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Where some ideas are stranger than others...

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


After a while the noise seemed gradually to die away, till all was dead silence, and Alice lifted up her head in some alarm. There was no one to be seen, and her first thought was that she must have been dreaming about the Lion and the Unicorn and those queer Anglo-Saxon Messengers. However, there was the great dish still lying at her feet, on which she had tried to cut the plum-cake, "So I wasn't dreaming, after all," she said to herself, "unless – unless we're all part of the same dream. Only I do hope it's my dream, and not the Red King's! I don't like belonging to another person's dream," she went on in a rather complaining tone: "I've a great mind to go and wake him, and see what happens!"

At this moment her thoughts were interrupted by a loud shouting of "Ahoy! Ahoy! Check!" and a Knight dressed in crimson armour came galloping down upon her, brandishing a great club. Just as he reached her, the horse stopped suddenly: "You're my prisoner!" the Knight cried, as he tumbled off his horse.

Startled as she was, Alice was more frightened for him than for herself at the moment, and watched him with some anxiety as he mounted again. As soon as he was comfortably in the saddle, he began once more "You're my –" but here another voice broke in "Ahoy! Ahoy! Check!" and Alice looked round in some surprise for the new enemy.

This time it was a White Knight. He drew up at Alice's side, and tumbled off his horse just as the Red Knight had done: then he got on again, and the two Knights sat and looked at each other for some time without speaking. Alice looked from one to the other in some bewilderment.

"She's my prisoner, you know!" the Red Knight said at last.

"Yes, but then I came and rescued her!" the White Knight replied.

"Well, we must fight for her, then," said the Red Knight, as he took up his helmet (which hung from the saddle, and was something the shape of a horse's head), and put it on.

"You will observe the Rules of Battle, of course?" the White Knight remarked, putting on his helmet too.

"I always do," said the Red Knight, and they began banging away at each other with such fury that Alice got behind a tree to be out of the way of the blows.

"I wonder, now, what the Rules of Battle are," she said to herself, as she watched the fight, timidly peeping out from her hiding-place. "One Rule seems to be, that if one Knight hits the other, he knocks him off his horse; and if he misses, he tumbles off himself – and another Rule seems to be that they hold their clubs with their arms, as if they were Punch and Judy – What a noise they make when they tumble! Just like a whole set of fire-irons falling into the fender! And how quiet the horses are! They let them get on and off them just as if they were tables!"

Another Rule of Battle, that Alice had not noticed, seemed to be that they always fell on their heads; and the battle ended with their both falling off in this way, side by side. When they got up again, they shook hands, and then the Red Knight mounted and galloped off.

"It was a glorious victory, wasn't it?" said the White Knight, as he came up panting.

"I don't know," Alice said doubtfully. "I don't want to be anybody's prisoner. I want to be a Queen."

"So you will, when you've crossed the next brook," said the White Knight. "I'll see you safe to the end of the wood – and then I must go back, you know. That's the end of my move."

"Thank you very much," said Alice. "May I help you off with your helmet?" It was evidently more than he could manage by himself: however, she managed to shake him out of it at last.

"Now one can breathe more easily," said the Knight, putting back his shaggy hair with both hands, and turning his gentle face and large mild eyes to Alice. She thought she had never seen such a strange-looking soldier in all her life.

He was dressed in tin armour, which seemed to fit him very badly, and he had a queer-shaped little deal box fastened across his shoulder, upside-down, and with the lid hanging open. Alice looked at it with great curiosity.

"I see you're admiring my little box." the Knight said in a friendly tone. "It's my own invention – to keep clothes and sandwiches in. You see I carry it upside-down, so that the rain can't get in."

"But the things can get out," Alice gently remarked. "Do you know the lid's open?"

"I didn't know it," the Knight said, a shade of vexation passing over his face. "Then all the things must have fallen out! And the box is no use without them." He unfastened it as he spoke, and was just going to throw it into the bushes, when a sudden thought seemed to strike him, and he hung it carefully on a tree. "Can you guess why I did that?" he said to Alice.

Alice shook her head.

"In hopes some bees may make a nest in it – then I should get the honey."

"But you've got a bee-hive – or something like one – fastened to the saddle," said Alice.

