I can still remember the season in which my wife, over a series of nights spanning several months, would lay in bed with the kiddos, devising a story extemporaneously that featured our brood as the main characters. (As I recall, there was a healthy infusion of Star Wars phrasing employed at the time…) The children were delighted to be made a part of the story, and they would rush halfway down the stairs to tell me of their latest adventures.
Stories improvised in a moment often take exciting twists and turns, the kinds of maneuvers that keep children wide-eyed and wondering. It should not come as a surprise, then, to know that Alice in Wonderland began as a series of on-the-spot tales devised for a group of children by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.
Lutwidge became Ludovic became Lewis.
Charles became Carroll.
Or so says the diary of C.L. Dodgson from February 11, 1856.
(A transposition of the name Charles Lutwidge was also considered, but who knows if he’d be nearly as famous had he gone with the name Edgar Cuthwellis.)
The Liddell children were the first audience of the adventures in Wonderland. Alice Liddell served as the muse for the adventures and received the first written copies of the tales. For 20 years, Alice (Liddell) Hargreaves held the original autographs of Wonderland, complete with Carroll’s ink illustrations. Only after 120,000 copies were in print did he request permission to share the originals with the world. What a special treasure to have held for so long!
Atop his gift for clever and fanciful tales, Dodgson was a mathematician (a big fan of Euclid, he was), a logician, a theologian, and a gifted photographer. The word genius is thrown around quite often in Carroll’s biographical sketches. He was an outstanding student and teacher. Yet it was fiction that would dominate his earliest legacy.
It is necessary to acknowledge, even as I am still reading and processing, the somewhat questionable side of Charles Dodgson. Admittedly, I approach my summer reads without much preparatory research. After all, part of the point of the summer read is to do the research in community! As such, I have only begun to read the essays concerning Dodgson’s “artistic and emotional obsession” with little girls.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you’re sitting exactly where I was at the beginning of the week! Yes, there is an underbelly to Lewis Carroll that is debated and oft-discussed among those who have endeavored to study the man behind Wonderland. Having only read the classic nonsense stories in my younger days, I have wavered between fascination and disappointment this week! And yet the summer will roll on.
I’m no biographer of Lewis Carroll, nor am I a scholar of the Victorian era or the “child-worship” that is attributed thereto. But I enjoy a journey, and I’m ready to engage. I’m thankful for my nerdy Norton Critical Edition.
Thus far, I’m hooked. I want to know the man and the method behind Wonderland. I’m thankful to know that the stories were all but made up in a moment expressly for the enjoyment of children – and a particular Alice. I’m hoping to find greater clarity regarding the story behind the story.
If nothing else, this week has been a constant reminder that no man is holy unto himself. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God – even those who spend their lives in service of his Kingdom. Dodgson himself expressed such a thought in numerous journal entries and letters.
I hope you’re ready to jump in! I hope you enjoy the classic nonsense! If you’re local and you’re reading along, I’m sure we’ll have lots to talk about this summer!
(Check out more about Summer Reading : Alice)