Through the Looking Glass with Lewis Carroll

by Sophia Rahim

A hookah-smoking caterpillar. A rabbit in a waistcoat. A cat with an unwavering grin and a tendency to vanish unexpectedly after having spouted a series of aphorisms on the nature of madness. These are images we are all familiar with thanks to Charles Dodgson, better known by the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, born on this day exactly 186 years ago.

It is, perhaps, the absurdity of such images that has made Carroll such an enduring presence in children’s literature. His mastery of the nonsensical is second to none, and yet there is an element of solemnity to his works that is often overlooked. Indeed, Carroll described his depiction of Wonderland as evoking a ‘pleasure very near to sadness’, an emotion that is encapsulated in the Mock Turtle’s melancholy lament, or the tragic tale of The Walrus and the Carpenter. There is a maturity here that makes Carroll’s freakish and fantastical world just as accessible to the adult reader as to the child.

And it is this accessibility which is, I think, so important. As adults, we are often caught up in the humdrum rationality of everyday life – so flustered by exam results, or the practicalities of paying for a meal at a restaurant, that we forget to inject a little nonsense into our lives. Perhaps we could all benefit from an occasional clash with a Jabberwocky, an argument with a Hatter, or by dipping once again into the world of Wonderland and losing ourselves in its refreshing absurdity.

Image: Special Collections Toronto Public Library via Flickr

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