Perpetual Tea Time

Time is a cruel master, said Alice’s mother.
No, Time is a thief and a villain, Alice replied.
Alice in Wonderland

Lewis Carroll was quite interested in thinking about time. In Wonderland, tea time is six o’clock in the evening. Unfortunately, time has stopped in Wonderland, so it is perpetually six o’clock, perpetually tea time.

Alice changes her mind about many things in the books, including time. She tells Time (who is a character), “I used to think time was a thief. But you give before you take. Time is a gift. Every minute. Every second.”

The Mad Hatter explains that Time is a “him,” not an “it.” He tells Alice that Time has been upset because the Queen of Hearts said that he was “murdering time” while he performed a song badly. That is when he fixed the time at six o’clock.

Time is rather whimsical and impulsive. Hatter says that “Suppose it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!”

Time with Chronosphere (Sacha Baron Cohen)

Filmmakers who have adapted the books have played with time in their interpretations of Alice’s adventures. In Alice Through the Looking Glass, Time lives in a castle of eternity. He has one human hand and one mechanical hand and possesses the Chronosphere, a glowing, spinning, metallic sphere inside the chamber of the Grand Clock that powers all time. If you were to take the Chronosphere, you could travel the Ocean of Time to the past. When it was taken, Time weakened and was dying. Alice and the Mad Hatter returned the Chronosphere to its proper place and Time was resurrected.

Alice once asked the Hatter, “I think you might do something better with the time,” she said, than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers. “
“If you knew Time as well as I do,” said the Hatter, you wouldn’t talk about wasting it.”

Poor White Rabbit with his clock is a modern person worn down by the relentless pressure of time.

Head and shoulders drawing of a girl (Alice) holding a key
Lewis Carroll’s own drawing of Alice Link

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is about a child struggling to survive in the confusing world of adults. Alice is open-minded, as are most children, but she learns – and it is rather sad – that adults need rules to live by.

In Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, Alice climbs through a mirror into the world that she can see beyond it. Everything there is reversed – a reflection. Logic is reversed, so, for example, running helps one remain stationary. Time runs backward. Chessmen are alive, and nursery rhyme characters exist.

It is also about being curious, taking chances, and maybe even falling down a rabbit hole. Or looking closely in the mirror, because it is also about what Caterpillar asks Alice to answer for herself. Who in the world am I?

Mark Twain said “the stillest and shyest full-grown man I have ever met” was Lewis Carroll, who was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in Daresbury, England in 1832. He went to Oxford, was gifted at math, graduated with honors, and stayed at the college as a teacher for the rest of his life. He didn’t really like teaching, but it earned him a living, and he thought of it as a temporary endeavor while he worked on becoming famous as an artist of some sort.

He wrote poems and short stories and took photographs. One day in 1856, he took three little girls, Ina, Edith, and Alice on a boating trip and told them a story that would become Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which was published in 1865. Six years later, he published its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

Self-portrait taken when he was 24 years old

A Day to Go Down a Rabbit Hole

chapter 1

On May 4th of some year long ago, a young girl went down a rabbit hole and entered a wonderland, and began an incredible adventure.

That girl was Alice and she descended into Wonderland on the birthday of Alice Pleasance Hargreaves (née Liddell), who was her inspiration as a character. The Liddells were friends with the Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (pen name Lewis Carroll). Alice and her two sisters heard the first versions of the story on a “golden afternoon” in 1862, in a rowboat with Dodgson.

The story was originally titled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, but was published as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in November 1865. It was hit and called “the publishing sensation of Christmas 1865.”

Alice's Adventures Under Ground - Lewis Carroll - British Library Add MS 46700 f45v.jpg
A page from the manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under      Ground, 1864. Public Domain, Link

The book has never gone out of print. It has been translated into more than 100 languages, including Latin.

It is one of those “children’s books” that offers other things to adult readers, such as linguistic puzzles, contradictions, and jokes.

Alice is not frightened as she falls down that hole after following a rabbit. In fact, as she makes that long descent, she talks to herself and analyses what is happening and may happen. In Wonderland, she is constantly trying to make sense of nonsensical things and is forced to rethink many of her assumptions and view things differently.

“Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either,
but thought they were nice grand words to say.”

Thinking she may fall through the Earth to Australia or New Zealand, she wonders (as one will do in Wonderland)  “How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward!”Today, we still fall down “rabbit holes” – especially online. To aid your own trip down Alice’s rabbit hole, here are a few links.

I am a fan of The Annotated Alice which helps with many of the references that I missed as a child and as an adult.

The Alice in Wonderland Omnibus has Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass with the original John Tenniel Illustrations because, as Alice said, “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversations?”

Wikipedia has very good articles about the original book, the sequel, Through the Looking Glass, and Lewis Carroll.

