Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Novels

John Tenniel's illustration for "A Mad Tea-Party", 1865
John Tenniel's illustration for "A Mad Tea-Party", 1865
Illustration by Arthur Rackham
Illustration by Arthur Rackham
Facsimile page from Alice's Adventures Under Ground
Facsimile page from Alice's Adventures Under Ground

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a work of children's literature by the English mathematician and author, Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, written under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit-hole into a fantasy realm populated by talking playing cards and anthropomorphic creatures.

The tale is fraught with satirical allusions to Dodgson's friends and to the lessons that British schoolchildren were expected to memorize. The Wonderland described in the tale plays with logic in ways that has made the story of lasting popularity with children as well as adults.

The book is often referred to by the abbreviated title Alice in Wonderland. This alternate title was popularized by the numerous film and television adaptations of the story produced over the years. Some printings of this title contain both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.


Alice was first published on 4 July 1865, exactly three years after the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and the Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed in a boat up the River Thames with three little girls:

  • Lorina Charlotte Liddell (aged 13) ("Prima" in the book's prefatory verse)
  • Alice Pleasance Liddell (aged 10) ("Secunda" in the prefatory verse)
  • Edith Mary Liddell (aged 8) ("Tertia" in the prefatory verse)

The journey had started at Folly Bridge near Oxford, England and ended five miles away in a village of Godstow. To while away time the Reverend Dodgson told the girls a story that, not so coincidentally, featured a bored little girl named Alice who goes looking for an adventure.

The girls loved it, and Alice Liddell asked Dodgson to write it down for her. He eventually did so and on 26 November 1864 gave Alice the manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground. Some, including Martin Gardner, speculate there was an earlier version that was destroyed later by Dodgson himself when he printed a more elaborate copy by hand (Gardner, 1965), but there is no real evidence to support this.

According to Dodgson's diaries, in the spring of 1863 he gave the unfinished manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground to his friend and mentor George MacDonald, whose children loved it. On MacDonald's advice, Dodgson decided to submit Alice for publication. Before he had even finished the MS for Alice Liddell he was already expanding the 18,000-word original to 35,000 words, most notably adding the episodes about the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Tea-Party. In 1865, Dodgson's tale was published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by " Lewis Carroll" with illustrations by John Tenniel. The first print run of 2,000 was shelved because Tenniel had objections over the print quality; a new edition, released in December of the same year but carrying an 1866 date, was quickly printed.

The entire print run sold out quickly. Alice was a publishing sensation, beloved by children and adults alike. Among its first avid readers were young Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria. The book has never been out of print since. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into over 50 languages, including Esperanto. There have now been over a hundred editions of the book, as well as countless adaptations in other media, especially theatre and film (see below).

Publishing highlights

Folio Society Edition (1962)
  • 1869: Alice has its first American printing.
  • 1871: Dodgson meets another Alice during his time in London, Alice Raikes, and talks with her about her reflection in a mirror, leading to another book Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, which sells even better.
  • 1886: Carroll publishes a facsimile of the earlier Alice's Adventures Under Ground manuscript.
  • 1890: He publishes The Nursery "Alice", a special edition "to be read by Children aged from Nought to Five."
  • 1908: Alice has its first translation into Japanese.
  • 1960: American writer Martin Gardner publishes a special edition, The Annotated Alice, incorporating the text of both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. It has extensive annotations explaining the hidden allusions in the books, and includes full texts of the Victorian era poems parodied in them. Later editions expand on these annotations.
  • 1961: The Folio Society publication with 42 illustrations by John Tenniel.
  • 1998: The suppressed first edition of the book (that is, the edition nixed by Tenniel) is sold at auction for $1.5 million USD, becoming the most expensive children's book ever traded. (Only 23 copies of the 1865 first edition are known to have survived; 18 are owned by major archives or libraries, such as the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Centre, while the other five are held in private hands.)

Plot summary

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

A girl named Alice is bored while on a picnic with her older sister. She finds interest in a passing white rabbit, dressed in a waistcoat and muttering "I'm late!", whom she follows down a rabbit-hole, floating down into a dream underworld. As she attempts to follow the rabbit, she has several adventures. She grows to gigantic size and shrinks to a fraction of her original height; meets a group of small animals stranded in a sea of her own previously shed tears; gets trapped in the rabbit's house when she enlarges herself again; meets a baby which changes into a pig, and a cat which disappears leaving only his smile behind; goes to a never-ending tea party; goes to the shore and meets a Gryphon and a Mock Turtle; and attends the trial of the Knave of Hearts, who has been accused of stealing tarts. Eventually Alice wakes up back with her sister.