"Yes, it's a very good bee-hive," the Knight said in a discontented tone, "one of the best kind. But not a single bee has come near it yet. And the other thing is a mouse-trap. I suppose the mice keep the bees out – or the bees keep the mice out, I don't know which."

"I was wondering what the mouse-trap was for," said Alice. "It isn't very likely there would be any mice on the horse's back."

"Not very likely, perhaps," said the Knight; "but if they do come, I don't choose to have them running all about."

"You see," he went on after a pause, "it's as well to be provided for everything. That's the reason the horse has all those anklets round his feet."

"But what are they for?" Alice asked in a tone of great curiosity.

"To guard against the bites of sharks," the Knight replied. "It's an invention of my own. And now help me on. I'll go with you to the end of the wood – What's the dish for?"

"It's meant for plum-cake," said Alice.

"We'd better take it with us," the Knight said. "It'll come in handy if we find any plum-cake. Help me to get it into this bag."

This took a very long time to manage, though Alice held the bag open very carefully, because the Knight was so very awkward in putting in the dish: the first two or three times that he tried he fell in himself instead. "It's rather a tight fit, you see," he said, as they got it in a last; "There are so many candlesticks in the bag." And he hung it to the saddle, which was already loaded with bunches of carrots, and fire-irons, and many other things.

"I hope you've got your hair well fastened on?" he continued, as they set off.

"Only in the usual way," Alice said, smiling.

"That's hardly enough," he said, anxiously. "You see the wind is so very strong here. It's as strong as soup."

"Have you invented a plan for keeping the hair from being blown off?" Alice enquired.

"Not yet," said the Knight. "But I've got a plan for keeping it from falling off."

"I should like to hear it, very much."

"First you take an upright stick," said the Knight. "Then you make your hair creep up it, like a fruit-tree. Now the reason hair falls off is because it hangs down – things never fall upwards, you know. It's a plan of my own invention. You may try it if you like."

It didn't sound a comfortable plan, Alice thought, and for a few minutes she walked on in silence, puzzling over the idea, and every now and then stopping to help the poor Knight, who certainly was not a good rider.

Whenever the horse stopped (which it did very often), he fell off in front; and, whenever it went on again (which it generally did rather suddenly), he fell off behind. Otherwise he kept on pretty well, except that he had a habit of now and then falling off sideways; and as he generally did this on the side on which Alice was walking, she soon found that it was the best plan not to walk quite close to the horse.

"I'm afraid you've not had much practice in riding," she ventured to say, as she was helping him up from his fifth tumble.

The Knight looked very much surprised, and a little offended at the remark. "What makes you say that?" he asked, as he scrambled back into the saddle, keeping hold of Alice's hair with one hand, to save himself from falling over on the other side.

"Because people don't fall off quite so often, when they've had much practice."

"I've had plenty of practice," the Knight said very gravely: "plenty of practice!"

Alice could think of nothing better to say than "Indeed?" but she said it as heartily as she could. They went on a little way in silence after this, the Knight with his eyes shut, muttering to himself, and Alice watching anxiously for the next tumble.

"The great art of riding," the Knight suddenly began in a loud voice, waving his right arm as he spoke, "is to keep –" Here the sentence ended as suddenly as it had begun, as the Knight fell heavily on the top of his head exactly in the path where Alice was walking. She was quite frightened this time, and said in an anxious tone, as she picked him up, "I hope no bones are broken?"

"None to speak of," the Knight said, as if he didn't mind breaking two or three of them. "The great art of riding, as I was saying, is – to keep your balance properly. Like this, you know –"

He let go the bridle, and stretched out both his arms to show Alice what he meant, and this time he fell flat on his back, right under the horse's feet.

"Plenty of practice!" he went on repeating, all the time that Alice was getting him on his feet again. "Plenty of practice!"

"It's too ridiculous!" cried Alice, losing all her patience this time. "You ought to have a wooden horse on wheels, that you ought!"

"Does that kind go smoothly?" the Knight asked in a tone of great interest, clasping his arms round the horse's neck as he spoke, just in time to save himself from tumbling off again.

"Much more smoothly than a live horse," Alice said, with a little scream of laughter, in spite of all she could do to prevent it.

