Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

's illustration for "A Mad Tea-Party", 1865
John Tenniel's illustration for "A Mad Tea-Party", 1865

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a work of children's literature by the British mathematician and author Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit-hole into a fantasy realm populated by talking creatures and anthropomorphic playing cards.

The tale is fraught with satirical allusions to Dodgson's friends and to the lessons that British schoolchildren were expected to memorize. The Wonderland described in the tale plays with logic in ways that has made the story of lasting popularity with children as well as grown-ups.

The book is often referred to by the abbreviated title Alice in Wonderland. This alternate title was popularized by the numerous film and television adaptations of the story produced over the years.



Missing image
Illustration by Arthur Rackham

Alice was first published on July 4, 1865, exactly three years after Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and Reverend Robinson Duckworth rowed in a boat up the River Thames with three little girls:

  • Lorina Charlotte Liddell (aged 13) ("Prima" in the book's prefatory verse)
  • Alice Pleasance Liddell (aged 10) ("Secunda" in the prefatory verse)
  • Edith Mary Liddell (aged 8) ("Tertia" in the prefatory verse)

The journey had started at Folly Bridge near Oxford, England and ended five miles away in a village of Godstow. To while away time the Reverend Dodgson told the girls a story that, not so coincidentally, featured a bored little girl named Alice who goes looking for an adventure.

The girls loved it, and Alice Liddell asked Dodgson to write it down for her. He eventually did so and in February 1863 gave Alice the first manuscript of Alice's Adventures Under Ground. This original script was probably destroyed later by Dodgson himself when he printed a more elaborate copy by hand, illustrated it, and presented it to Alice as a Christmas present on 26 November 1864 (Gardner, 1965).

He also gave a copy of Alice's Adventures Under Ground to his friend and mentor George MacDonald, whose children loved it. On MacDonald's advice, Dodgson decided to submit Alice for publication. He expanded the 18,000-word manuscript to 35,000 words, most notably adding the episodes about the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Tea-Party. In 1865, Dodgson's tale was published as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by "Lewis Carroll" with illustrations by John Tenniel. The first print run of 2,000 was shelved because Tenniell had objections over the print quality; but a new edition, released in December of the same year but carrying an 1866 date, was quickly printed.

The entire print run sold out quickly. Alice was a publishing sensation, beloved by children and adults alike, and it has never been out of print since. There have now been over a hundred editions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, as well as countless adaptations in other media, especially theater and film (see below).

Publishing Highlights

  • 1869: Alice has its first American printing.
  • 1871: Dodgson meets another Alice during his time in London, Alice Raikes, and talks with her about her reflection in a mirror, leading to another book Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, which sells even better.
  • 1886: Carroll publishes a facsimile of the earlier Alice's Adventures Under Ground manuscript.
  • 1890: He publishes The Nursery Alice, a special edition "to be read by Children aged from Nought to Five."
  • 1908: Alice has its first translation into Japanese.
  • 1960: American writer Martin Gardner publishes a special edition, The Annotated Alice, incorporating the text of both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. It has extensive annotations explaining the hidden allusions in the books, and includes full texts of the Victorian era poems parodied in them. Later editions expand on these annotations.
  • 1998: A first-edition copy of the book is sold at auction for $1.5 million USD, becoming the most expensive children's book ever traded. (Only 22 copies of the 1865 first edition are known to have survived; 17 are owned by libraries, the other five being in private hands.)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into over 50 languages, including Esperanto.

The Plot

A girl named Alice is bored while on a picnic with her sister. She finds interest in a white rabbit, dressed in a waistcoat and muttering "I'm late!", whom she follows down a rabbit-hole. She drops into a dream underworld of paradox, the absurd and the improbable. As she attempts to follow the rabbit, she has several misadventures. She grows to gigantic size and shrinks to half her original height; meets a group of small animals stranded in a sea of her own tears; gets trapped in the rabbit's house; meets a baby, which changes into a pig, and a cat, which disappears; goes to a never-ending tea party; plays croquet with an anthropomorphised deck of cards; goes to the shore and meets a Gryphon and a Mock Turtle; and attends the courtroom trial of the Knave of Hearts, who has been accused of stealing some tarts. Eventually Alice wakes up underneath a tree back with her sister.

Thematic elements


  • Chapter 1 -- Down the Rabbit-Hole
  • Chapter 2 -- The Pool of Tears
  • Chapter 3 -- A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale
  • Chapter 4 -- The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill
  • Chapter 5 -- Advice From a Caterpillar
  • Chapter 6 -- Pig and Pepper
  • Chapter 7 -- A Mad Tea-Party
  • Chapter 8 -- The Queen's Croquet-Ground
  • Chapter 9 -- The Mock Turtle's Story
  • Chapter 10 -- The Lobster-Quadrille
  • Chapter 11 -- Who Stole the Tarts?
  • Chapter 12 -- Alice's Evidence

Characters in order of appearance

 using a ; an illustration by
The Caterpillar using a hookah; an illustration by John Tenniel

Character allusions

The members of the boating party that first heard Carroll's tale all show up in Chapter 3 ("A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale") in one form or another. There is, of course, Alice herself, while Carroll, or Charles Dodgson, is caricatured as the Dodo. The Duck refers to Rev. Robinson Duckworth, the Lory to Lorina Liddell, and the Eaglet to Edith Liddell.

