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Where some ideas are stranger than others...

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The Moonspeaker:
Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...


Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

There was nothing so very remarkable in that, nor did Alice think it so very much out of the way to hear the Rabbit say to itself, "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!" (when she thought it over afterwards, it occurred to her that she ought to have wondered at this, but at the time it all seemed quite natural); but when the Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and, burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge.

In another moment, down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her, and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything: then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves: here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs. She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed: it was labelled "ORANGE MARMALADE," but, to her great disappointment it was empty: she did not like to drop the jar, for fear of killing somebody underneath, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it.

"Well!" thought Alice to herself. "After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down-stairs! How brave they'll all think me at home! Why, I shouldn't say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!" (Which was very likely true.)

Down, down, down! Would the fall never come to an end? "I wonder how many miles I've fallen by this time?" she said aloud. "I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think –" (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the school-room, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) "– yes, that's about the right distance – but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I've got to?" (Alice had not the slightest idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but she thought they were nice grand words to say.)

Presently she began again. "I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth! How funny it'll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards! The antipathies, I think –" (she was rather glad there was no one listening, this time, as it didn't sound the right word) "– but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please, Ma'am, is this New Zealand? Or Australia?" (and she tried to curtsey as she spoke – fancy, curtseying as you're falling through the air! Do you think you could manage it?) "And what an ignorant little girl she'll think me for asking! No, it'll never do to ask: perhaps I shall see it written up somewhere."

There was nothing else to do, so Alice soon began talking again. "Dinah'll miss me very much to-night, I should think!" (Dinah was the cat.) "I hope they'll remember her saucer of milk at tea-time. Dinah, my dear! I wish you were down here with me! There are no mice in the air, I'm afraid, but you might catch a bat, and that's very like a mouse, you know. But do cats eat bats, I wonder?" And here Alice began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, "Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?" and sometimes "Do bats eat cats?", for, you see, as she couldn't answer either question, it didn't much matter which way she put it. She felt that she was dozing off, and had just begun to dream that she was walking hand in hand with Dinah, and saying to her, very earnestly, "Now Dinah, tell me the truth: did you ever eat a bat?", when suddenly, thump! thump! down she came upon a heap of sticks and dry leaves, and the fall was over.

Alice was not a bit hurt, and she jumped up on to her feet in a moment: she looked up, but it was all dark overhead: before her was another long passage, and the White Rabbit was still in sight, hurrying down it. There was not a moment to be lost: away went Alice like the wind, and was just in time to hear it say, as it turned a corner, "Oh my ears and whiskers, how late it's getting!" She was close behind it when she turned the corner, but the Rabbit was no longer to be seen: she found herself in a long, low hall, which was lit up by a row of lamps hanging from the roof.

There were doors all round the hall, but they were all locked; and when Alice had been all the way down one side and up the other, trying every door, she walked sadly down the middle, wondering how she was ever to get out again.

Suddenly she came upon a little three-legged table, all made of solid glass: there was nothing on it but a tiny golden key, and Alice's first idea was that this might belong to one of the doors of the hall; but, alas! either the locks were too large, or the key was too small, but at any rate it would not open any of them. However, on the second time round, she came upon a low curtain she had not noticed before, and behind it was a little door about fifteen inches high: she tried the little golden key in the lock, and to her great delight, it fitted!

Alice opened the door and found that it led into a small passage, not much larger than a rat-hole: she knelt down and looked along the passage into the loveliest garden you ever saw. How she longed to get out of that dark hall, and wander about among those beds of bright flowers and those cool fountains, but she could not even get her head through the doorway; "and even if my head would go through," thought poor Alice, "it would be of very little use without my shoulders. Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin." For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.

There seemed to be no use waiting by the little door, so she went back to the table, half hoping she might find another key on it, or at any rate, a book of rules for shutting people up like telescopes: this time she found a little bottle on it ("which certainly was not here before," said Alice), and tied round the neck of the bottle was a paper label, with the words "DRINK ME" beautifully printed on it in large letters.

It was all very well to say "Drink me," but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry. "No, I'll look first," she said, "and see whether it's marked 'poison' or not," for she had read several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had taught them: such as, that a red-hot poker will burn you if you hold it too long; and that, if you cut your finger very deeply with a knife, it usually bleeds; and she had never forgotten that, if you drink much from a bottle marked "poison," it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.

However, this bottle was not marked "poison," so Alice ventured to taste it, and, finding it very nice (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavor of cherry-tart, custard, pine-apple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast), she very soon finished it off.