"I'll get one," the Knight said thoughtfully to himself. "One or two – several."

There was a short silence after this, and then the Knight went on again. "I'm a great hand at inventing things. Now, I daresay you noticed, that last time you picked me up, that I was looking rather thoughtful?"

"You were a little grave," said Alice.

"Well, just then I was inventing a new way of getting over a gate – would you like to hear it?"

"Very much indeed," Alice said politely.

"I'll tell you how I came to think of it," said the Knight. "You see, I said to myself, 'The only difficulty is with the feet: the head is high enough already.' Now, first I put my head on the top of the gate – then I stand on my head – then the feet are high enough, you see – then I'm over, you see."

"Yes, I suppose you'd be over when that was done," Alice said thoughtfully: "but don't you think it would be rather hard?"

"I haven't tried it yet," the Knight said, gravely: "so I can't tell for certain – but I'm afraid it would be a little hard."

He looked so vexed at the idea, that Alice changed the subject hastily. "What a curious helmet you've got!" she said cheerfully. "Is that your invention too?"

The Knight looked down proudly at his helmet, which hung from the saddle. "Yes," he said, "but I've invented a better one than that – like a sugar loaf. When I used to wear it, if I fell off the horse, it always touched the ground directly. So I had a very little way to fall, you see – But there was the danger of falling into it, to be sure. That happened to me once – and the worst of it was, before I could get out again, the other White Knight came and put it on. He thought it was his own helmet."

The knight looked so solemn about it that Alice did not dare to laugh. "I'm afraid you must have hurt him," she said in a trembling voice, "being on the top of his head."

"I had to kick him, of course," the Knight said, very seriously. "And then he took the helmet off again – but it took hours and hours to get me out. I was as fast as – as lightning, you know."

"But that's a different kind of fastness," Alice objected.

The Knight shook his head. "It was all kinds of fastness with me, I can assure you!" he said. He raised his hands in some excitement as he said this, and instantly rolled out of the saddle, and fell headlong into a deep ditch.

Alice ran to the side of the ditch to look for him. She was rather startled by the fall, as for some time he had kept on very well, and she was afraid that he really was hurt this time. However, though she could see nothing but the soles of his feet, she was much relieved to hear that he was talking on in his usual tone. "All kinds of fastness," he repeated; "but it was careless of him to put another man's helmet on – with the man in it, too."

"How can you go on talking so quietly, head downwards?" Alice asked, as she dragged him out by the feet, and laid him in a heap on the bank.

The Knight looked surprised at the question. "What does it matter where my body happens to be?" he said. "My mind goes on working all the same. In fact, the more head downwards I am, the more I keep inventing new things."

"Now the cleverest thing of the sort that I ever did," he went on after a pause, "was inventing a new pudding during the meat-course."

"In time to have it cooked for the next course?" said Alice. "Well, that was quick work, certainly!"

"Well, not the next course," the Knight said in a slow thoughtful tone: "no, certainly not the next course."

"Then it would have to be the next day. I suppose you wouldn't have two pudding-courses in one dinner?"

"Well, not the next day," the Knight repeated as before: "not the next day. In fact," he went on, holding his head down, and his voice getting lower and lower, "I don't believe that pudding ever was cooked! In fact, I don't believe that pudding ever will be cooked! And yet it was a very clever pudding to invent."

"What did you mean it to be made of?" Alice asked, hoping to cheer him up, for the poor Knight seemed quite low-spirited about it.

"It began with blotting paper," the Knight answered with a groan.

"That wouldn't be very nice, I'm afraid –"

"Not very nice alone," he interrupted, quite eagerly: "but you've no idea what a difference it makes mixing it with other things – such as gunpowder and sealing-wax. And here I must leave you." They had just come to the end of the wood.

Alice could only look puzzled: she was thinking of the pudding.

"You are sad," the Knight said in an anxious tone: "let me sing you a song to comfort you."

"Is it very long?" Alice asked, for she had heard a good deal of poetry that day.

"It's long," said the Knight, "but very, very beautiful. Everybody that hears me sing it – either it brings the tears into their eyes, or else –"

"Or else what?" said Alice, for the Knight had made a sudden pause.