Major themes

"The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo"
"The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo"
The Caterpillar using a hookah; an illustration by John Tenniel
The Caterpillar using a hookah; an illustration by John Tenniel
  • Puns
  • Parody and satire
  • Games and riddles
  • Nonsense
  • Dreams and nightmares
  • In-jokes about the Liddell family and the Oxford community
  • Parable
  • asymmetrical logic

Characters in order of appearance

  • Alice
  • Alice's Sister
  • The White Rabbit
  • Alice's Cat, Dinah
  • The Mouse
  • The Duck
  • The Dodo
  • The Lory
  • The Eaglet
  • Bill the Lizard
  • The Caterpillar
  • The Fish-Footman
  • The Frog-Footman
  • The Duchess
  • The Baby
  • The Cook
  • The Cheshire Cat
  • The March Hare
  • The Hatter
  • The Dormouse
  • Two, Five & Seven (cards)
  • The King of Hearts
  • The Queen of Hearts
  • The Knave of Hearts
  • The Gryphon
  • The Mock Turtle
  • The Jurymen

Character allusions

The members of the boating party that first heard Carroll's tale all show up in Chapter 3 ("A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale") in one form or another. There is, of course, Alice herself, while Carroll, or Charles Dodgson, is caricatured as the Dodo. The Duck refers to Rev. Robinson Duckworth, the Lory to Lorina Liddell, and the Eaglet to Edith Liddell.

Bill the Lizard may be a play on the name of Benjamin Disraeli. One of Tenniel's illustrations in Through the Looking Glass depicts a caricature of Disraeli, wearing a paper hat, as a passenger on a train. The illustrations of the Lion and the Unicorn also bear a striking resemblance to Tenniel's Punch illustrations of Gladstone and Disraeli.

The Hatter is most likely a reference to Theophilus Carter, a furniture dealer known in Oxford for his unorthodox inventions. Tenniel apparently drew the Hatter to resemble Carter, on a suggestion of Carroll's.

The Dormouse tells a story about three little sisters named Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie. These are the Liddell sisters: Elsie is L.C. (Lorina Charlotte), Tillie is Edith (her family nickname is Matilda), and Lacie is an anagram of Alice.

The Mock Turtle speaks of a Drawling-master, "an old conger eel," that used to come once a week to teach "Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils." This is a reference to the art critic John Ruskin, who came once a week to the Liddell house to teach the children drawing, sketching, and painting in oils. (The children did, in fact, learn well; Alice Liddell, for one, produced a number of skilled watercolours.)

The Mock Turtle also sings "Turtle Soup." This is a parody of a song called "Star of the Evening, Beautiful Star," which was performed as a trio by Lorina, Alice and Edith Liddell for Lewis Carroll in the Liddell home during the same summer in which he first told the story of Alice's Adventures Under Ground (source: the diary of Lewis Carroll, August 1, 1862 entry).


Alice in Wonderland sculpture in New York City's Central Park
  • Chapter 1 -- Down the Rabbit-Hole
  • Chapter 2 -- The Pool of Tears
  • Chapter 3 -- A Caucus-race and a Long Tale
  • Chapter 4 -- The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill
  • Chapter 5 -- Advice from a Caterpillar
  • Chapter 6 -- Pig and Pepper
  • Chapter 7 -- A Mad Tea-party
  • Chapter 8 -- The Queen's Croquet Ground
  • Chapter 9 -- The Mock Turtle's Story
  • Chapter 10 -- The Lobster Quadrille
  • Chapter 11 -- Who Stole the Tarts?
  • Chapter 12 -- Alice's Evidence