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"What a curious feeling!" said Alice. "I must be shutting up like a telescope!"

And so it was indeed: she was now only ten inches high, and her face brightened up at the thought that she was now the right size for going through the little door into that lovely garden. First, however, she waited for a few minutes to see if she was going to shrink any further: she felt a little nervous about this; "for it might end, you know," said Alice to herself, "in my going out altogether, like a candle. I wonder what I should be like then?" And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.

After a while, finding that nothing more happened, she decided on going into the garden at once; but, alas for poor Alice! when she got to the door, she found she had forgotten the little golden key, and when she went back to the table for it, she found she could not possibly reach it: she could see it quite plainly through the glass, and she tried her best to climb up one of the legs of the table, but it was too slippery; and when she had tired herself out with trying, the poor little thing sat down and cried.

"Come, there's no use in crying like that!" said Alice to herself rather sharply. "I advise you to leave off this minute!" She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it), and sometimes she scolded herself so severely as to bring tears into her eyes; and once she remembered trying to box her own ears for having cheated herself in a game of croquet she was playing against herself, for this curious child was very fond of pretending to be two people. "But it's no use now," thought poor Alice, "to pretend to be two people! Why, there's hardly enough of me left to make one respectable person."

Soon her eye fell on a little glass box that was lying under the table: she opened it, and found in it a very small cake, on which the words "EAT

ME" were beautifully marked in currants. "Well, I'll eat it," said Alice, "and if it makes me grow, I can reach the key; and if it makes me grow smaller, I can creep under the door: so either way I'll get into the garden, and I don't care which happens!"

She ate a little bit and said anxiously to herself, "Which way? Which way?", holding her hand on the top of her head to feel which way it was growing; and she was quite surprised to find that she remained the same size. To be sure, this is what generally happens when one eats cake; but Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way.

So she set to work, and very soon finished off the cake.

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  1. Evidently Alice's sister isn't reading a novel or an illustrated textbook. Since Alice is a literary manifestation of Alice Liddell, whose father is indirectly known by every student of Ancient Greek with an edition of Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon, it's tempting to imagine the book her sister is reading is the New Testament in Ancient Greek. It would be the most 'proper' thing a Victorian young lady could be reading if she read Ancient Greek. Then again, these two are well out of range of the parental eye.
  2. Since 1865 when Alice in Wonderland was first printed, 'daisy-chain' has had a fascinating metaphorical life. Among other things, it has been used to describe a series of connected electric devices, although in my computing experience such interconnected machines were known as SCSI (pronounced skuzzy) chains for the type of cable used to connect them all. Today SCSI chains are mercifully obsolete thanks to the USB cable.
  3. I have been told that at one time, even if you never read this book, you knew about the White Rabbit thanks to the (in)famous song by Jefferson Airplane. Arguments continue over whether Lewis Carroll experimented with drugs and so came up with the Alice books and their peculiar episodes of shrinking and growing, running to stand still and the like, especially since one of Alice's metamorphic episodes is controlled by eating parts of a mushroom. To me the whole fuss seems ridiculous, although I know of at least one librarian who absolutely swears that Lewis Carroll's books should be universally banned because they encourage children to take drugs. That was never my experience; it encouraged me to hunt for rabbit holes to jump down.

    In fact, Lewis Carroll was a migraine sufferer, and one of the most common symptoms or precursors of migraines are visual disturbances. Most commonly these disturbances are referred to as 'auras' suggesting halos of colour or sprays of spots, but they may include loss of depth perception and distortions reminiscent of fun house mirrors. As a migraine sufferer myself, I can attest to the reality of those phenomena, though I am fortunate in not suffering the most severe types of visual distortion migraines can whip up.