"Or else it doesn't, you know. The name of the song is called 'Haddocks' Eyes.'"

"Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?" Alice said, trying to feel interested.

"No, you don't understand," the Knight said, looking a little vexed. "That's what the name is called. The name really is 'The Aged Aged Man.'"

"Then I ought to have said 'That's what the song is called'?" Alice corrected herself.

"No, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The song is called 'Ways And Means': but that's only what it's called, you know!"

"Well, what is the song, then?" said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.

"I was coming to that," the Knight said. "The song really is 'A-Sitting On A Gate': and the tune's my own invention."

So saying, he stopped his horse and let the reins fall on its neck: then, slowly beating time with one hand, and with a faint smile lighting up his gentle foolish face, as if he enjoyed the music of his song, he began.

Of all the strange things that Alice saw in her journey Through the Looking-Glass, this was the one that she always remembered most clearly. Years afterwards she could bring the whole scene back again, as if it had been only yesterday – the mild blue eyes and kindly smile of the Knight – the setting sun gleaming through his hair, and shining on his armour in a blaze of light that quite dazzled her – the horse quietly moving about, with the reins hanging loose on his neck, cropping the grass at her feet – and the black shadows of the forest behind – all this she took in like a picture, as, with one hand shading her eyes, she leant against a tree, watching the strange pair, and listening, in a half dream, to the melancholy music of the song.

"But the tune isn't his own invention," she said to herself: "it's 'I Give Thee All, I Can No More.'" She stood and listened very attentively, but no tears came into her eyes.

'I'll tell thee everything I can:

There's little to relate.

I saw an agéd agéd man,

A-sitting on a gate.

'Who are you, agéd man?' I said,

'And how is it you live?'

And his answer trickled through my head,

Like water through a sieve.

He said 'I look for butterflies

That sleep among the wheat:

I make them into mutton-pies,

And sell them in the street.

I sell them unto men,' he said,

'Who sail on stormy seas;

And that's the way I get my bread –

A trifle, if you please.'

But I was thinking of a plan

To dye one's whiskers green,

And always use so large a fan

That they could not be seen.

So, having no reply to give

To what the old man said,

I cried, 'Come, tell me how you live!'

And thumped him on the head.

His accents mild took up the tale:

He said 'I go my ways,

And when I find a mountain-rill,

I set it in a blaze;

And thence they make a stuff they call

Rolands' Macassar Oil –

Yet twopence-halfpenny is all

They give me for my toil.'

But I was thinking of a way

To feed oneself on batter,

And so go on from day to day

Getting a little fatter.

I shook him well from side to side,

Until his face was blue:

'Come, tell me how you live,' I cried,

'And what it is you do!'

He said 'I hunt for haddocks' eyes

Among the heather bright,

And work them into waistcoat-buttons

In the silent night.

And these I do not sell for gold

Or coin of silvery shine

But for a copper halfpenny,

And that will purchase nine.

'I sometimes dig for buttered rolls,

Or set limed twigs for crabs:

I sometimes search the grassy knolls

For wheels of Hansom-cabs.

And that's the way' (he gave a wink)

'By which I get my wealth –

And very gladly will I drink

Your Honour's noble health.'

I heard him then, for I had just

Completed my design

To keep the Menai bridge from rust

By boiling it in wine.

I thanked him much for telling me

The way he got his wealth,

But chiefly for his wish that he

Might drink my noble health.

And now, if e'er by chance I put

My fingers into glue,

Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot

Into a left-hand shoe,

Or if I drop upon my toe

A very heavy weight,

I weep, for it reminds me so

Of that old man I used to know –

Whose look was mild, whose speech was slow,

Whose hair was whiter than the snow,

Whose face was very like a crow,

With eyes, like cinders, all aglow,

Who seemed distracted with his woe,

Who rocked his body to and fro,

And muttered mumblingly and low,

As if his mouth were full of dough,

Who snorted like a buffalo –

That summer evening, long ago,

A-sitting on a gate.'

As the Knight sang the last words of the ballad, he gathered up the reins, and turned his horse's head along the road by which they had come. "You've only a few yards to go," he said, "down the hill and over that little brook, and then you'll be a Queen – But you'll stay and see me off first?" he added as Alice turned with an eager look in the direction to which he pointed. "I shan't be long. You'll wait and wave your handkerchief when I get to that turn in the road? I think it'll encourage me, you see."

