The Alice of Wonderland

By David Collins

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    Have you ever heard of Alice Liddell? Probably not. Yet when Alice Liddell was only ten years old, she earned a unique place in literary history.

    It happened July 4, 1862.

    For many days Alice and her two sisters, Lorina and Edith, had been planning a picnic. Even their father was going. As a dean at Oxford University in England, Henry Liddell had little time for such diversions. But after much coaxing by his daughters, he finally agreed to go.

    The next morning Alice arose early. She wanted to enjoy every minute of such an exciting day. After she had washed and dressed, she hurried downstairs. Her father was seated at the breakfast table. When he did not smile at her, Alice knew something was wrong.

    “I’m sorry, Alice, but I have to miss the picnic today. A messenger just brought word that some very important people are coming to visit the college.”

    “But—but why did they have to come today?” Alice questioned. “Why do they have to ruin our picnic?”

    Dean Liddell arose and walked over to his daughter. Gently smoothing her long dark hair, he answered, “Now, you know I wouldn’t let anyone ruin your picnic. I’ve already sent word to Reverend Charles Dodgson and Canon Duckworth, inviting them to join you.”

    Alice pulled her father down and gave him a big hug. “I still wish you could go with us,” she whispered. “But if you can’t, I’m glad you invited Reverend Dodgson. We will have a merry time with him!”

    “Indeed, you are certain to have a merry time with the distinguished Reverend Dodgson, as do the students in his mathematics classes at the college. I had always thought mathematics to be a strictly serious science, but the laughter from his classroom often shakes the entire building.”

    Alice giggled. “He is amusing. He always tells such wonderful stories. Thank you for inviting him and Canon Duckworth. I know Lorina and Edith will be glad too.”

    Lorina and Edith were glad. They had also spent many pleasant hours listening to Reverend Dodgson’s stories.

    Upon arriving at the Liddell home, Reverend Dodgson proposed an added feature to the picnic plans. “Let’s make this a real holiday,” he declared. “We’ll hire a boat and row to Godstow!”

    The idea of a boat trip on the River Isis to Godstow three miles away thrilled the girls.

    “I can handle one set of oars,” Alice offered, “and we will be in Godstow in an hour!”

    Reverend Dodgson smiled, shaking his head. “Oh, no, dear Alice. The canon and I shall man the oars. You would likely row us into the ocean and we would never return.”

    A short time later, the happy quintet was sitting in the rowboat. For almost half an hour the girls sang while the men rowed. Then Alice made a suggestion. “Reverend Dodgson, please tell us one of your stories.”

    “Oh, yes!” Lorina encouraged.

    Reverend Dodgson winked at Canon Duckworth. “Well, I suppose I could come up with some little tale. Then at least the swans won’t be frightened away by your singing.”

    As the sturdy rowboat slipped and dipped its way through the water, a story was born on that picnic holiday over one hundred years ago. It was a story of adventure and fantasy, of a young girl named Alice and her exciting adventures in a place called Wonderland.

    Since that day, millions of readers and listeners have shared the delight of Alice’s encounters with such lovable and unusual characters as the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts, and many more. Millions of copies of the book, Alice in Wonderland, have been sold in many countries of the world. It has been translated into more than thirty languages, including Arabic and Chinese and is also available in braille for the blind.

    Had it not been for little Alice Liddell, the story might have been forgotten after the picnic. “I became a real nuisance to Reverend Dodgson,” Alice recalled years later. “I pestered and pestered him until he finally wrote it down.”

    The original story was called Alice’s Adventures Underground, and Reverend Dodgson illustrated the story before giving it to Alice. Keeping a copy for himself, he enjoyed reading it to other children he knew.

    Reverend Dodgson’s friends encouraged him to have the story published so that other boys and girls and adults, too, might read it. Finally, after considerable coaxing, he enlarged the story to book length and offered it for publication. He chose to be called Lewis Carroll because not everyone would have approved of a reverend creating tales of a fantasy world.

    Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland quickly captured a vast reading audience for Lewis Carroll. Until his death in 1898, he continued to produce enchanting stories for people around the world. He wrote a fantasy based on a chess game called Through the Looking Glass that introduced several new characters, including the silly twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

    Although willing to share her memories of the delightful British author, Alice attempted to avoid publicity for herself. Requests for autographs, pictures, and interviews were graciously but firmly refused. “I have done nothing to receive any special attention,” she insisted. “I was only fortunate to be a friend of a kind storyteller.” But who can say that she was not more than that? Perhaps she provided just the inspiration needed for Lewis Carroll to create his classic story of fun and fantasy.

    Illustrated by Shauna Mooney