These are fascinating ‘bits and scraps’, and I begin with the detritus of books already in Dodgson’s mind when he began to write. His cheerful parodies of Isaac Watts (‘How doth the little crocodile’), or Jane Taylor (‘Twinkle, Twinkle, little bat’) are familiar enough, but there are also traces in the ‘Alice’ books of cautionary tales, of Punch and Judy, and of pantomimes. Dodgson saw the pantomime Harlequin King Chess or Tom the Piper’s Son and See-Saw Marjery Daw at the Surrey Theatre in 1865, with its final act of a game of chess with live players, just as he was beginning to assemble Through the Looking Glass.

He was not above working out his own little vendettas: he had fallen out with Tennyson, author of ‘Maud,’ a poem that features a garden of talking flowers:

The larkspur listens, ‘I hear, I hear’ … She is coming, my own, my sweet; Were it ever so airy a tread …

In Through the Looking-Glass Alice and the flowers are listening for the Red Queen: ‘“She’s coming!” cried the Larkspur: “I hear her footstep, thump, thump, along the gravel walk.”’

The extent of Dodgson’s magpie mind is brilliantly demonstrated by the resemblance of the Red Queen’s garden to La Bataille des Cartes (1844) by the French satirical cartoonist J.J. Grandville (1803–1847) who worked for the Parisian magazine Le Charivari (and influenced John Tenniel).

Association for the Advancement of Science at the new Oxford Museum. This turned into a famous confrontation between Thomas Huxley (who Dodgson later photographed) and Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford (who ordained Dodgson) over Charles Darwin’s newly published theories of natural selection. Dodgson was caught between religious orthodoxy and interest in new ideas, so it is not surprising that the over-enthusiastic puppy that Alice encounters (possibly a beagle) bears a curious resemblance to Darwin. And can it be chance that Alice hides behind ‘a great thistle’, while one of Dodgson’s colleagues was Sir William Turner Thiselton-Dyer (1843–1928), who ended his career as Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, became a friend of Charles Darwin, and married Thomas Huxley’s daughter, Harriet?

So, what went on in Dodgson’s head was, to say the least, convoluted – and never more so than in his fascination with numbers. The classic example is his fixation with the number 42: Alice has 42 illustrations; the oldest rule in the King’s book is 42; Alice’s age in Looking Glass is seven years and six months (7x6=42). And if you think that this is mere coincidence, consider the White Queen’s age. ‘I am,’ she tells Alice, ‘just one hundred and one, five months and a day.’ That remarkable Alice scholar, Edward Wakeling, has worked out that if you count the days that the White Queen has been alive, up to 4 November 1859 (the date when the book is set) – not forgetting leap years – the total is 37,044: doubling that (there are two Queens, and as they are in the same set, they must be the same age) makes 74,088 – and 74,088 just happens (?) to be 42 x 42 x 42.

Dodgson was not the first (or last) author to discover that a lot can be hidden in a children’s book, and, ironist that he was, it did not much matter to him if anyone understood any of it. And so, once we are down the rabbit-hole we can only follow passages, open doors, chase rabbits: in effect, join in Charles Dodgson’s games – and, after all, playing games is what children’s books are about.

With all this floating around in his head, Dodgson began by packing his story with personalised nonsense for the Liddell sisters. When Alice falls down the rabbit hole, she reflects ‘“Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!” (Which was most likely true.)’ And to a Christ Church girl, there was really only one ‘house’. She and her sisters would have recognised the croquet games, the caricature of John Ruskin as the ‘drawling master’, the treacle well at Binsey, and much else.

As the book developed, Dodgson layered in his satirical targets. Look at Tenniel’s drawing of the mad tea party: the Hatter is probably Dean Liddell; the Dormouse is Thomas John Prout,

the rector of

Binsey, well known for dozing off in meetings; and the March Hare, is one of Dodgson’s intellectual enemies, the broad church socialist Julius Charles Hare, Archdeacon of Lewes.

Which brings us to debates philosophical. On 30 June 1860, Dodgson bought a two- guinea ticket to a meeting of the British

Peter Hunt is Emeritus Professor of Children’s Literature at Cardiff University. The Making of Lewis Carroll’s Alice and the Invention of Wonderland (9781 851245321) was published by the Bodleian Library in June. £15.

Books for Keeps No.243 July 2020 15

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