The Chess-board — Illustration to the second chapter of Through the Looking Glass by John Tenniel. Wood-engraving by the Dalziels.

"I declare it's marked like a large chess-board!" Alice said at last. "There ought to be some men moving about somewhere — and so there are!" she added in a tone of delight, and her heart began to beat quick with excitement as she went on. "It's a great huge game of chess that's being played - all over the world — if this is the world at all, you know."

Commentary by Ray Dyer

Tenniel's approach here seems to anticipate that of his later picture - given a fuller discussion below at the appropriate chapter - of Lewis Carroll's delightfully pompous Looking-glass-world Armies. Both pictures seem suggestive of a notable introduction into Victorian storytelling illustration of the then innovatively and decorative Arts and Crafts influence of Tenniel's younger contemporary William Morris and his associates.

Chess had made a determined and persistent entrance into the social life of Lewis Carroll, from the Summer of 1866. Whilst at home in Croft, Yorkshire during the Long Vacation from Christ Church, his Journal for Thursday 9 August notes that he "Went over to Redcar," a fishing hamlet and budding seaside resort on the North Sea coast, where four of his sisters were staying. For the following day, Friday, he notes spending much of the time watching the "Chess Tourney" (the Redcar Chess Tournament), for which his Journal included a photograph now held at Princeton University Library (see Carroll's Diaries, 172 and n.286).

On Monday 3 September, and still holidaying in the north-east of England, he added the journal entry "Received from Vincent [evidently a publisher/printer] 250 copies of the blank registers for chess games." Chess, he went on to note, had very much become "the family occupation at present", and he detailed the more interesting aspects as being not ordinary single games but "consultation-games"; also the recording of the game, "so that it can be played over again" (173).

Interesting parallels can be made with the previous Alice in Wonderland work, where in support of Carroll's creative requirements the generative games of choice had been lawn croquet, and cards.

Related Material

Student assistants from the University Scholars Program, National University of Singapore, scanned this image and added caption material under the supervision of George P. Landow. You may use the image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the site and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.


Carroll, Lewis. Lewis Carroll's Diaries. The Private Journals of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Vol. 5. Ed. Edward Wakeling. England: The Lewis Carroll Society, 1999.

Last modified 22 April 2021