If you are fearful of falling down a rabbit hole, you might try Through the Looking Glass (full name Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There) where  Alice climbs through a mirror into a world where everything is reversed. This is the book that includes the poems “Jabberwocky” and “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, and introduces the new characters such as Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Advice from the Cheshire Cat

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“—so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

If you’ve ever read Lewis Carroll‘s novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or watched a movie version, you know the Cheshire Cat.

The expression “grinning like a Cheshire Cat” existed before Carroll’s book but it is now identified with the character in the novel. That cat appears and disappears leaving only his grin behind. Alice says that she, “has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat” and Cheshire cat says “You may have noticed, I’m not all there myself.”

The Cheshire cat can be both amusing and perplexingly philosophical. The line that stuck with me from my first reading of the book when I was in high school was “I knew who I was this morning, but I have changed a few times since then.”
I had many days where the me that went off to school was not the me that went to sleep that night.

The Cheshire cat is also poetic at times.

“When the day becomes the night and the sky becomes the sea,
when the clock strikes heavy and there’s no time for tea;
and in our darkest hour, before my final rhyme,
she will come back home to Wonderland and turn back the hands of time.”

“Somehow you strayed and lost your way,
and now there’ll be no time to play,
no time for joy, no time for friends –
not even time to make amends.”

Here are some other quotes from that rather Zen cat up in the tree.

“How do you run from what is inside your head?”

“I’m not crazy. My reality is just different than yours”

“You are too naïve if you believe life is innocent laughter and fun.”

“Every adventure requires a first step.”

“If you don’t know where you are going any road can take you there.”

“Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality”

“When you’ve understood this scripture, throw it away. If you can’t understand this scripture, throw it away. I insist on your freedom.”

And in this election year, perhaps his wisest advice would include:
“I never get involved in politics” and, when asked about playing fair,
“No one does, if they think they can get away with it.”

Cheshire cat
Sir John Tenniel’s Cheshire Cat for Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Through the Looking Glass of Time


I just saw Alice Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. Both star Johnny Depp and Mia Wasikowska, with Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway but the sequel (directed by James Bobin) is crazier than the Mad Hatter.

I am a fan of all the Alice books by Lewis Carroll, and I enjoyed Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. I also enjoyed the Disney animated Alice in Wonderland when I was a kid. Back then, I liked the Cheshire Cat. In the mid-1960s, it was the hookah-smoking Caterpillar that got all the attention. “One pill makes you larger. One pill makes you small,” sang the Jefferson Airplane in “White Rabbit.” We knew that Lewis Carroll had to be tripping on something.

I was ready for a Burton sequel. I was okay when they announced another director because the original casting was intact. It’s been six years since the first film was released.

Here’s the problem. They took Lewis Carroll’s title and the characters, but they chucked the plot. That is always a bad sign.

Actually, I thought I might even be okay with the new plot because they slipped in one of my favorite things – time travel.

In this version, Alice still enters the magical looking glass and goes back to Wonderland. She discovers that the Mad Hatter is acting madder than usual. He needs closure about what happened with his lost family. To do that, Alice has to travel through time.

She finds and hijacks a Chronosphere and zips through time to deal with her friends and their enemies at different points of their lives.

Alice Through The Looking Glass flopped at the box office. I doubt that the reason was that there are too many Carroll purists out there.

I watched it and I was entertained. It wasn’t great filmmaking, but the effects were well done. the outrageous performances were, well, outrageous, as i suppose they must be in Wonderland.

The film sent me back to the books. I was delighted that as an Amazon Prime person, I could get all four Alice books free on my Kindle. Most people don’t know there is more to Alice than just the first Wonderland book. The tetralogy includes Alice in Wonderland, Alice Through the Looking Glass, the Alice-related fantasy verse The Hunting of the Snark, and Alice’s Adventures Underground. That last one is the shorter, original Alice in Wonderland manuscript which Carroll wrote for his friends and family. They encouraged the mathematician to expand the book and send it to a publisher.

Martin Gardner wrote in the introduction to his The Annotated Alice  “that life, viewed rationally and without illusion, appears to be a nonsense tale told by an idiot mathematician.”

Lewis Carroll, an imaginative mathematician, believed that nonsense was the hidden art of language.

In the first chapter, Alice is playing with her kittens in the house and she starts to wonder what the world is like on the other side of a mirror’s reflection. Isn’t that a kind of mathematical thought too?

She climbs up on the fireplace mantel and pokes at the big wall mirror behind the fireplace and discovers that she can step through it. On the other side is a reflected version of her own house. She finds a book of poetry with “Jabberwocky” in it. It has reversed printing but she can read it by holding it up to the mirror. She can see that the chess pieces from her house have come to life, though they remain small enough for her to pick up.

The second section of the book actually has a lot of changes in time and spatial directions as plot devices, so maybe that inspired the new film. There are lots of plays on mirror themes – things are opposite, time goes backward.

Alice says that she thinks time is a thief.  She gets no argument from me on that.