Study Guide

Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll Introduction

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll - was a mathematician, photographer, and writer of stories, books and poems that he liked to call "nonsense." His best-known works were the stories he wrote to entertain Alice Liddell, the young daughter of his boss at Oxford University. Carroll's fictional Alice was a plucky young girl who navigated a world of make-believe in books like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. By day, Charles Dodgson worked with math and logic, in a world where things followed absolute, linear rules. In his fiction he let his imagination run wild. We couldn't have The Matrix or Harry Potter without Lewis Carroll. He showed us it was okay to let your weird side run wild in the creative process. Think it's a coincidence that Marilyn Manson is a fan?

Lewis Carroll's life presents some difficult contradictions. He is the author of some of our most beloved children's stories, but he had relationships with children - especially young girls - that are deeply troubling by today's standards. Scholars are divided on whether his interest in girls was pedophilic, or just in keeping with Victorian cultural norms that celebrated children in different ways than we do today. The question of Carroll's biography is too big for us to solve here at Shmoop. As lovers of literature, we are interested in what he produced during a life that, on closer inspection, becomes curiouser and curiouser.

Lewis Carroll Trivia

A great lover of puzzles, Lewis Carroll invented an early form of the game Scrabble in 1880. "A game might be made of letters, to be moved about on a chess-board till they form words," he wrote in his diary.

Carroll once timed himself to see exactly how long it took him to write. He found that he wrote 20 words a minute, a page of 150 words in seven and a half minutes, and twelve pages in two and a half hours. Remember, he was first of all a mathematician.

Lewis Carroll named the Dodo after himself, Charles Dodgson. Because of his stammer, he often pronounced his name "Do-do-do-dodgson."

Lewis Carroll has fans in the legal world. In 2006, a D.C. Circuit Court judge wrote that the Environmental Protection Agency's interpretation of a clean air law would make sense "only in a Humpty Dumpty world." Two years later, the court wrote that the EPA was using "the logic of the Queen of Hearts, substituting the E.P.A.'s desires for the plain text."

Lewis Carroll was a prodigious letter writer, sending some 2,000 responses per year. Sometimes he wrote letters backward that could only be read in a mirror.

Lewis Carroll loved to insert little tricks and wordplay into his writing. In 1989, New Jersey high school students Gary Graham and Jeffrey Maiden discovered one that no one had yet noticed. When the poem "A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale" from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is unwound from the circular, tail-shaped way it is printed in the book, each stanza forms the shape of a mouse.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into more than 70 languages, including Vietnamese and Tagalog.

Lewis Carroll Resources

Books

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (1865 and 1871)
Charles Dodgson wrote many things under the pen name Lewis Carroll, but the fantastical adventures of the young girl Alice are by far his best known. These books originated as a story Dodgson told to the Liddell sisters, the young daughters of the dean of Christ Church. Find an edition that includes the original illustrations of Sir John Tenniel, which are as iconic as the story itself.

Lewis Carroll, Poems
There are many different compilations of Lewis Carroll's poetry. A dip into any of them is like falling down the rabbit hole into the world of Carroll's imagination. He specialized in so-called "nonsense" poetry, taking his child readers into a structure-free world that was in total opposition to the strict morality of the Victorian era.

Lewis Carroll, Symbolic Logic and The Game of Logic (1896 and 1887)
These treatises on logic were originally published under Carroll's real name, Charles Dodgson. Dodgson was a mathematical genius who delighted in the puzzles and games of logic. He always included puzzles and logic in his fantasy writing, and wordplay and fantastic episodes in his scholarly writing.

Morton N. Cohen, Lewis Carroll: A Biography (1996)
This thoroughly-researched book is as close to a definitive biography of Lewis Carroll/Charles Dodgson as you can come. Cohen takes a clear-eyed perspective on a creative genius with a complicated legacy. Unlike more recent scholarship, Cohen concludes that Carroll had an unusual fascination with young girls.

Karoline Leach, In the Shadow of the Dreamchild (2009)
Leach is among the forefront of Carroll/Dodgson scholars determined to rescue his legacy from the "creepy pedophile" rut it has fallen into. During the Victorian era, she writes, there was a cult of adoration surrounding children. Her book argues that Carroll's fascination with young girls has been misinterpreted.

Roger Taylor, Edward Wakeling, Peter C. Bunnell, Lewis Carroll, Photographer (2002)
Charles Dodgson was one of the best amateur photographers of the Victorian era. This book looks at his accomplishments in the realm of photography, which during Dodgson's time was a cumbersome, complex and difficult hobby. The photographs include both his well-known portraits of girls, as well as his other tableaux.

Music

Jefferson Airplane, White Rabbit
One pill makes you larger and one pill makes you small. Yes, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a bit of a trip. Jefferson Airplane wrote this song in homage to the, uh, similarities between Alice and the types of trips they took during the seventies. Stick with the book, okay?

Disney, Alice in Wonderland Soundtrack
The classic Disney film version of Alice takes several liberties with Carroll's original plot and tone. The soundtrack, however, features several of his original poems set to music. Once you have Disney's "The Walrus and the Carpenter" or "Old Father William" stuck in your head, it's never coming out.

Various Artists, Alice in Wonderland Soundtrack
A great TV movie of Alice in Wonderland appeared in 1999. Deb from Napoleon Dynamite plays Alice. The all-star cast includes Norm from Cheers, Martin Short and Whoopi Goldberg, all of whom sing on the soundtrack. Come to think of it, this is a good movie to watch too.

