January 27, 2015
When Queen Victoria read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, she enjoyed it enough to command its author LEWIS CARROLL (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, 1832–98) to bring her his next book immediately upon publication and for it to contain a personal dedication on the frontispiece. Needless to say, she was “not amused” when it turned out to be a rather dry mathematical treatise. As architect of Wonderland and the various worlds within it (those containing “the hunting of the snark,” “the jabberwock” and “the walrus and the carpenter”), he created an exquisite hairpin animal in the evolution of fantasy literature, but he was also a mathematician and logician. In fact, it was his logical Victorian mind that gave Alice her uniqueness: we can enjoy the charm and strangeness of the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter in any number of ways but they would not have been so intriguing if it weren’t for the harebrained logic with which they were invested and the backdrop of their strange, tumbling world in which everything worked according to logic but not necessarily to common logic. Logic reigns supreme in Wonderland: there are the riddles and rhymes of the caterpillar and the word games of Humpty Dumpty (“When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less”). The result is so topsy-turvy that some rapscallions assume Carroll’s books contain a knowing early allusion to hallucinogenic drug culture — the eating of mushrooms to grow tall, the sipping of strange liquids to come down — but is it not rather sad to ascribe amateur psychonautics to a world so perfectly woven by pure, blinding imagination and reason? Sometimes a talking cigar is just a talking cigar. Carroll raised the arguably lowbrow practice of juvenile fantasy writing using the highbrow principles of logic and mathematics, without anyone (least of all the Queen of England) feeling browbeaten.
MORE FANTASY ON HILOBROW: CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM series | 65 Fantasy Adventures | Mervyn Peake | Lord Dunsany | H.P. Lovecraft | Edgar Rice Burroughs | Ursula K. LeGuin | Michael Moorcock | Gary Gygax | Clark Ashton Smith | Frank Frazetta | George MacDonald | John Bellairs | T.H. White | Wilkie Collins | M.R. James | Edgar Allan Poe | Lewis Carroll | Mikhail Bulgakov | Guy Endore | Alasdair Gray | Maurice Sendak | Tove Jansson | L. Frank Baum | Roald Dahl | Abraham Merritt | August Derleth | William Hope Hodgson | Madeleine L’Engle
READ MORE about members of the Post-Romantic Generation (1825–33).