Places: Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1871

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Fantasy

Time of work: Nineteenth century

Places DiscussedAlice’s house

Alice’s Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found Therehouse. The story starts and ends in the overstuffed Victorian parlor of Alice’s English home. As in Wonderland, a safe, comfortable world surrounds the sometimes threatening dream world.

Looking-Glass Land

Looking-Glass Land. World that Alice enters by stepping through the mirror in her home. Because the land is on the other side of the mirror, many things go by opposites. Books are printed in mirror-writing, walking directly toward an object results in leading one away from it, one must run as quickly as possible merely to stay in one place. Time can move both forward and backward, just as some chess pieces–not pawns–can move in either direction.

The world is laid out in a pattern of squares, like a chessboard whose columns are divided by hedges and whose rows are separated by small brooks. As a White Pawn in the Queen’s file, counting from the White side, Alice begins on square Q2 and proceeds to Q4, Q5, Q6, Q7, and Q8. She can see and interact with characters from her square or on adjoining squares. The book signals her chess moves with triple rows of dots.

Train

Train. Alice covers the third square quickly, moving by railway (in chess, pawns may advance two full squares on their first move but only one square at other times). The train rushing forward is a parody of hectic, commerce-driven, modern life, in which not only is time money (a thousand pounds a minute), but also words, and even puffs of smoke.

Wood where things have no name

Wood where things have no name. In the next square, Alice learns about Looking-Glass insects, whose natures seem determined by their (punning) names. Identity is an abiding concern in Looking-Glass Land. Growing up, finding out who one is, can feel like a process of trying on different identities, and in this world especially, identity (what piece one is) determines one’s role and actions. Within the wood, Alice cannot remember who or what she is, nor can her companion, a fawn. However, once the fawn leaves the wood and again becomes aware of its name, it becomes a slave to its nature and can do nothing but flee.

Even forking paths give no choice in the wood. Both signposts that Alice follows point the same way, to Tweedledum and Tweedledee. These mirror twins must follow their rhyme and fight, though reluctantly. On an adjacent square Alice encounters the Red King who, according to the Tweedles, is dreaming her, and so may be determining not only her actions, but her existence.

Wool and water shop

Wool and water shop. Modeled on a shop across the road from Carroll’s college at Oxford, this location is perhaps the most dreamlike place in Looking-Glass Land. The shop dissolves in true dreamlike fashion into a rowboat traveling along a river full of dream-rushes. Those Alice picks fade and lose scent almost at once, as dreams do, and youth, and, perhaps, life itself, an idea echoed in the book’s closing poem.

Humpty Dumpty’s square

Humpty Dumpty’s square. Poised atop a thin wall, the giant egg Humpty Dumpty proudly pretends to be the master of language, his usage not determined by prior meanings; yet he cannot change the outcome of his own rhyme. As Alice leaves him, she hears a terrific crash, and all the King’s horses and men rush past her through the forest. She then encounters the Lion and the Unicorn, who must do battle, as their rhyme ordains.

Wood

Wood. Place where the Red and White Knights engage in stylized combat over Alice, fulfilling their roles as chess pieces.

Banquet hall

Banquet hall. In this square, Alice consistently has a Queen on either side of her (White Queen in QB8 and Red in K8). The climactic scene, as at the end of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), is a ceremonial occasion with characters present from throughout the book and royalty presiding. The White Queen moves to QR6 (the soup tureen). Alice “takes” the doll-sized Red Queen, seizing her as she runs around the table, a move to K8. Her move puts the Red King in checkmate, presumably waking him, ending the game and the dream–without our knowing which dreamed it.

BibliographyGuiliano, Edward, ed. Lewis Carroll: A Celebration. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1982. A collection of fifteen essays, on the 150th anniversary of Carroll’s birth. Includes one of Donald Rackin’s existential readings, a surrealist reading, and an analysis of the “hair motif” in Through the Looking-Glass.Kelly, Richard. Lewis Carroll. Rev. ed. Boston: Twayne, 1990. An excellent introduction to the works of Lewis Carroll, including a section on Through the Looking-Glass. Offers a broad critical study of Carroll’s life and writings, with special emphasis on Carroll’s mastery of nonsense.Lennon, Florence Becker. Victoria Through the Looking-Glass: The Life of Lewis Carroll. London: Cassell, 1947. A lively biographical and critical study. Includes a section devoted to an analysis of Through the Looking-Glass.Phillips, Robert S., ed. Aspects of Alice: Lewis Carroll’s Dreamchild as Seen Through the Critics’ Looking-Glasses, 1865-1971. New York: Vanguard Press, 1971. The largest and most important single collection of critical essays on Carroll. Analyzes Carroll as an author for adults and children.Taylor, Alexander L. The White Knight. Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1952. Considers the two Alice books an adult masterpiece on the order of Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Examines the books in the light of religious issues. Includes a discussion of the chess game in Through the Looking-Glass.
Categories: Places