shadows of the forest are all frozen in her memory. A similar technique is utilized by Dickens in the very final pages of The Pickwick Papers:
Let us leave our old friend [Mr. Pickwick] in one of those moments of unmixed happiness, of which, if we seek them, there are ever some to cheer our transitory existence here. He is somewhat infirm now, but he retains all his former juvenility of spirit, and may still be frequently seen contemplating the pictures in the Dulwich Gallery, or enjoying a walk about the pleasant neighborhood on a fine day. He is known by all the poor people about, who never fail to take their hats off as he passes with great respect; the children idolize him, and so indeed does the whole neighborhood. Every year he repairs to a large family merry-making at Mr. Wardle's; on this, as on all other occasions, he is invariably attended by the faithful Sam, between whom and his master there exists a steady and reciprocal attachment, which nothing but death will sever. [ch.56, pp.752-754].
Like the image that Alice held onto, the closing scene of Pickwick also captures a moment and immortalizes an elderly comic figure. There is no time or place in the passage above, but instead, simply an impression.
Yet there is something deeper that runs through these two passages. It has been said that the White Knight represents Carroll himself, and indeed, this assertion seems to make sense. Notions of childhood and fantasy were very dear to Carroll, and the author is here putting a piece of himself into his story. In effect, he is now part of the fantasy, for he lives on as children read his tale. Similarly, Dickens' unhappy childhood (part of which was spent in a debtor's prison) was a great source of pain for him, and in a sense, Mr. Pickwick represents the parent he never had. Mr. Pickwick is an ideal father-figure not only to the Pickwickians, but also to Sam Weller. We are touched by the relationship that Mr. Pickwick and Sam develop, and while the latter technically works for the former, it is a labor of pure love.
Thus, Carroll and Dickens have both put a piece of themselves into their novels, which causes one to question notions of fantasy and realism in these books. Obviously, Through the Looking-Glass is pure fantasy. Yet if the White Knight represents Carroll himself, perhaps the novel contains some elements of realism after all. On the other hand, in terms of Mr. Pickwick as the ideal father, Dickens has created something that will never exist in the real world. No man can ever be the ideal father, if there is such a thing, and Dickens has, therefore, made his novel more fantastic by developing such a figure.
Carroll, Lewis. Through the Looking-Glass. New York, London: W.W. Norton and Company, 1992.
Dickens, Charles. The Pickwick Papers. New York, London: Penguin Books, 1999.
Last Modified 21 March 2003