Tom Waits and Robert Wilson, Alice
The avant-garde director Robert Wilson wrote these songs for the dark opera Alice, which focused on the relationship between Charles Dodgson and Alice Liddell. It's a dark and disturbing portrayal. Tom Waits, the gravelly-voiced icon, recorded the album.

Ezra Weiss, Alice in Wonderland: A Jazz Musical
Ezra Weiss is an American jazz pianist. In 2009, when he was 30 years old, he composed a jazz musical based on Alice's adventures. It's pretty cool.

Images

Lewis Carroll
Charles Dodgson, circa 1863.

Charles Dodgson
Another portrait of the writer.

Carroll With Macdonalds
Lewis Carroll with Louisa Macdonald and four of her children.

Alice in Wonderland
A page from the manuscript with Carroll's original illustration.

Alice Liddell
Carroll's child muse and the inspiration for Alice.

Alice Through the Looking Glass
Another photograph of Alice Liddell.

Alice and her sister
A posed photograph of Alice and Lorina Liddell.

Xie Kitchin
An 1870 portrait of Xie Kitchin, a young girl Carroll photographed several times.

Hatch Sisters
Colored photographs of the Hatch sisters.

Mad Tea Party
John Tenniel's original illustration for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

The White Rabbit
He's late for a very important date. Original illustration by John Tenniel.

Movies & TV

Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951)
Okay. So this sunny, cheesy, Disney-fied version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is totally misses the dark undertones that make Carroll's story so interesting. But it's also infectiously entertaining, and the blond, blue-and-white pinafored Alice is the first thing many people think of when they think of Carroll's story. A very merry un-birthday to you!

Alice (1988)
If the Disney Alice is the cleaned-up, polite version of Carroll's story, this film by Czech puppet master Jan Svankmajer is its dark, scary cousin in the basement. Svankmajer takes the dark qualities of Alice to an extreme. It's so disturbing we can't watch.

Alice at the Palace (1982)
Meryl Streep starred in this live action stage version of Alice for the New York Shakespeare Festival. We would watch Meryl Streep take out her garbage, so this works for us.

DreamChild (1985)
This British biopic of Charles Dodgson has serious fans and critics among Carroll-philes. It is told from the point of view of Alice, now Mrs. Hargreaves, now grown up, married and reflecting on her childhood relationship with the author. Fans think is a beautiful depiction of a complicated artist. Critics say it fuels the inaccurate rumor that Dodgson was in love with the child Alice.

Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010)
OMG. Tim Burton took on Lewis Carroll. It stars Johnny Depp. That's all we need to know.

Phantasmagoria: The Visions of Lewis Carroll (2010)
Lewis Carroll fan Marilyn Manson is making a movie about the life of Charles Dodgson. Just take a moment and let that sentence sink in.

Websites

The Lewis Carroll Scrapbook
This site by the Library of Congress is a digital exhibit of a scrapbook Carroll kept as an adult. You can look at reproductions of the pages. There is also helpful biographical information about Carroll's life.

Contrariwise
"The common ground on which this association ... is founded is the hypothesis that Lewis Carroll was 'simply' a man," writes The Association for New Lewis Carroll Studies. "Not the 'Repressed Paedophile', or the 'Tragic Deviant with the Heart of Gold'... not the 'Social Hermit', not the 'Unfathomable Genius'." This site offers interesting essays on this enigmatic and often misunderstood genius.

The Lewis Carroll Society
This London-based society is made up of serious Carroll fans and scholars. Their site contains useful background information on Carroll's life, such as his family tree and an annotated bibliography of his works.

The Carroll Myth
This is the companion site to the book In the Shadow of the Dreamchild by Karoline Leach. Leach argues that Carroll has been falsely and unfairly painted as a pedophile by generations of readers who don't understand Victorian portrayals of children. It links to interesting documents that shed new light on Carroll's biography.

Lewis Carroll Centenary Exhibition
This is the web companion to an exhibit at the University of Texas celebrating Carroll's 100th birthday. It has interesting pictures and documents from different phases in Carroll's life, from his childhood to his years at Oxford.

Victorian Web
This great site about the Victorian era explains Carroll's times. It helps explain the social, political and literary context of his life and work. Understanding the era is key to understanding this unusual artist.

Video & Audio

Marilyn Manson on Lewis Carroll
Carroll fan Marilyn Manson talks about Lewis Carroll.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
The poem as it appears in the Disney film.

Mad Tea Party
A 1983 version of the famous party.

The Caucus Race
What's better than a jolly caucus race!

The Cheshire Cat
Why - why, you're a cat!

The Incredible Shrinking Alice
The scene of Alice's sudden growth.

Disney on Dodgson
Walt Disney introduces Lewis Carroll, conveniently leaving out his little-girl obsession.

Lewis Carroll: The Autism Connection
This short documentary explores the theory that Lewis Carroll suffered from a form of autism.

Primary Sources

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Text of the 1865 novel.

Through the Looking Glass
The 1871 sequel to Alice.

The Hunting of the Snark
The 1874 nonsense poem.

"Jabberwocky"
The 1872 poem from Through the Looking Glass.

The Life and Letters of Lewis Carroll
A free e-book of Carroll's correspondence.

"Humpty Dumpty"
Carroll's poem, illustrated by painter John Tenniel, who illustrated the original Alice books.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
The time has come, the Walrus said, to talk of many things.

Project Gutenberg
An index of Carroll e-texts.