  4. According to Wikipedia, the usual North American term for a waistcoat, 'vest' is the older one, while 'waistcoat' refers specifically to how the garment is cut to waist length rather than hanging below the waist. When waistcoats began to go out of fashion again, pants began to sprout pockets so that men had somewhere else to tuck their pocket watches.
  5. 'Falling dreams' are quite common, and appear to be practically embedded in human genetics. All of us have probably woken suddenly from a dream of falling, grabbing for the bedclothes. Anthropologists have argued that this is a remnant of the old days when we humans were still tree dwellers, when of course it would be important to wake up right away if we started falling off of our sleeping spot.
  6. I've never encountered an attempt to illustrate this little viginette, which is a crying shame.
  7. Apparently all the maps and pictures are in frames with loops of wire or string in the back. It's not so common, at least in Canada, to have the pegs pictures are hung on showing these days.
  8. Real orange marmalade, or at least english-style marmalade, which has a nice tart bite to it, is difficult to find in stores now, unless you are in a british specialty store or perhaps a gourmet store. The original marmalade is a quince jelly brought to england from portugal.
  9. This is one of several places where Alice shows herself to be a thoughtful child, in stark contrast to other places where she has the approach of an abject boor.
  10. The british mile, ironically still used in the united states even when it contributes to the destruction of multi-billion dollar space probes, equals 1.6 kilometres.
  11. Alice is about right; the radius of the Earth is an average 6 367 kilometres or 3 957 miles.
  12. One-room schools for primary grades remained common in england until the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. I have heard people today argue that these were better places to learn in, but I am wary of accepting such claims because they sound like idealizations of a system that arguably was a response to immediate necessity and lack of resources rather than matching the school arrangement to help children get the best education.
  13. If Alice is falling straight down her longitude and latitude isn't changing relative to right where she started falling. Perpendicular to that path, if we could project her path to the surface of the Earth, she would trace part of a meridian.
  14. According to my third year physics textbook, it would be a challenge to fall through the Earth, and not just because it isn't physicaly possible to literally drill a hole through the Earth as if it were a giant bead. But, if you could make such a tunnel and set yourself falling down it, and the Earth was a perfect sphere and all the other forces involved were homogeneous (that is, they would cancel each other out), you would actually oscillate between the two ends of the tunnel. You can take a look at the equations that show this is the case at Hyperphysics.
  15. If you think about it, if Alice did fall right through the Earth and pop up in the middle of a crowd in New Zealand, she would actually be the one with her head pointed downwards.
  16. Alice probably means 'antipodes,' a point on the surface of the Earth exactly opposite another point. In Greek it means literally 'opposing feet, feet in the opposite direction.' Antipathy is a feeling of intense dislike.
  17. The Antipodes are a group of rocky islands that humans, astonishingly enough, were sensible enough not to try to live on, currently considered the property of New Zealand. They are directly opposite of Greenwich, England where the British Royal Observatory is. I suspect that this position was the only, and utterly daft, reason for the British sailors to go there.
  18. The female equivalent of a bow in European cultures, where a woman wearing a skirt would be expected to bend slightly at the knees while bobbing her head. An elaborate curtsey would involve holding the edges of the skirt up slightly to keep it from touching the ground. The word 'curtsey' is a variant on the word 'courtesy.'
  19. Here the word 'fancy' is a synonym for the verb 'imagine.'
  20. Surely the woman would be too astonished to be talking to a little girl who just popped out of a hole in the ground to work up such an opinion.
  21. Bats aren't actually 'flying mice.' They aren't rodents at all in fact, because they don't have continuously growing front teeth that have to be used constantly for gnawing to keep them pared down ('rodent' and 'erode' are based on the same word root). Bats have sharp, pointy teeth to deal with the fruit or insects they usually eat.
  22. It's well worth keeping an eye on the pronouns used to refer to animals; Dinah, Alice's pet cat is always 'she' but other animals vary at strange intervals between 'it' and 'he.' This pronoun waffling gets even weirder once you learn that 'Dinah' was a name commonly imposed on 'mulatto' slave women by British slaveholders. Slavery was not abolished in England until 1833, when Lewis Carroll was about a year old. In an attempt to mollify the slaveholders about to lose their 'property', a vast sum of money was put aside to compensate them, while any slave older than six (those younger than six were immediately freed, which did them little good since one or both of the parents would still be slaves) went through at least four more years in continued indentured service as 'apprentices.' They were paid a small wage for the part of the week they were officially considered 'free.'
  23. This doesn't sound a pleasant pile to land on at all, and suggests Alice is a plucky kid, all the crying soon to come aside.
