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Sunday, 6 March 2016

Wonderland and Looking-Glass land

Note: people who haven't read the books, or read them a long time ago and forgot a lot, should skip this post.



Let's compare the 2 worlds that Alice visits in her dreams.
The weirdness and illogicality of Wonderland:
- It exists so far down the rabbit-hole that the fall doesn't seem to ever come to an end, and the tunnel is full of cupboards and bookshelves.
- Eating and drinking certain things can make Alice change size.
- Animals and birds can talk.
- Alice's memory is mixed up.
- There are creatures such as Dodo, Mock Turtle, Gryphon.
- The Caucus-race is a race in a circle in which the runners begin when they like and leave off when they like, so nobody can win and everyone gets a prize.
- There's a Cheshire cat that talks, grins from ear and ear and can appear or disappear.
- The Duchess's baby turns into a pig.
- The Mad Hatter offers to Alice the wine he doesn't have.
- A watch shows what day it is, but doesn't tell time.
- Time is a person.
- The Mad Hatter asks a riddle that has no answer.
- The Dormouse tells a story of 3 sisters that live at the bottom of a treacle-well.
- Some creatures are playing cards, and their queen is the Queen of Hearts.
- 3 playing cards paint white flowers red.
- They play a game of croquet in which the balls are live hedgehogs and the mallets are flamingos.
- The Mock Turtle studies Reeling and Writhing; Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision; Drawling, Stretching and Fainting in Coils. 10 hours on the 1st day, 9 on the 2nd, and so on- lessons lessen day by day.
- The Lobster quadrille is a dance in which the creatures dance with lobsters and then throw them as far as possible out to sea.
- The Mad Hatter, the March Hare and the Dormouse say 3 different dates, the jurors write down all 3, then add them up and reduce them to shillings and pence.
- The King wants a verdict before getting evidence, and argues that if the letter isn't written in the Knave's hand, it must mean the Knave imitates someone else's, and if the letter isn't signed, it makes the matter worse as it means the Knave must mean some mischief, otherwise he would just sign his own name.
- Sentence 1st, verdict afterwards.

Now, the weirdness and illogicality of the Looking-Glass land:
- It exists on the other side of the mirror.
- Alice at the beginning is large and invisible, and can move the chess pieces about.
- Chess pieces, animals, birds and flowers can talk.
- The text is written in a way that can only be read when held up to a mirror.
- There are words such as "brillig", "slithy", "toves", "gyre", "gimble", "wabe", "mimsy", "borogoves", etc. (in the poem "Jabberwocky").
- In the house, Alice floats in the air all the way out.
- The space changes, Alice tries different ways to go the hill or to the Red Queen but always goes back to the house, and only succeeds when walking in the opposite direction.
- The country is a large chessboard, the story is based on a game of chess, and the characters, including Alice, are chess pieces and pawns.
- Alice runs with the Red Queen, faster and faster, until she's out of breath, only to find herself at the same spot.
- She's given a cookie when thirsty.
- Tickets are about the same size as people.
- A man's dressed entirely in white paper.
- There are creatures such as Rocking-horse-fly, Snap-dragon-fly, Bread-and-butter-fly, Humpty Dumpty (egg-shaped), Unicorn.
- In a part of the woods, the creatures forget their own names.
- When the road diverges, there are 2 sign posts pointing in the same direction.
- Tweedledum and Tweedledee have a fake fight.
- The White Queen says: jam every other day- so the rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday, but never jam today.
- The punishment comes before the crime.
- The White Queen screams 1st and gets her finger pricked later.
- Sudden change of space: all of a sudden Alice finds herself in a shop, with a Sheep instead of the White Queen, and then suddenly finds herself in a boat, and again finds herself in the shop.
- Things flow about in the shop- whenever Alice stares at a shelf, it becomes empty and the others around it become full.
- The Sheep works with 14 pairs of needles at once.
- Fivepence for 1 egg, twopence for 2.
- The egg turns into Humpty Dumpty.
- Words mean whatever Humpty Dumpty chooses them to mean.
- Humpty Dumpty complains that he can't recognise people by the face, who all look the same.
- Alice has to hand the cake around 1st, and cut it afterwards.
- When 1 knight hits the other, he knocks him off his horse, and if he misses, he tumbles off himself.
- The White Knight carries a box upside-down, so the rain can't get in.
- The horse has anklets round his feet to guard against sharks' bites.
- A crown suddenly appears on Alice's head.
- The 2 queens invite each other to Alice's party.
- Alice and a mutton are introduced to each other.
- The queens shrink to the size of dolls.

The Looking-Glass land appears stranger, messier, more complex and confusing, with all the sudden, unexpected changes. But is it really chaotic? When we list the characteristics of the 2 worlds, which I know is dull and ruins (some of) the fun, that gives us a little distance and helps us see them more clearly. And it turns out that the Looking-Glass land is really not so chaotic after all. 
Let's look at this passage in Symbolic Logic, written by Lewis Carroll, as Charles Lutwidge Dogdson: 
"The writers, and editors, of the Logical text-books which run in the ordinary grooves——to whom I shall hereafter refer by the (I hope inoffensive) title “The Logicians”——take, on this subject, what seems to me to be a more humble position than is at all necessary. They speak of the Copula of a Proposition “with bated breath”, almost as if it were a living, conscious Entity, capable of declaring for itself what it chose to mean, and that we, poor human creatures, had nothing to do but to ascertain what was its sovereign will and pleasure, and submit to it.
In opposition to this view, I maintain that any writer of a book is fully authorised in attaching any meaning he likes to any word or phrase he intends to use. If I find an author saying, at the beginning of his book, “Let it be understood that by the word ‘black’ I shall always mean ‘white’, and that by the word ‘white’ I shall always mean ‘black’,” I meekly accept his ruling, however injudicious I may think it.
And so, with regard to the question whether a Proposition is or is not to be understood as asserting the existence of its Subject, I maintain that every writer may adopt his own rule, provided of course that it is consistent with itself and with the accepted facts of Logic." 
That passage is often quoted to discuss Humpty Dumpty's talk about the meaning of words, but I'd like to talk about something else: whereas things in Wonderland seem to be random and apparently the only rule Alice discovers is that eating and drinking may make her change in size, the Looking-Glass land has rules and logic, just different (wrong rules and bad logic we say), so once Alice learns what the rules are, she can count on them to operate consistently as the rules in the real world, and then she can function. It doesn't matter what the rules are and how ridiculous they sound, the point is that there are rules, and they are consistent. It's when everything is random that it's unpredictable and difficult.

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