The story of Alice and her adventures in Wonderland has spanned through the ages as a classic story for children. What many do not know is that the quirky tale by Lewis Carroll, was inspired by the Liddell family. Initially the story original intention was never to be published, but invented to entertain Alice Liddell, the real life “Alice.” The childrenʼs story is split into two tales; “Aliceʼs Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass.” When read closely in chapters six and seven, “Aliceʼs Adventures in Wonderland,” takes place on May fourth, which is Alice Liddellʼs birthday. “Through the Looking Glass” takes place half year after the first story. Alice mentions to Humpty Dumpty that she is “seven and one half years old.”
The first character from Wonderland that Alice encounters is the White Rabbit. When the real Alice was a child, her father Dean Liddell as always running late when going to the Cathedral, and could have very well inspired the character the White Rabbit. The rabbit hole was an actual place, and can be found in the dining hall of Christ Church, Oxford. Aliceʼs father was a senior member of the college, and would dine at the High Table. The senior members would never go down to where the undergraduates were, instead there was a paneled door, and behind that was a spiraled staircase which opened to a senior common room. From there Dean Liddell would go through a corridor that emerges to the Tom Quad and would have walked to the Deanery, where he called home.
The door to Wonderland, was the Cathedral Garden, which the Liddell sisters played often. In “Through the Looking Glass,” it mentions plants that are planted along the Deanery Wall. Even the tree that the Cheshire Cat sits in is based on the Horse Chestnut tree that grows in the Deanʼs Garden in Christ Church, Oxford. There are many references throughout the environment and the Liddell family regarding the Cheshire Cat. During that period in time, Cheshire cheeses were molded into the shape of a grinning cat. Even when you take a look at “Aliceʼs Window” at Christ Church, Oxford, there are three grinning animals on the top of the Liddellʼs family arms. Lastly, the Cheshire Cat could have come from the very strange carved stone face of a cat on the clergy seat in Croft Church. When seating in the pew the cat is seen grinning, but when you stand up the grin vanishes, which does occur in “Alice in Wonderland.”
The Mad Hatter could have been a view of the hatter profession at the times, but also as a play on words. To be “Mad as a hatter,” it came from how hatters did go mad from mercury poisoning, which at times was used. Lewis Carroll though was known to play linguistic games, and “Mad Hatter” could have meant “a venomous adder.” The word ʻmadʼ was also used for words such as furious, angry, violent or venomous. The word ʻhatterʼ was a deviation of ʻadderʼ or viper. The phrase ʻmad as an atterʼ was really ʻas venomous as a viper.ʼ This implies that ʻmadʼ does not mean ʻinsane,ʼ but actually ʻvenomous.ʼ
“Off with his head!” the Queen of hearts would shout. Now the Red Queen was an intricate person, and the real life governess of the Liddell sisters, Miss Prickett, nickname “Pricks.” She was a bit on the “thorny” side. Now Lewis Carroll had gotten a bit political with the Red Queen. The phrase “Off with his head,” was a way to ridicule the controversial state-sanctioned executions, which was debated extensively in England. Throughout the story the Queen of Heartʼs made absurd and impulsive demands for beheadings.
Lewis Carrollʼs “Alice in Wonderland,” has had its own controversy. Throughout the years one of the primary questions is, “Was he on drugs when he wrote the Alice books or was it about drugs?” Carroll was not on drugs while writing the Alice stories. The majority of the story was created on a boat trip with a friend, and the real Alice with her sisters demanded a story. He invented it while rowing. If he was on drugs the stories might have ended very differently, random and disconnected, which is in fact opposite to how it is told. The intricate details such as the logic problems and the clever puns requires someone with a sharp mind. The hookah smoking Caterpillar or the mushrooms, were added later by Carroll when it was considered for publishing. It was his way to make fun of society, During the Victorian era there were no drug laws, the use of cocaine, laudanum, and Opium were used for medical purposes. It was not uncommon to experience the effect of being ʻhighʼ accidentally.