Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

I often receive the same questions by email. To save us both some trouble, here is a summary of the most-asked questions and my answers.

`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.

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.

There is however one part in the book that may describe the use of drugs: the hookah smoking Caterpillar who advises Alice to eat from the mushroom. With the story Carroll made fun of all aspects of society, and it may be possible that he was reflecting the age with this part: In the Victorian era there were no drug laws like we know them now. 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.

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Q: Was Carroll a pedophile?

A: No. He certainly liked little girls very much, and loved to entertain them and be in their presence. However, there is no evidence at all that he was sexually attracted to them. When his child-friends grew up, they told only positive stories about their warm friendship, and often the friendship continued during their adulthood.

Contrary to popular belief, Carroll did not only have child-friends. He also had lots of (female) adult friends. Only about 25% of all ‘children’ he was in contact with, was under the age of 14, and 25% was older than 18 years old (source: “Het wonderland van Lewis Carroll”, Carel Peeters). Nor is it true that he disliked little boys.

Carroll was an avid photographer and besides his normal portraits, he did sometimes photograph children in the nude. However, in his time making nude photographs of children wasn’t uncommon. Many Victorian artists, like Julia Margaret Cameron and Oscar Rejlander, did studies of child-nudes; it was a trendy subject for the time and children were then seen as a symbol of innocence. These kind of photographs would be printed on greeting cards, or displayed on their parents mantelpieces. (source: “The right of reply. Eight or nine wise words about documentary-making…”, Edward Wakeling, Bandersnatch issue 166, March 2015) Carroll only took these photographs with permission from the children’s 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.

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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 into the public domain in 1964. This includes the colored illustrations for the Nursery Alice.

Notably the British Copyright act did not protect the stories and illustrations from being reproduced abroad. Many foreign publishers, for example in America, were therefore able to publish the story and Tenniel’s illustrations without permission from Carroll, while they were still copyright protected in the UK.

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.

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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.

The original first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

The original first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

For a start, you can take a look at the site of the ABAA, where you can learn about the appraisal of old books. Their FAQ-page offers a lot of useful information and you can also search for an expert in your vicinity! If you live outside the US, look for your own national antiquarian booksellers’ association.

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.

It is very unlikely that you own a first edition. The first edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was printed by Macmillan and dated 1866. It has a red cloth cover.

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Q: Did Carroll propose to Alice? Why was there a break-up between Carroll and the Liddell’s? And what were the cut pages of Carroll’s diary about?

A: We don’t know for sure what the cut pages were about and why Carroll (Dodgson) suddenly broke off contact with the Liddell family. However, it is improbable that this was because he proposed to Alice.

Relations between Dodgson and Alice’s parents were never optimal. This may be because Alice’s mother considered Dodgson’s social status to be too low, or because he often opposed to Dean Liddell’s way of running Christ Church College. Mrs. Liddell later on went so far as to burn all his early letters to Alice.

On October 28 1862, Dodgson wrote in his diaries being out of Mrs. Liddell’s good graces “ever since Lord Newry’s business”. This ‘business’ was a disagreement about lifting the college curfew for Lord Newry’s ball, which Dodgson opposed to. (source: Morton N. Cohen, “Lewis Carroll: a biography”)

Still, his visits to the Deanery to see the Liddell sisters continued.

On June 25 1863, his diary records an expedition on the river involving the three girls, the Dean and Mrs Liddell, himself and two other young men. It is apparently a happy day, as Dodgson wrote in his diary: “a pleasant expedition, with a very pleasant conclusion”. He wrote this, because he went back by foot with Alice, Lorina and Edith. Two days later, on June 27, Dodgson records writing to Mrs Liddell, “urging her either to send the children to be photographed…” The sentence remains unfinished, because it comes at the end of a page and the following page is missing, cut out by an unknown person. The word ‘either’ has also been crossed out, in a different ink, in an attempt to disguise the omission.

The record begins again on June 30. Dodgson notes that the Liddells are leaving for their summer holiday. They are not mentioned again until December 5, when he records meeting Mrs Liddell and the children at some theatricals, “but I held aloof from them, as I have done all this term”. (source: The Liddell Riddle, Karoline Leach)

Apparently, around June 27-29 1863 an important change occurred in Dodgson’s relations with the Liddell family, but the description of it was purposely removed from the diary. This has lead to a lot of speculation about what happened.

