Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
often receive the same questions by e-mail. I like
receiving e-mails, but this page might save us both some trouble. So here is
a summary of the most-asked questions and their answers (according to my opinion).
- Was Carroll on drugs when he wrote the Alice books, or are the books about drugs?
- Was Carroll a pedophile?
- The Mad Hatter has a card on his hat which says '10/6'. What does it mean?
- So why is a raven like a writing desk?
- I have a very old edition of the book. Do you know how much it is worth, or can you help me find the publishing date?
- Are the books and the pictures still copyright protected?
- I've seen an Alice movie, but I cannot remember which one it was. Can you help me?
- Did the Dormouse actually say "Feed your head", like they sing in Jefferson Airplane's song "White Rabbit"?
- During the oyster scene (in the Disney movie) the 'R' in March flashes. Why?
- Can you explain the chess moves from Through the Looking Glass?
- I heard the Alice books were banned in China. Is this true, and why?
`I have answered three questions, and that is enough,'
Said his father; `don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!'
Q: Was Carroll on drugs when
he wrote the Alice books, or are the books about drugs?
A: No. Carroll did not use drugs while writing the story. The larger part of the story was invented when he was on a boat trip with a friend, the real Alice and her sisters. He invented it while they rowed. The drug rumor was first spread in the 1960's by supporters of the then new LSD subculture. The rumor is believed to have originated from the psychiatrists who introduced LSD into our society.
There is indeed one part in the book that may describe the use of drugs: the hookah smoking Caterpillar who advises Alice to eat from the mushroom. But with the story Carroll made fun of all aspects of society, and it may be possible that he was just reflecting the age with this part.
In the Victorian era there were no drug laws like we know them. Opium, cocaine, and laudanum (a painkiller that contained opium) were used for medicinal purposes, and could be obtained from a pharmacist (mind that LSD was not yet invented at the time!). So in Carroll's days it was not uncommon to experience the effect of being 'high', whether or not accidentally.
However, it was definitely not Carroll's intention to write a book about drugs: he wanted to entertain a little girl whom he loved. The chapter about the hookah smoking caterpillar wasn't even part of the original story; it was added later when Carroll decided to publish it.
Some people insist that one has to be on drugs to write such a creative story. But why shouldn't someone have a creative mind of his own?
If Carroll was on drugs, the Alice books would probably be a series of rambling, disconnected, surrealist scenarios. But the Alice books are far from random. They contain some very intricate logic problems and very clever puns (not to mention Alice's journey in "Through the Looking-Glass", which follows the moves of a chess game), that could only be the work of a sharp mind in full control of its abilities. Furthermore, you'll find the same style of writing in the magazines he wrote in his youth, his various poems, stories, and other writings, and especially in the letters he wrote. If the Alice books were drug induced, the rest of his voluminous output would seem to suggest he was on drugs 24/7.
No evidence has ever been found that linked Carroll to recreational drug use. Even in his extensive diaries, Carroll has never made any reference to the use of drugs.
Q: Was Carroll a pedophile?
A: No, probably not. He certainly liked little girls at a level that was more than normal. However, there is no evidence at all that he was sexually attracted to them.
He did photograph them in the nude, but only with permission from their mothers, and only if the children were completely at ease with it. He made sure that after his death those pictures were destroyed or returned to the children to prevent them from getting embarrassed.
In his time making nude photographs of children wasn't uncommon; all Victorian artists did studies of child-nudes, it was a trendy subject for the time.
When his child-friends grew up, they told only positive stories about their warm friendship.
It is suggested that Carroll loved little girls so much because he had many sisters which he loved to entertain when he was a young boy.
Q: The Mad Hatter has a card on his hat which says '10/6'. What does it mean?
A: The card is a price tag in 'old' English money: pounds, shillings and pennies, which was then written as l/s/d.
Lewis Carroll has explained the meaning of the tag in his 'Nursery Alice':
The Hatter used to carry about hats to sell: and even the one that he's got on his head is meant to be sold. You see it's got its price marked on it - a "10" and a "6" - that means "ten shillings and sixpence."
Ten shillings and six pennies (expressed in conversation as "Ten-and-Six") was quite a large sum in the mid-1800's.
Chris Somerville emailed me and amplificated:
The actual amount was significant also. Professional people (doctors, lawyers, architects etc) all charged fees, not in pounds but in guineas. One guinea was one pound plus one shilling. And while pounds were the currency of trade, guineas were the currency of the professions. We used to have a gold coin called, and valued at a guinea, and a smaller gold coin, a half guinea, valued at ten and six (10/6). The pound, however was merely a paper note, as was the half-pound or ten shillings.
So the hat worn by the Mad Hatter was priced at half-a-guinea, signifying its superior style.
Q: So why is a raven like a writing desk?
A: Originally the riddle had no answer, but Carroll made one up later (see the Trivia section for details).
Many readers have invented their own answers ever since, including the most famous "because Poe wrote on both", and my personal favorite "because there's a B in both and an N in neither".
Q: I have a very old edition of the book. Do you know how much it is worth, or can you help me find the publishing date?
A: No. Unfortunately there is no "price guide" to determine the current value of antiquarian books. The value of your edition depends on a lot of different factors. As I am not an antiquarian bookseller, I have no knowledge of appraising or dating old books, and can only advise you to visit a reputable antiquarian book dealer in your vicinity.
