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Why is Lewis Carroll still remembered as one of the great authors of all time?

By Akshada Sidhaye

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson famously known as Lewis Carroll was an English writer, mathematician, and also a photographer. Charles’s famous works include Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There which he wrote under the pen name Lewis Carroll. He first came up with the story of Alice in Wonderland while he was on a boating trip. The first edition of the book was published three years later in 1865.

Lewis Carroll is one of the greatest authors. He is attributed for making the literary nonsense genre a worldwide phenomenon through his story. His books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass are one of the best examples for the genre of literary nonsense. In the literary nonsense genre the literature balances the elements that make sense with some that do not. That is the situation and language are not simply normal.

This genre overthrows language conventions and logical reasoning. There are many examples of literary nonsense in Lewis Carroll’s books that show he could create a sense of other worlds that were uncanny. The Alice’s Through Looking Glass novel features a poem, ‘The Jabberwocky,’ which has many made up words. These new words sound very strange and take readers to a place where everything is bizarre and new. Lewis Carroll did not just play with words and language in his book but he also turned the laws of physics upside down.

There is a scene in Through the Looking Glass that shows Alice and the Red Queen running as fast as they can. While running Alice asks the Red Queen where are they running to, in response the Red Queen scolds her and tells her that they are running to stay in the same place. Alice then asks how they can then actually get somewhere else, the Red Queen explains her that to get somewhere else they would have to run twice as fast. But as they already are running as fast as they can at full pace this makes no sense whatsoever. In Lewis Carroll’s novel even the time is a source of nonsense. Example; at the tea party, the Mad Hatter explains to Alice that his watch is exactly two days slow; but then this means that his watch is telling the same exact time as it would if it were on time.

He (Lewis Carroll) also added political aspects to his novel through literary nonsense. Example; Alice is told a story of The Walrus and The Carpenter, in which both the characters trick oysters and eat them. Before eating the oysters, the Walrus speaks a lot of nonsense in order to ignore the protests of the oysters. Therefore, in The Walrus and the Carpenter story nonsense can be seen as an aid that is used by the powerful to confuse and exploit the weak and the helpless. Lewis Carroll was also a conservative mathematician. He has also published several books on mathematics. Many scholars believe that there are many references of mathematical concepts, which have been made in both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass novels.

In 2010, literary scholar Melanie Bayley made a fascinating case in op-ed for The New York Times suggesting that the Alice’s adventures in wonderland can be a parody of new modern mathematics that was emerging in the mid – 19th century. The story of a young girl falling down a rabbit hole and entering a bizarre, surreal world where nothing makes sense represents the childhood state of mind when rules are not yet known or applied and the imagination is as vivid as the reality. Alice in Wonderland was originally a children’s story but adults have also enjoyed the novel for over a century.

Lewis Carroll draws on the complex ideas of the nature of language, truth and logic. The way he played with logic through the use of nonsense shows that there is more to literary nonsense than just nonsense. The Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass novels by Lewis Carroll allow readers, most importantly the adult readers to forget the limitations and rules of normal life and return to a world of half forgotten childhood that is unlimited and has eternally bewildering visions. No wonder he is still remembered as one of the great authors of all time…

Akshada Sidhaye

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