Mythology In The Fantastic World: "Alice Book Series" Lewis Carroll

In the Alice book series, Lewis Carroll succeeded in creating a playful and fantastic world, full of 'personal' mythologies; mythologies that continue to amaze and transform audiences in large numbers, gaining momentum and interest in the future, in various mediums such as plastic arts or cinematic ones. The so-called 'Children's Literature' or 'Youth Literature' is redirected to a certain age spectrum, only expanding at the end of the 19th century, when, only a few books that did not have an obvious index implemented for indoctrination or one for religious ideologies, were published for children (for example: The little book for little children, and another one full of illuminated illustrations, A description of three hundred animals). Reasons for rapid expansion and for the interest given to children's literature are not yet explained, but certain figures have certainly contributed to this (talking about John Newbery, Jonathan Swift, Lewis Carroll etc.) Thus, many of the books addressed to children were characterized by playfulness, humour, fantasy, fairy tale and animal characters. But, as the famous writer of the Chronicles of Narnia, C.S Lewis, puts it in his essay On Three ways of writing for children: “A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last, because a children's story is the best art-form for something you have to say.” Lewis Carroll's mythology has had a huge impact and reached a level of boundless popularity, finally becoming a model for fantastical-nonsensical prose and expressing unlimited possibilities for interpretations of the text itself. Critics of the Carrollian work even to this day seek to find the true meaning behind the magical text for children.

Being published in 1865, the first novel in the Alice series must be viewed as a full-on Victorian novel. While working on the text, Lewis Carroll was a renowned mathematician and a rather versatile man, being also a pioneer of photography, (many of his photographs are archived and kept as proof) an area that was raging among English societies, and a very good logician. Over the years, Alice in Wonderland has been analysed from several different perspectives: as an esoteric journey for knowledge of the soul and the human mind, having the objective to find the connections between the exact fields (logic and mathematics), as a symbolic journey, revealing the feature of bildungsroman or even a mystical adventure, soaked in the consequences of the substances of hallucinogens and the use of drugs to enhance the size of the mind. Besides being summarized into these mythical connotations and mysterious messages, Alice in Wonderland can also be analysed in close connection with Victorianism, namely, in the social context in which it was created.

The novel is also considered nonsense literature, a literary genre that was also introduced in the Victorian period. Characterized by the linguistic game and by the ability to contrast the logical meaning of problems, this literary genre quickly became famous among people in Victorian society (it was this particular period and place being often referred to as the birthplace of Nonsense). They were very passionate and entertained by word games and riddles. Lewis Carroll (a pseudonym used by the author, from his real name, Charles Lutwedge Dodgson) managed to create a logical nonsense. Even so, a 'logical nonsense' must sound paradoxical, but because Lewis had managed to write farther from the nonsense spectrum, trying to write logical nonsense, his books were also enjoyed by intellectual masses. By introducing this type of writing, Alice's author provides readers with entertainment needed to escape the restrained Victorian world and reveal its positive outlook on the relationship between man and the world.

In the book, the eponymous character uses the word 'absurdity/nonsense' to describe certain situations where things are completely meaningless and unethical. Carroll's styling is full of certain special effects obtained through words mainly; he makes use of synonyms, homonyms, homophones, metaphors, oxymorons (etc.) to create an fusion of absurdity and to transform the wonderful world, in which Alice spends her time, in a truly unreal world. Finally, the animal characters in the Land of Wonders are the ones who violate the simple rules of language and continue to upset the child with word reversals and most of the time, with unethical and weird actions. In an episode where Alice is brought before the court, more specifically, facing accusations of theft of pies, the jury stands out by their bold method of reaching a conclusion: ''Fourteenth of March, I think it was,' he said. 'Fifteenth' said the March Hare. 'Sixteenth,' added the Dormouse. 'Write that down,' the king said to the jury, and the jury eagerly wrote down all three dates on their slates, and then added them up, and reduced the answer to shillings and pence.' In addition to the ingenious technique of using stylistic devices to create nonsense, the author also uses the invention of words spoken by the anthropomorphic animals, words which confuse Alice even more: 'uglifying' and 'uglification'.