Poems and songs

  • "All in the golden afternoon..." (the prefatory verse, an original poem by Carroll that recalls the rowing expedition on which he first told the story of Alice's adventures underground)
  • "How doth the little crocodile..." (a parody of Isaac Watts' nursery rhyme, "How doth the little busy bee")
  • The Mouse's Tale (an example of concrete poetry)
  • " You Are Old, Father William" (a parody of Robert Southey's "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them")
  • The Duchess' lullaby: "Speak roughly to your little boy..."(a parody of David Bates "Speak Gently")
  • "Twinkle, twinkle little bat..." (a parody of Twinkle twinkle little star)
  • The Lobster Quadrille (a parody of Mary Botham Howitt's "The Spider and the Fly")
  • "’Tis the voice of the lobster, I heard him declare..." (a parody of "Tis the voice of the Sluggard")
  • Turtle Soup (a parody of James M. Sayles' "Star of the Evening, Beautiful Star")
  • "The Queen of Hearts..." (an actual nursery rhyme)
  • "They told me you had been to her..." (the White Rabbit's evidence)

Tenniel's illustrations

John Tenniel's illustrations of Alice do not portray the real Alice Liddell, who had dark hair and a short fringe. Carroll sent Tenniel a photograph of Mary Hilton Badcock, another child-friend, but whether Tenniel actually used Badcock as his model is open to dispute.

Famous lines and expressions

The term " Wonderland," from the title, has entered the language and refers to a marvellous imaginary place, or else a real-world place that one sees as "like a dream come true!" It is widely referenced in popular culture— books and film (see below) and pop music. To note just one example, there is a book by the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami entitled Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

"Down the Rabbit-Hole," the Chapter 1 title, has become a popular term for going into an adventure to the unknown. In the film The Matrix, Morpheus says to Neo: "I imagine that right now you're feeling a bit like Alice. Tumbling down the rabbit hole?" He also says, "You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes." In computer gaming, a "rabbit hole" may refer to the initiating element that drives the player to enter the game.

In an Alternate Reality Game, the rabbit hole is the first puzzle, or first event signaling the beginning.

A " white rabbit" has similar connotations, as a signal to the start of an adventure. In The Matrix, Neo's adventure begins after a message on his computer urges him to "Follow the white rabbit."

In Chapter 6, the Cheshire Cat's disappearance prompts Alice to say one of her most memorable lines: "...a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!" There is a French film called A Grin Without a Cat ( 1977), directed by Chris Marker.

In Chapter 7, the Hatter gives his famous riddle without an answer: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" Although Carroll intended the riddle to have no solution, in a new preface to the 1896 edition of Alice, he proposes several answers: "Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!" Note the spelling of "never" as "nevar"—turning it into "raven" when inverted. This spelling, however, was "corrected" in later editions to "never" and Carroll's pun was lost. Puzzle maven Sam Loyd offered these solutions: because the notes for which they are noted are not noted for being musical notes; Poe wrote on both; bills and tales are among their characteristics; because they both stand on their legs, conceal their steels (steals), and ought to be made to shut up. Many other answers are listed in The Annotated Alice.

Arguably the most famous quote is used when the Queen of Hearts screams "Off with her head!" at Alice (and everyone else she feels slightly annoyed with). Possibly Carroll here was echoing a scene in Shakespeare's Richard III (III, iv, 76) where Richard demands the execution of Lord Hastings, crying "Off with his head!"

Cinematic adaptations

  • Alice in Wonderland (1903 film) - the first Alice movie by Cecil M. Hepworth. Parts of the movie are lost but what remains is available as a bonus feature on the 1966 BBC DVD
  • Alice in Wonderland (1966 film)
Image:Movie alice in wonderland flowers.jpg
Alice in Disney's animated version
  • Disney's Alice in Wonderland animated feature, released in 1951, remains the most popular cinematic adaptation of the Alice books. It popularized the iconic image of Alice as a pretty blonde little girl in a white pinafore and blue dress. Other characters made icons by the film include the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and the Caterpillar. The character designs owe much to the original Tenniel illustrations. The Disney feature combines story elements from both Alice books. It is notable for its distinctly psychedelic visual feel.

Other cinematic adaptations of Alice include:

  • Alice in Wonderland (1933 film) - motion picture
  • Alice in Wonderland (1951 film) - motion picture produced by Lou Bunin, blending live actors with stop-motion animated puppets, nicknamed "the lost Alice." Suppressed by Disney to avoid competition with their release the same year
  • Alice of Wonderland in Paris - 1966 animated movie
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972 film) - motion picture
  • Alice in Wonderland (1976 film) - X-Rated musical comedy
  • Alice in Wonderland (1985 film) - motion picture
  • The Care Bears Adventure in Wonderland - 1987 animated adaptation from Nelvana Limited
  • Alice (1988 film) - animated motion picture by Jan Švankmajer
  • Alice in Wonderland (1999 film) - made for television movie
  • Resident Evil - An action/sci-fi based on a video game series of the same name. The film centres on a girl named Alice who travels underground to face a supercomputer known as "The Red Queen".
  • Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll - 2006 yet-unrated short-film series by Marilyn Manson
  • Alice (2007 film) - based on the horror video game American McGee's Alice, in which Alice ( Sarah Michelle Gellar) appears in a nightmare world

This webpage has a considerable list of cinematic adaptations with appropriate reviews. This webpage has short reviews of various movies and books that the Alice books have spawned.