"Of course I'll wait," said Alice: "and thank you very much for coming so far – and for the song – I liked it very much."

"I hope so," the Knight said doubtfully: "but you didn't cry so much as I thought you would."

So they shook hands, and then the Knight rode slowly away into the forest. "It won't take long to see him off, I expect," Alice said to herself, as she stood watching him. "There he goes! Right on his head as usual! However, he gets on again pretty easily – that comes of having so many things hung round the horse –" So she went on talking to herself, as she watched the horse walking leisurely along the road, and the Knight tumbling off, first on one side and then on the other. After the fourth or fifth tumble he reached the turn, and then she waved her handkerchief to him, and waited till he was out of sight.

"I hope it encouraged him," she said, as she turned to run down the hill: "and now for the last brook, and to be a Queen! How grand it sounds!" A very few steps brought her to the edge of the brook. "The Eighth Square at last!" she cried as she bounded across,

*                        *                        *                        *

*                        *                        *

*                        *                        *                        *

and threw herself down to rest on a lawn as soft as moss, with little flower-beds dotted about it here and there. "Oh, how glad I am to get here! And what is this on my head?" she exclaimed in a tone of dismay, as she put her hands up to something very heavy, and fitted tight all round her head.

"But how can it have got there without my knowing it?" she said to herself, as she lifted it off, and set it on her lap to make out what it could possibly be.

It was a golden crown.


  1. The term "Anglo-Saxon" is usually replaced with "Old English" now, in the main because their language is the primary precursor of English proper. There are a few documents preserved in it, including the epic poem Beowulf. It's not a bad idea, because at first glance old english doesn't look like it can have any relationship to modern english at all, although if you try reading it out loud, pronouncing each letter, after a line or two you will start to find that while it still isn't understandable it has an oddly familiar ring. But the relabelling likely had nothing to do with "indicating relationships" as such, because by that logic latin should finally be relabelled "romance" so as to better mark its relationship to the romance languages. Most scholars would denounce such a relabelling of latin as ridiculous, so what changed the rules for anglo-saxon?

    I have a strong suspicion that it is related to two types of backlash probably further inflamed by the world wars. The first backlash was against the french language. After the norman conquest of what would eventually be called england, english absorbed huge numbers of french and latin words, both languages being key markers of higher status, which usually meant a speaker or user of those languages was norman french or a collaborator with the norman french. With that in mind, the mixed feelings of the english speakers living in the immediate aftermath of the conquest makes sense, as do later complaints about incorporation of french words into english. On top of that, learners of latin often find to their surprise that despite its declension and conjugation systems, the basics are quite accessible. This relates to the fact that english and latin have a surprising amount in common structurally, and all those absorbed french and latin words help with vocabulary.

    The second backlash was of course, against the germans and anything perceived as german. The angles, saxons, and jutes were all speakers of germanic languages, and invaded england after the fall of the roman empire. The Angles were from angeln in what is now germany based on their name, while the Saxons likely came from lower saxony again in germany, while the Jutes are associated with jutland in denmark and points east stretching into northern germany. Considering the name "england" was originally "angle's land" it is clear which of these three became predominant. Linguistically speaking, the name "Anglo-Saxon" suggests that the dialects of those two groups are most reflected in what became "old english." With all those german connections, it didn't take long for the enmity that developed between england and germany to lead to a desire to throw out the term "anglo-saxon" as a means of declaring that the english has already become highly distinct by the time angles, saxons, and jutes began to invade england. Distinct they likely were, after all they had their own names and can be traced in both the archaeological and historical record a considerable distance. But they certainly weren't "english" yet.