Both Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass are composed with the help of a dream frame, in which the frames of the beginning and the end are located in the real world of Alice. The dream takes place in Wonderland, respectively in the Mirror Country. In the beginning, the introduction frame presents the physical circumstances and the events before Alice has fallen asleep. The mythology of Alice in Wonderland is full of anthropomorphic animals and before we touch on the subject of anthropomorphism, I would like to look more closely at the animal symbolism, which, at first view, it might seem rather trivial and vague because it is widespread and used throughout literature, however it could hold one of the proper interpretations of the Carrollian text. On the other hand, negative references and positives of terimorph symbolism are born as an “archetypology” from a concept of the Bestiary.

Therefore, in the first novel, we find out about the existence of the White Rabbit 'with pink eyes' who seems to be a neurotic figure, constantly concerned about the passing time and, ironically, being always late. Like all the characters in the books, the Rabbit is an anthropomorphic animal and the first character that the girl sees. He is her initiator in the Land of Wonders, though the two will meet later and they will only change a few lines. According to Freud, anthropomorphism (or pathetic fallacy) belongs to the list of phenomena that induce the Uncanny and thus, reading Alice’s reaction on the page, the reader would expect the character to feel unfamiliarity in the face of unreality. However, the girl feels no form of uncertainty and thus, throughout the novel, anthropomorphic animals do not have any weird effects on Alice whatsoever. She does not show surprise or shock in front of the talking animals, but actually communicates with the characters as normal as possible, showing a common respect. Also, Alice clashes with all the absurd and unrealistic figures with some commonality, a commonplace that can be a cause of the imagination that children establish: to attribute human characteristics to animals because it seems much more fun and easier. Lewis Carroll uses the energy of the mythical imagination of the child to implement a kind of game between text and reader. This is where the literary landscape and the effects of the text on the implicit reader are introduced. Carroll's objective (but involved) narrator function introduces us (as readers) to feel hesitation: the emergence of the White rabbit has another effect for readers. By this, the spectator of the literary text looks upon the happenings with uncertainty; is Alice already in Wonderland or not?

But, returning to the mythology and symbolism of the animal in folklore, Carroll uses its varied meanings to bring dimension to the characters that 'tempt' Alice to enter in the rabbit-hole (a hole that is used here as the magic portal of universal mythology, and so making it possible to pass the little child into the fantastic), to enter the forest and enter the Queen's garden (some of the dimensions with hidden esoteric meanings). His animals are very weird and peculiar. They are used by the author as a guide for the main character who has to travel a world of his imagination. They test Alice’s conscience, they rebuke her, tell annoying and meaningless stories, and often put her in danger. Carroll used two types of animal characters in his novels; the animals we saw throughout the text (main ones), and those that appear unintentional, here and there (secondary or episodic characters).

White rabbits and also field rabbits have always been associated with monthly deities which symbolize rebirth and spiritual revival (Renovatio). The innocence emitted by the rabbit arose from the role of its species of prey, and in European traditions, the hare also symbolizes Rapidity ('as fast as a hare') and Timidity. Rabbits often appear in universal folklore and are used as cute and fantastic characters in children's texts (examples being books written by Beatrix Potter, about the character Peter Rabbit, The tale of Peter Rabbit, and the stories of Robert Lawson, Rabbit Hill). In Irish folklore, the rabbit was often associated with Sidh, a fairy who is part of the Aos Sí breed, fairies and elves living in an underground world (from here we also have the rabbit-hole of the White Rabbit in Wonderland). This world is described as a parallel universe in which Aos Sí have the power to choose whether they can be seen by those on top. In Jewish folklore, rabbits are associated with Cowardice. This symbolic feature of the rabbit can be the direct inspiration for Alice’s White Rabbit character, because the first impression is done through cowardice and fear in front of the Queen of Red Hearts. Of all the animals that attend the adventures of the child, the speaking White Rabbit is the one who deserves special attention, being the representation of all of Alice's connections with the World of Wonders. It is he who sets in motion all the adventures of the child and so it becomes one of the most important archetypal symbols.