For a start, you can take a look at the site of the ABAA, which contains a lot of information about the appraisal of old books. Start with this introduction to the evaluation of books. Their FAQ-page offers a lot of other useful information. Also check out the rest of the site, you'll find advise about how to locate an expert! Remember, however, that booksellers will seldom pay much more than 25% or 30% of a book's current retail price, because of their own high costs.
Q: Are the books and the pictures still copyright protected?
A: No. When the Alice books were published, they were copyright protected until 42 years after the first publication or 7 years after the author's death, whichever was the longer. Later, the 1911 Act replaced the 1842 Copyright Act which extended the period to 50 years after the author's death.
This means that the copyright on "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" subsisted until 1907 and that of "Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there" until 1948. As Tenniel died in 1914, his illustrations came out of copyright in 1964.
Disney's cartoon movie still remains in copyright. If you wish to use movie stills, video, audio, or anything else from the movie, you'll need to ask permission from Disney Consumer Products (500 S. Buena Vista, Burbank, CA 91521-6781).
Q: I've seen an Alice movie, but I cannot remember which one it was. Can you help
A: As my site is only about Carroll's books and the Disney cartoon movie, you will not find a complete list of all Alice movies here. Take a look at the Internet Movie Database and you'll find information about other movies (search for 'alice in wonderland', 'through the looking glass' or the name of one of the actors). You can also buy various Alice movies via the webshop.
Q: Did the Dormouse actually say "Feed your head", like they sing in Jefferson
Airplane's song "White Rabbit"?
A: No, The Dormouse never says that in the book, nor in Disney's movie.
Either Jefferson Airplane made it up, or we should interpret the lyrics differently. Perhaps the line "Remember what the dormouse said" stands on its own, in stead of being connected to the next line, "Feed your head, feed your head". The first line may be general advice about remembering what it said. It may even refer to a specific conversation in the chapter about the trial:
`Well, at any rate, the Dormouse said--' the Hatter went on, looking anxiously round to see if he would deny it too: but the Dormouse denied nothing, being fast asleep.
`After that,' continued the Hatter, `I cut some more bread- and-butter--'
`But what did the Dormouse say?' one of the jury asked.
`That I can't remember,' said the Hatter.
Q: During the oyster scene (in the Disney movie) the 'R' in March flashes. Why?
A: The old saying is that one should only eat an oyster during the months spelled with an "R". This was, historically, because summer months bring warmer waters and warmer waters bring spawning oysters and higher bacteria counts, which could be unhealthy or dangerous. Nowadays, with current cooling technology, there is nothing really wrong with eating a spawning oyster.
So Mother Oyster recognizes that March is a good month for eating oysters and as she doesn't want her children to be eaten, she advises them to stay with her.
Q: Can you explain the chess moves from Through the Looking Glass?
A: There are two ways to describe the moves of the pieces. I'll try to explain both of them, but as I'm not very familiar with chess notations there can be some errors in it. Please correct me if I'm wrong.
Carroll pointed out that red and white do not alternate moves properly and that some of the moves listed do not represent actual moves of the pieces on the chessboard (for example the 'castling' of the Queens). However, the check mate is completely orthodox.
The first way of notation is as follows: you describe the square the piece moves to by writing down the first letter of the piece that was on it when the game started (i.e. R when the piece goes to one of the squares in the column where the Rook started, B for the one of the Bishop, etc.). As there are two columns for most of the pieces, you should also put a Q or a K in front of it (if the piece moves to the left rook column, you add a Q because it is the side of the Queen. The right columns are those of the King). This isn't necessary if it is the column of the Queen or King. Then you add the number of the square, counting from the side the piece started (if it is a red piece, you count from the top to the bottom, for a white piece, count from the bottom to the top). This is the idea:
In that case the moves are:
2. W.Pawn to Q4
4. W.Pawn to Q5
5. W.Pawn to Q6
6. W.Pawn to Q7
7. W.N.to K7
8. W.Pawn to Q8
11. W.Pawn to K8
|1. R.Q. to KR4
2. W.Q. to QB4
3. W.Q. to QB5
4. W.Q. to KB8
5. W.Q. to QB8
6. R.N. to K2
7. W.N. to KB5
8. R.Q. to K1
10. W.Q. to QR6
The other notation is as follows. Numbers and
letters are assigned to the squares, as in the picture. You start by naming the piece that moves (except if
it's a pawn). Then you describe the starting position of the piece and the ending
In that case the moves are:
2. d2 - d4
4. d4 - d5
5. d5 - d6
6. d6 - d7
7. WN f5 x e7
8. d7 - d8
11. d8 x e8
|1. RQ e2 - h5
2. WQ c1 - c4
3. WQ c4 - c5
4. WQ c5 - f8
5. WQ f8 - c8
6. RN g8 - e7
7. WN e7 - f5
8. RQ h5 - e8
10. WQ c8 - a6
Q: I heard the Alice books were banned in China. Is this true, and why?
A: There is discussion about whether the Alice books indeed used to be banned in China.
It is said that it happened in 1931 by the Governor of Hunan Province, General Ho Chien, who found it an insult to humans to have animals acting in the same complex manner as a human, like using human language. His fear was that children would think humans and animals were equal and on the same level, which was 'disastrous'.
The origin of the claim appears to be The File Room, a website dedicated to the cataloging of banned literature. They cite their source for the book being banned as "Banned Books 387 B.C. to 1978 A.D., by Anne Lyon Haight, and Chandler B. Grannis, R.R. Bowker Co, 1978.". However, further evidence is hard to find.
(source: "Topics of the Times". The New York Times: p. 26. 5 May, 1931. ISSN 03624331)