  2. Crimson armour would be unusual though not impossible in real life. Unusually coloured armours are a feature of several stories concerning Arthur, Merlin and the rest. Wikisource includes a transcription of the story of Gareth and the Red Knight of the Red Lawns, whose armour is described as, "all was blood red, – his armour, spear, and shield." Such armour could have been enamelled, but that is unlikely since the enamel coating would have cracked and flaked off at any impact. Instead, the Red Knight's armour was probably covered in red leather. Some beautiful examples of armour covered in both red and green leather are worn by the actors playing the rohan cavalry in Peter Jackson's rendition of the Lord of the Rings. Conversely, "white" armour could simply be finely burnished steel armour with less carbon content, or it could be coated with a thin layer of polished tin to ward off corrosion.
  3. The piece in check is actually the White King, rather than Alice. A capture requires the attacking piece to land on the same square as the piece being attacked. However, Alice and the Red Knight are on adjacent squares, never the same square, or Alice's game would have ended here. Instead, as will become clear in a few paragraphs, the White Knight is able to capture the Red Knight, by landing on the same square.
  4. This strongly suggests that the Knights are riding without stirrups. Without those, and unable to use their legs to cling to the horse as effectively as they might because of their rigid plate armour, without some well-positioned and powerful magnets they would hardly be able to stay in the saddle easily. If you look carefully at Tenniel's illustrations of the Knights, you'll see that they usually have their feet loose, with the stirrups dangling behind their heels. In the one case where the White Knight is shown with is feet in the stirrups, we can probably rationalize that in the story by identifying that with his longer than usual period of staying in the saddle.
  5. This exclamation is especially associated with sailing and sighting of ships at sea. Having had a look at my trusty electronic OED, I see that there was indeed a type of ship called a "hoy", "a small coastal sailing vessel." Probably they were especially important in trade, as fishers tended to head further out to sea and would need a somewhat different boat for that.
  6. This isn't quite as far-fetched as it sounds, though the helmet shape is mainly dictated by the role of these players in chess. The helmets used by more wealthy fighters could be custom-made or altered to make them more distinctive, and one of the techniques used for this was rendering the helmet into the shape of an animal head or working animal figures onto it in some way. The helmet worn by Colin Farrel in the visually gorgeous but otherwise awful (seriously, watch it with the sound off and skip the parts with Val Kilmer) Oliver Stone movie "Alexander" is a good example. The structure of helmets worn by many fighters during the late classical and hellenistic periods around the mediterranean was based on a sort of peaked cap, with its end curved over towards the forehead. It might look a bit silly to us, but this was actually not a bad defence against projectiles and slashing blows over the head. These peaks could be replaced by model animals, including horse's heads, though usually soldiers preferred the image of some carnivore if they could get it.
  7. "Punch and Judy" being the main characters of a long puppet show tradition brought from italy to england by the 1660s. It can be described as a sort of violent situation comedy, though its content has changed. One of the biggest changes is probably the increasing rarity of Punch being shown as beating his partner Judy, which was probably never funny in the positive sense anyway.

    Laughing is actually an involuntary response to psychological discomfort. That discomfort can be positive and fun for the person discomfited, such as children being tickled by caretakers whom they love and trust. Or, that discomfort can be negative, such as a response to an accident happening to someone else. Laughter in that case is often called by the german word "schadenfreude" but the term is misapplied in the context of negative psychological discomfort. The person who giggles nervously when their friend falls unexpectedly in the lake during their boating trip isn't necessarily enjoying their friend's predicament. It's quite possible that "laughter of discomfort" is the original, deriving from when humans were still primates who couldn't speak, in which case it would be an alarm call. It's redevelopment into "laughter of comfort" is probably recent in nature, like the practice of smiling (most animals only bare their teeth as a threat display).

  8. Why is the wood such a dangerous place? It hardly seems logical, since there are few large predators of any kind in england, wales, or scotland today or in the victorian period. However, if we think back to the beginning of the book, Alice passes through a wood that is not threatening, because it is the White end of the board. Now, in symmetry with the the White end of the board, the Red end of the board has its own wood where Alice perforce is in danger because she is playing for the other side.
  9. "Helmet," a derivative of the now archaic term "helm" has a stubborn variant that doesn't seem to be in dictionaries, "helment." It's a bit of a puzzle why not, because I have actually found it used quite frequently at least among people who use a north american dialect of english. Perhaps this should be no surprise, as it seems to appear especially in nasalizing dialects, and those are endemic on the eastern seaboard of the united states and some parts of southeastern canada.
  10. Contrary to Tenniel's illustration, there is no sign of a moustache in this description, or of significant hair loss either. All of which allows for the interpretation of the White Knight as a reflex of Lewis Carroll himself, and there is evidence for it. Lewis Carroll did have a penchant for invention, including devices to allow a person to write down ideas that wake them up without turning the lights on, games, and ciphers. By all accounts Carroll was mild-mannered and disinclined to angry outbursts, though this didn't mean he couldn't be difficult to work with in a professional capacity. His relationship with the Liddell family did end for the most part eight years before Through the Looking Glass was published, analogous to the knight's short journey with Alice before she continues on her way.