Without the rabbit, Alice wouldn't know all the anthropomorphic animals and her series of adventures in the two fantastic worlds would not have begun. Therefore, white rabbits could be symbols of a sort of connection, like red thread, a dream thread that links the small protagonist of the Land of Wonders to the land itself. Of course, Carroll's rabbit is known for his infamous anxiety related to time, but it becomes, upon a closer reading of the novel, the embodiment of Jung’s Archetypal Temptress. The animal, therefore, represents the pawn to which the hero of the story is attracted and that ultimately brings the protagonist to fall / collapse. Exactly the same thing happens in Alice in Wonderland, where the mannerism of the White Rabbit, similar to that of humans, draws the girl and puts her in danger. The girl, following the animal 'down the rabbit-hole', reaches a world full of crazy creatures where absolutely nothing makes sense to her; in the end, it attracts her to collapse (figuratively and literally speaking).

All the characters from Alice in Wonderland constitute a mythologem. They make it easier for Alice to finish her adventures and they correspond to certain mythological archetypes. Alice is, therefore, 'tempted' by the White Rabbit 'with pink eyes' to descend into the recess of the tree, where she falls for a good chunk of time; it is a long fall that shows the timelessness of the Dream World. We established earlier that this appearance of the White Rabbit facilitates a subtle transition to the World of Dreams, and thus, Alice symbolizes here the archetype of the Hero (archetypal hero) in Bildungroman, being a dream child in search of herself and her maturity. In Alice in Wonderland, the rabbit-hole is the birthplace of the girl's adventures, following the White Rabbit with a waistcoat and a watch-pocket in a weird and crazy world (we are all mad here) and going through the psychological changes, identity crises and temporary metamorphoses. So, the rabbit-hole is the embodiment of a myth itself that represents a threshold between the two worlds; the real world, the one with her sister on the side of the big peaceful lake, and the Wonderland, the underground one, the little girl's dream frame. As Eliade puts it in his book, The Sacred and The Profane, the threshold stands for ”granița care deosebește și desparte două lumi și locul paradoxal de comunicare dintre ele, punctul în care se face trecerea”.

The garden is another mythological motif used by Lewis Carroll. Little Alice wants, with ardour, to reach the garden of the Queen of Red Hearts. For some critics, the garden is the symbol for fertility, innocence, spiritual order. This is the symbol of the Mother/Godmother, a symbol that it is no longer wild in nature, presenting for Alice a civilized place, familiar to the one above the Wonderland. It is also very important that Alice goes through the garden. We are witnesses to a civilizing process: Alice wanders in the forest, a natural (wild) garden, untouched by the human hand, in the end, to reach the people's garden. We have here an idea of the maze that, according to Josepha Sherman, consists of 'a maze of passages or rooms. In mythology and folklore, the labyrinth often symbolizes a spiritual journey. Labyrinths in Britain are generally garden mazes with walls of clipped hedges.”

Lewis Carroll's fantasy world is more than an allegory. It combines the rules of myths, archetypes and legends to create a juvenile text that can be read by adults, managing to have the same effects and the powers to arouse astonishment. Children's literature is without a doubt, full of myths. Lewis Carroll uses the archetypes and symbols of certain objects, animals, phenomena to create a truly crazy world! (we are all mad here) He creates his own realm and writes down the mythology of little Alice: Children's stories are possibly closer than any others to the mythical mode, especially those classics of the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Considering the close relationship between the folk tale and myth, it is possible to see at least some of the children's literature the nineteenth century as bearing a relation to myth. The writers of children's literature invented their tales.

09 March 2021
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now