According to Karoline Leach’s book “In the shadow of the dreamchild“, letters dating from 1930 have emerged from the personal archives of the Liddell family. They are from Lorina Liddell, then 81 years old, directed to Alice Liddell. Lorina writes Alice that Florence Becker Lennon visited her, because she was writing a biography about Charles Dodgson. Apparently Lennon speculated that Dodgson must have proposed to Alice, but was rejected, and that he was consequently banned from the Deanery.

When Lorina realised that Lennon wanted her to confirm this, she decided to go along with it, “as one had to give some reason for all intercourse ceasing” (according to the letter). She therefore confirmed that Dodgsons advances toward Alice had become “too affectionate” as she grew older, and that “Mother spoke to him about it, and that offended him”. But apparently this was not the true reason for the break-up.

Note about the cut pages from Lewis Carroll's diary

source: Knight Letter, nr. 92, Volume II issue 22, Spring 2014

Besides these letters, a note has been found that seems to have been written by family members of Charles Dodgson. One side contains biographical notes about the Liddell daughters and Alice’s descendants. The other is headed ‘Cut Pages in Diary’ and contains summaries of the contents of three pages, two from Volume Eight and one from Volume Eleven. The second summary from Volume Eight is of the missing page. It reads:

“L.C. learns from Mrs Liddell that he is supposed to be using the children as a means of paying court to the governess – he is also supposed [unreadable] to be courting Ina.”

The unreadable portion may possibly say ‘by some’. It is written in the hand of Lewis Carroll’s niece Violet Dodgson, who was co-guardian of the diaries from the early 1940s to the late 1960s.

Apparently, Violet must have gone through the diaries after Dodgson’s death, noting the pages to be cut for censoring and summarising their most important contents. (source: The Liddell Riddle, Karoline Leach)

The governess mentioned in the note was Miss Prickett. There had indeed been gossip circulating about her and Dodgson back in 1857, but Dodgson described it in his diary as ‘so groundless a rumour’.

‘Ina’ is Lorina Liddell. However, whether Dodgson indeed courted Alice’s older sister, and whether this was the reason for the break-up, has never been confirmed by any evidence. The matter still remains a mystery.

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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).
So the hat worn by the Mad Hatter was priced at half-a-guinea, signifying its superior style.

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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”.

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Q: I’ve seen an Alice movie, but I cannot remember which one it was. Can you help me?

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 in my webshop.

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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.

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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.

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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:

chessfaq2

In that case the moves are:

  1. (…)
  2. W.Pawn to Q4
  3. (…)
  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
  9. (…)
  10. (…)
  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
  9. (…)
  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 position.

chessfaq

In that case the moves are:

  1. (…)
  2. d2 – d4
  3. (…)
  4. d4 – d5
  5. d5 – d6
  6. d6 – d7
  7. WN f5 x e7
  8. d7 – d8
  9. (…)
  10. (…)
  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
  9. (…)
  10. WQ c8 – a6

View the starting positions of the pieces.

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Q: I heard the Alice books were banned in China. Is this true, and why?

A: No, this is not true. It is a wide spread rumour.

Indeed in 1931, according to a Shanghai newspaper, Chairman of the Hunan Provincial Government Ho Chien accused primary school textbooks of not conforming to Communist standards. He found it absurd that animals were being transformed into human-language-speaking creatures and were given respectful forms of address. He said: “School textbooks that are inadequately difficult or whose theories are simplistic but impractical must be destroyed by fire”.

This, however, was his personal request, but it was never executed. Neither did he specifically mention “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.

The rumour about the book being banned originated from a New York Times column called “Topics of the Times”, by an anonymous writer in the same year, where he claimed the Alice in Wonderland book was banned in the Province of Hunan. It was then repeated as a fact by other media and books, causing the rumour to spread.

(source: Burstein, Mark and Zongxin Feng. “Another ben trovato”. Knight Letter number 94, Volume II issue 24, spring 2015, The Lewis Carroll Society of North America.)

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