    All very plausible, and yet I can't help but wonder if these are the only reasons the White Knight has been seen as a self-depiction by the author in the book. My own readily available sources don't suggest that Lewis Carroll himself described the White Knight in this way, which suggests that the idea may arise wholly out of literary criticism.

  11. "Deal box" seems to be a term for any box used for carrying groceries or prepared food. These were likely made of pine or fir wood, and at least one on-line source argues that the name for the boxes came from the wide use of these types of easily sawed wood in shipping boxes. So a "deal box" was and is for more than groceries. The extension of the term is similar to that of "tupperware" or "rubbermaid," both brand names that have become pseudo-generics applied to any plastic container closed by a sealing lid rather than latches.
  12. Perhaps the White Knight's question here is what led Tenniel to illustrate him as balding. A man losing his hair would certainly have reason to look for any possible cause and alleviate it if he could.
  13. There is such a thing as "strong soup" quite apart from the description of any soup as "strong" if it has a striking flavour and aroma. The recipes I have found define "strong soup" proper as a vegetable and beef soup made on a tomato base, including important portions of potatoes and cabbage. This would be a good winter soup, and can be made with relatively cheap cuts of beef or even hamburger and still be tasty.
  14. This makes a great deal of sense. We tend to move towards whatever or whoever we're looking directly at, which is why drivers worried about striking a pole or other obstacle may end up striking it even though they were sure they were trying to avoid it.
  15. A "sugar loaf" was the original form sugar was sold in. Sugar is refined from the juice of sweet plants, most famously sugar cane but also from sugar beets and the sap of birch and maple trees. The refining process causes the crystallization of the sugar, but at first there was no thought of rendering the sugar into granular form. Instead, once the slurry of sugar crystals was so thick as to be difficult to stir, it would be formed into conical shapes of various sizes and dried. This shape was less prone to producing endless sugar powder during handling as cubes or bricks would. These cones would be broken up into lumps, either at a store for sale in even smaller amounts, or later in the home using a pair of sugar cutters like those illustrated below, courtesy of the Victorian Kitchen Technology site of the California Academy of Sciences. To the right of the sugar cutters is a picture of a sugar loaf. That's why people used to ask if you wanted "one lump or two" in your tea, they were quite literally breaking lumps off of a sugar loaf.



    The size of the sugar loaf didn't vary only with amount. The first thing a larger sized sugar loaf indicated was that the sugar was less refined, something more like what we call brown sugar today. If you wanted more of a certain grade of sugar in loaves, you bought more loaves, not bigger ones. The biggest loaves could be big indeed, up to 15 kilograms worth of sugar, and would last a family for months as sugar was very expensive when loaves of this size were still made. Sugar loaves are still made and sold, though primarily in europe.