The book, although broadly and continually received in a positive light, has also caught a large amount of derision for its strange and random tone (which is also the reason so many others like it). One of the best-known critics is fantasy writer Terry Pratchett, who has openly stated that he dislikes the book .

The book was banned in China in 1931 because the talking animals were considered blasphemous to Chinese beliefs.

Genre: fantasy or horror?

"Children are put off by Alice’s underground adventures not because they cannot understand them; in fact, they frequently understand them too well. Indeed they often find the book a terrifying experience, rarely relieved by the comic spirit they can clearly perceive."
Donald Rackin, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass Nonsense, Sense, and Meaning

The most common perspective on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is that it is a whimsical fantasy. However, there is disagreement with this perspective. To a number of people, the book does not characterize whim and fantasy, but rather horror and self-sustaining Kafkaesque insanity. The comedy of the book, while clearly visible, does not mitigate the fact, but rather causes it to stand out by perverse contrast.

Taken from this perspective, the novel (as well as Through the Looking-Glass) is a sinister, pernicious world characterized by persons who exist fully by a self-sustaining logic that exists without reference to outside influence, including the influence of a sane, rational, and moral mind. By this perspective, at its essence, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is not a dream but a surreal nightmare involving loss of control, inability to communicate or reason, rampant uncontrolled change of one's self and everything around, and a total inability to gain any foundation in the world. Some scholars have pointed out, however, that many of these 'nightmarish' incidents and feelings notably resemble the confusion and lack of control a young child experiences at the hands of adults (well-meaning or not).

It is noteworthy that in both novels, people suffer for no reason. The White Rabbit has an air of deposed aristocracy, the Queen of Hearts orders executions for no reason other than her own irritation and enjoyment, the Hatter exists in a never ending tea party because he got in a fight with Time and it imprisoned him in six o'clock, etc. Many of these are parables for the society of the time. For instance, from Through the Looking-Glass, the parable of The Walrus and the Carpenter appears to be a parable about the treatment of children and child-labor.

Thus, the very thing that produces appeal and wonder in the book for many people terrifies others. It is a world that exists in different cells, each with internally consistent rules that don't conform to any of the others, each continuing on its way with anything running from apathy to malice, and each able to persist in its state indefinitely. From a child's perspective, if one were to fall down a rabbit hole today one could easily encounter the very same terrifying Wonderland Alice did, changed in only the most vestigial of ways.

American McGee, a video and computer game designer, released in the year 2000 a horror game entitled American McGee's Alice. In an interview, American McGee defended his dark interpretation of the novels, claiming that Alice in Wonderland is a very dark tale to begin with.

Works influenced

Alice and the rest of Wonderland continue to inspire or influence many other works of art to this day—sometimes indirectly; via the Disney movie, for example. The character of the plucky yet proper Alice has proven immensely popular and inspired similar heroines in literature and pop culture, many also named Alice in homage. it has also influenced many Japanese manga comics, most notable Miyuki-Chan in Wonderland, by CLAMP.

Culture and collecting

Alice continues to be a cultural phenomenon today, spawning hundreds of collectors' items, websites, and works of art.

There is a vast Alice-collecting cottage industry, which has recently burgeoned due to the Internet. There are often more than 2500 items up for auction via eBay at any given time, from rare books to more recent commissioned art. Just about every kind of Alice merchandise imaginable is available, from clocks to earrings to pillow cases. They are not always easy to locate, but can often be found in so-called "Alice shops". In England, such shops include The Rabbit Hole in Llandudno and Alice's Shop in Oxford. Smaller ones can be found in Halton Cheshire and in Bournemouth where there is an Alice Theme Park. In the United States they include The White Rabbit in California. In fact, there is Alice merchandise in America that is not available elsewhere. One of these is a book called Sherlock Holmes and the Alice In Wonderland Murders.

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