- Full title: Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there
- Author: Lewis Carroll (pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)
- Illustrator: Sir John Tenniel
- Publishing date: December 1871 (but dated 1872)
- Publisher: Macmillan
- Place of publication: Oxford
- Translated: in more than 65 languages
The creation of the story
“[Through the] Looking Glass [was] made up almost wholly of bits and scraps, single ideas that came of themselves.”
He tied all those individual ideas together into a single story with the use of two main themes: chess and mirror images.
In the six years since he wrote Alice in Wonderland, Carroll had been teaching Alice and her sisters the game of chess. He made up stories to illustrate the moves of the pieces and the rules of the game. Many of these stories were used for his second ‘Alice’ story.
Carroll’s distant cousin Alice Raikes suggested that she gave him the idea for the Looking-Glass theme, when he asked her to stand in front of a mirror, holding an orange, and tell him in which hand she was holding it. However, Carroll met Alice Raikes only after he had already sent the manuscript to the printers, so this story is untrue (Gardner 166).
The ‘wrong-way-round idea’ dominates the book, because this kind of game was a favourite of Carroll’s. He liked to write letters in mirror-writing, drew pictures which changed into different ones when held upside down, and he also liked to play his musical boxes backwards. Some people think that this has something to do with his left-handedness, and the asymmetry of his body. Carroll considered having several pages of the book actually printed in reverse, so the reader would have to hold them up to a looking-glass to read, but in the end this proved to be too expensive and troublesome, and only the first stanza of ‘Jabberwocky’ was reversed.
Originally, the story contained a chapter called ‘A wasp in a Wig‘, but Carroll decided to drop it before publication.
On 24th August 1866, Carroll wrote to Macmillan that he was contemplating another ‘Alice’ book:
“It will probably be some time before I again indulge in paper and print. I have, however, a floating idea of writing a sort of sequel to Alice, and if it ever comes to anything, I inted to consult you at the very outset, so as to have the thing properly managed from the beginning.”
On 6th February 1867, his ideas had become more concrete, as he wrote to his publisher:
“I am hoping before long to complete another book about Alice.”
However, he apparently only started with the actual writing in January 1868. The progress was slow: he completed and sent the first chapter to Macmillan in January 1869 – a year later. The text was complete by 4th January 1871.
Carroll tried to secure an illustrator from the very start of writing the book. Unfortunately, the process of finding an illustrator and creating the illustrations for Through the Looking Glass was very slow and cumbersome. Eventually he did manage to contract John Tenniel again to create the illustrations.
On 21 November 1871, Carroll sent authorization to Clay by telegraph to electrotype ‘all the rest of the Looking-Glass. I afterwards sent two corrections by post. So ends my part of the work.’
On 30 November 1871, Macmillan advised Carroll that they already had orders for 7,500 copies: 9,000 were to be printed and a further 6,000 were ordered.
“Through the Looking Glass and what Alice found there” was published in December 1871 (but was dated 1872), indeed in an edition of 9,000 copies. Carroll received the first copy on 6 December. As with Alice’s Adventures, copies were bound in red cloth gilt, with the date and number of the ‘thousand’ on the title page.
The second print run consisted of 6,000 copies. By 27 January 1872, 15,000 copies of the story (both print runs) had been sold.
In 1893, the third edition was reprinted again (the 60th thousand). Carroll recalled the entire printing because he thought the illustrations looked bad, which makes this edition very rare now (Hancher 219).
The book reached the 70th thousand in 1932. The last reprint was in 1942.
In 1887, Macmillan issued cheaper versions of “Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there”, styled as ‘People’s Edition’ in green pictorial cloth.
The British copyright on “Through the Looking Glass” expired in 1948.
After publishing the story, Carroll kept improving it, just as he did with “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”.
One of the more notable changes is his description of the Red Queen, which was changed from “She’s one of the thorny kind” to “She’s one of the kind that has nine spikes, you know”. This may be a removal of a reference to a person Carroll knew: the governess of the Liddell children, nicknamed ‘Pricks’.
In the 1890s he made major revisions, which were incorporated in the 61st thousand edition of ‘Through the Looking-Glass’, which was published in 1897 (Goodacre, “The works of”).
See Goodacre’s “The Textual Alterations for the 1897 6s Edition of Through the Looking Glass” for a complete list of changes.
The title of the book was much discussed by Carroll. The working title of Alice’s new adventures was ‘Looking-Glass House’. It evolved to ‘Behind the Looking-Glass, and what Alice saw there’, which Dodgon mentioned in a diary entry from January 1869.
In 1870 a specimen title page was produced that mentioned “Looking-Glass House, and What Alice Saw There”.
Macmillan wrote to Carroll in March 1870: “as to the main title I decidedly prefer the first form of words: “Behind the Looking Glass.” “Looking-Glass World” is too specific.”, and later responded to another letter of Carroll: ““Through” is just the word – you’ll never beat it.”
Eventually Carroll’s friend Henry Liddon suggested the final title ‘Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There’ (Jaques and Gidders).
In a letter to his publisher, dating 19 March 1875, Carroll wrote that he had “another” idea for the title, namely “Jabberwocky and Other Mysteries, Being the Book That Alice Found in Her Trip Through the Looking-Glass”. He wanted everything to be in reverse printing, except ‘Jabberwocky’ (Borchers).
The story has been translated into 65 languages, and 1,530 different editions were identified all over the world in 2015. The number keeps increasing (Lindseth and Tannenbaum).
Borchers, Melanie. “A Linguistic Analysis of Lewis Carroll’s Poem ‘Jabberwocky'”, The Carrollian, no. 24, dated Autumn 2009, published November 2013.
Gardner, Martin. The Annotated Alice. 150th anniversary edition, W.W. Norton & Company, 2015.
Goodacre, Selwyn. “The Textual Alterations for the 1897 6s edition of Through the Looking Glass”. The Carrollian, issue 22, dated Autumn 2008, published September 2011.
Goodacre, S. et al. “The Works of Charles Dodgson: Alice”. The Lewis Carroll Society, 10 July 2017, lewiscarrollsociety.org.uk/pages/aboutcharlesdodgson/works/alice.html.
Hancher, Michael. The Tenniel illustrations to the ‘Alice’ books. The Ohio State Press, second edition, 2019.
Jaques, Zoe and Eugene Gidders. Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. A Publishing History. Ashgate Studies in Publishing History, Ashgate Publishing, 2016.
Lindseth, J.A. and A. Tannenbaum. Alice in a World of Wonderlands. Oak Knoll Press, 2015