  16. "Fast" in the sense of "stuck, or held steadily" is a very old word in english. Turning to my OEED this time (the etymology dictionary rather than the ordinary one), it is from an old english word fæstan. This is related to fast in the sense of "rapid" remarkably enough, perhaps from things like fast-moving pointed or bladed objects that stick firmly in wood only if they are moving fast enough when they strike it.
  17. Which could be quite true from the etymology: he fell so suddenly into his helmet that he couldn't get himself out because he was stuck.
  18. Dinners made up a number of dishes or courses are rare things today unless you are dining at a fancy restaurant, but were once de rigeur in upper middle class and richer homes. The number of courses could be quite extreme, even ranging into the low twenties, but more often the numbers would be around 3 to 7. Usually the courses would be something like: appetizers, soup, salad, main course, dessert, a savoury or cheese, and finally coffee with candy or a small pastry.
  19. What Alice refers to as a pudding-course may not have involved the serving of a literal pudding, which was usually a sweet or savoury dish with flour as a primary ingredient. It may have corresponded instead to the savoury or cheese course mentioned above.
  20. "Blotting paper" being a thin, highly absorbent paper a bit like grey newsprint but thinner. It was a common necessity for writers in the age of the dip pen, and began to fall out of use with the invention of fountain pens and later ballpoint pens. However, as many contemporary calligraphers can attest, even a ballpoint pen can be wet enough to make blotting paper or at least a bit of scrap paper helpful to prevent inkstains on their writing hand.
  21. The original means of sealing letters, sealing wax is a hard wax that cools rapidly after melting. It was made in wicked sticks that could be lit for melting. The letter writer would drip wax over the envelope fold until a small pool was present, then press their seal into it. Seals were originally quite elaborate as they were also used for signatures, but as literacy became more widespread seals became simplified and could have a simple picture or decorated initial instead.
  22. Haddock is a widely consumed food fish, and is what you are more likely to get with fish and chips or in kippers than cod or pollock.
  23. Here Carroll is having fun with the difference between a title and the work it designates, as well as with the elision between the two verbs "name" and "call." "To call," usually someone, meant to shout at them to get their attention. The most natural thing to shout at someone to get their attention if you knew it was their name. But if you didn't know their name, something along the lines of "Hey you," or as the two Knights have already demonstrated, "Ahoy" would have to serve. "To name" something or someone is to give them a name, so you could repeatedly name something literally speaking, as the White Knight does, and find yourself in danger of an infinite regress.
  24. This song seems to be fairly old, though of contested authorship. The words to it are, according to The Ballad Index:

    I give thee all – I can no more –
    Though poor the off'ring be;
    My heart and lute are all the store
    That I can bring to thee.

    Though love and song may fail, alas!
    To keep life's clouds away,
    At least will let them lighter pass.

  25. A rill is a small stream; so a mountain rill is one that starts as a spring or from a melting glacier. It is unlikely that you could set such a thing on fire ordinarily, unless the rill is running from hydrocarbon bearing rocks, in which case you may be able to set fire to a layer of hydrocarbons on the surface of the water.
  26. Macassar oil was the hair mousse of the victorian era. It was made originally from coconut and palm oil mixed with essential oils shipped from the port of Makassar, India. There were also homemade and more economical versions, all intended to help men slick down their carefully combed back hair, which was often worn longer than is typical today, but not left loose. Macassar oil was also advertised as a restorative for lost or "falling" hair. The overall result was that almost any Victorian adult male had considerable quantities of this oil mixture in their hair, even more if their hair was wavy or curly. Victorian housewives were soon forced to invent the anti-macassar in response, a small cloth cover placed over the backs of chairs where men would regularly sit in order to protect the upholstery.
  27. Lime twigs were twigs smeared with a sticky substance called birdlime, which is now generally illegal. Its purpose was to allow the smaller songbirds to be caught, as in many places and times they have been considered "delicacies". Which means only a ridiculously rich person could afford to pay somebody to dress and cook them, and then afford the time to eat something that would take almost more energy than it would provide.
  28. Hansom cabs were the "smart cars" of their time. They were drawn by just one horse and could carry two passengers besides the driver. Larger horse drawn carriages could be caught up in great traffic jams in cities like London, which the hansom cabs could often manoeuvre around. The hansom cab drew its name from Joseph Hansom, who designed them to allow them to travel fast while being less prone to flipping over when taking corners.
  29. This is likely the Menai suspension bridge built in 1826. A bridge stretching over salt water has greater risk of rust than usual.
  30. Encourage him to get back on his horse, I suppose. It would be awfully tempting to just walk, but harder to give in with an audience.
  31. This will make even more sense to those who have experience playing draughts, also known as checkers. If the opposing player manages to get a piece all the way to the other end of the board and the other player is still able to keep playing, their opponent may crown that piece with a second, "kinging" the piece. From there the powers of the new "king" are quite substantial. That piece can move forwards or backwards, and it can jump any diagonal as long as there is just one opposing piece between its two ends. Needless to say, the game usually ends very quickly after that.
Copyright © C. Osborne 2024
Last Modified: Monday, January 01, 2024 01:26:02