  24. This is a pretty weird hallway in more ways than one, but the lamps seem especially odd considering that even now most longer hallways are lit by lights set into the walls rather than the ceiling, except in hospitals for obvious reasons. A cousin of this hallway make an appearance in the Beatles' Yellow Submarine where the doors are a bit more open.
  25. How many Greek tripods have you seen used as hall tables? Seriously though, the table in question is probably a three-footed table with a centre support for the table top. It could have been something like these tables shown at Antiques-Atlas.com.
  26. 'At any rate' a member of the family of phrases including 'anyhow,' 'any road,' and 'anyway' that usually emphasize the futility of an action or that the action is no longer useful.
  27. 15 inches being under half a metre or a bit below knee high on most adults.
  28. This is an awfully big door for a passage the size of a rat hole; rats can find their way through holes no bigger around than a quarter.
  29. This is an interesting inversion of the Enclosed Garden; Alice is enclosed while the garden is not. Lewis Carroll having been a deacon in real life, there are even more reams of biblical allegories implied here than usual.
  30. You would think her head would still be in difficult straits with only her shoulders or without them. This is an interesting foreshadowing of the Queen of Hearts and her love of ordering decapitations.
  31. It isn't even remotely obvious how this would be helpful, actually. A closed telescope is still as wide at one end as it was extended. Later Alice does find a means of effectively shutting herself up and extending herself out like a telescope, relatively speaking, by means of the Caterpillar's mushroom.
  32. Can you imagine what such a rule book would say? Then again, maybe Lewis Carroll is thinking of a yoga instruction book.
  33. I have found one painfully bowdlerized edition of this book in which the editors added a firm dusting of apostrophes at the front of every instance of the word 'round' apparently because they considered the word a truncated form of 'around.' According to my Oxford English Etymology, that may be the case, but the word used in this way is very old, with forms as far back as Medieval English. All of which to say, the apostrophes were unnecessary.
  34. Somehow the referenced little stories don't seem at all nice, but if you've read any version of Grimm's fairy tales you know them all.
  35. See 'Hansel and Gretel.'
  36. See 'Little Red Riding Hood.' The Grimms collected a version where the heroine does indeed get eaten, and a woodsman has to kill the wolf and cut it open to rescue her.
  37. A poker being a metal rod with a forked or dual-pronged end used to manipulate logs in a fireplace. That is, it's a fancy metal stick you poke burning logs with.
  38. The circumstances where a deep cut in your finger wouldn't bleed must be pretty dire ones.
  39. 'Venture' and 'adventure' were originally the same word. Today 'venture' tends to mean 'to take a chance' while 'adventure' usually refers to a challenging experience away from home.
  40. Evidently this drink was much further along in the development process than Willy Wonka's 'meal in a stick of gum' – or the key was just not finishing with dessert.
  41. This gives a better sense of what 'shutting up like a telescope' means. And in good victorian fashion, the mysterious potion shrinks Alice's clothing too. Tim Burton's version of Alice in Wonderland handles the question of what happens to Alice's clothes when she changes sizes in several different, and I think charming, ways.
  42. It seems a bit odd to be worried about shrinking away altogether now. Also, if the tunnel through the fifteen inch high door is the size of a rat-hole, than Alice would seem to be unable to go any further than into the doorway, unless she was anticipating wriggling through the tunnel.
  43. Referring I think, to the way a candle flame seems to shrink away and go out when when it burns out as opposed to being blown out.
  44. This verges on Zen koan status; what is the appearance of a blown out candle flame...
  45. In this Alice is in excellent company with most adults.
  46. 'To box the ears' is to slap one ear or both ears at the same time with a cupped hand. Needless to say, that would hurt, and can do damage to the ear drums. In my perambulations on Google I have found several anecdotes stating that if done repeatedly it causes deafness, which sounds unpleasantly plausible. If you have watched the movie 'Immortal Beloved', ear boxing is pretty much what young Ludwig's father does in retaliation for his refusal to perform à la Mozart.
  47. A rather bizarre game that appears to be a sedentary cross of cricket and golf. Croquet players have a reputation for being viciously competitive, and this is true also in Wonderland, as we will see.
  48. Alice isn't feeling quite so cautious as before. It's interesting that the cake is described as 'very small.' No doubt someone has decided the 'cake' was in fact a pill.
  49. This couldn't work unless different parts of her body were changing sizes at different rates, rather a nasty thought. That said, this does seem to be what happens a little later on.
  50. It just goes to show, a person can get used to anything!
  51. I have added these sections to reflect Lewis Carroll's original marks, which I just rediscovered in the Norton Critical Edition of Alice In Wonderland. Thinking back, I realize that these asterisks were indeed present in the edition of the book I read way back at the age of 8 (it was a hardback with purple binding, and had a similar Arabian Nights companion volume – highly bowdlerized of course, but I have to admit I prefer that to the earlier English translations). According to Norton, Carroll used the asterisks to highlight what a remarkable moment this is for Alice. Makes sense to me!
Copyright © C. Osborne 2024
Last Modified: Monday, January 01, 2024 01:25:59