Bill the Lizard may be a play on the name of Benjamin Disraeli.

The Hatter is most likely a reference to Theophilus Carter, a furniture dealer known in Oxford for his unorthodox inventions. Tenniel apparently drew the Hatter to resemble Carter, on a suggestion of Carroll's.

The Dormouse tells a story about three little sisters named Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie. These are the Liddell (sounds like "little") sisters: Elsie is L.C. (Lorina Charlotte), Tillie is Edith (her family nickname is Matilda), and Lacie is an anagram of Alice.

The Mock Turtle speaks of a Drawling-master, "an old conger eel," that used to come once a week to teach "Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils." This is a reference to the art critic John Ruskin, who came once a week to the Liddell house to teach the children drawing, sketching, and painting in oils. (The children did, in fact, learn well; Alice Liddell, for one, produced a number of skilled watercolors.)

Poems and songs

  • "All in the golden afternoon..." (the prefatory verse, an original poem by Carroll that recalls the rowing expedition on which he first told the story of Alice's adventures underground)
  • "How doth the little crocodile..." (a parody of Isaac Watts' nursery rhyme, "How doth the little busy bee")
  • The Mouse's Tale ( (an example of concrete poetry)
  • "You are old, Father William..." (a parody of Robert Southey's "The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them")
  • The Duchess' lullaby: "Speak roughly to your little boy..."(a parody of David Bates "Speak Gently")
  • "Twinkle, twinkle little bat..." (a parody of Twinkle twinkle little star)
  • The Lobster Quadrille (a parody of Mary Botham Howitt' "The Spider and the Fly")
  • "’Tis the voice of the lobster, I heard him declare..." (a parody of "Tis the voice of the Sluggard")
  • Turtle Soup (a parody of James M. Sayles' "Star of the Evening, Beautiful Star")
  • "The Queen of Hearts..." (an actual nursery rhyme)
  • "They told me you had been to her..." (the White Rabbit's evidence)

Tenniel's illustrations

John Tenniel's illustrations of Alice do not portray the real Alice Liddell. Carroll sent Tenniel a photograph of Mary Hilton Badcock, another child-friend, but whether Tenniel actually used Badcock as his model is open to dispute.

Famous lines and expressions

The term "Wonderland," from the title, has entered the language and refers to a marvelous imaginary place, or else a real-world place that one sees as "like a dream come true!" It is widely referenced in popular culture—in books and film (see below) and pop music. To note just one example, there is a book by the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami entitled Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World.

"Down the Rabbit-Hole," the Chapter 1 title, has become a popular term for going into an adventure to the unknown. In the film The Matrix, Morpheus says to Neo: "I imagine that right now you're feeling a bit like Alice. Tumbling down the rabbit hole?" He also says, "You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes." In computer gaming, a "rabbit hole" may refer to the initiating element that drives the player to enter the game.

A "white rabbit" has similar connotations, as a signal to the start of an adventure. In The Matrix, Neo's adventure begins after a message on his computer urges him to "Follow the white rabbit."

In Chapter 6, the Cheshire Cat's disappearance prompts Alice to say one of her most memorable lines: "...a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever saw in all my life!" There is a French film called A Grin Without a Cat ( (1977), directed by Chris Marker.

In Chapter 7, the Hatter gives his famous riddle without an answer: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" Although Carroll intended the riddle to have no solution, in a new preface to the 1896 edition of Alice, he proposes several answers: "Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front!" Note the spelling of "never" as "nevar"—turning it into "raven" when inverted. This spelling, however, was "corrected" in later editions to "never" and Carroll's pun was lost. Puzzle maven Sam Loyd offered these solutions: because the notes for which they are noted are not noted for being musical notes; Poe wrote on both; bills and tales are among their characteristics; because they both stand on their legs, conceal their steels (steals), and ought to be made to shut up. Many other answers are listed in The Annotated Alice.

In Chapter 8, the Queen of Hearts screams "Off with her head!" at Alice. Possibly Carroll here was echoing a scene in Shakespeare's Richard III (III, iv, 76) where Richard demands the execution of Lord Hastings, crying "Off with his head!" The line as used in the 1967 Jefferson Airplane song "White Rabbit" has distinct hallucinogenic connotations.

Cinematic adaptations

Missing image

Disney's Alice in Wonderland animated feature, released in 1951, remains the most popular cinematic adaptation of the Alice books. It popularized the iconic image of Alice as a pretty blonde little girl in a white pinafore and blue dress. Other characters made icons by the film include the Cheshire Cat, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and the Caterpillar. The character designs owe much to the original Tenniel illustrations.

The Disney feature combines story elements from both Alice books. It is notable for its distinctly psychedelic visual feel.

Other cinematic adaptations of Alice include:

This webpage ( has a considerable list of cinematic adaptations with appropriate reviews.

Works influenced

Alice and the rest of Wonderland continue to inspire or influence many other works of art to this day—sometimes indirectly; via the Disney movie, for example. The character of the plucky yet proper Alice has proven immensely popular and inspired similar heroines in literature and pop culture, many also named Alice in homage.

Numerous works have borrowed the characters and incidents of the Alice books to illustrate "altered state" experiences brought about by alcohol or psychedelic drugs. It would seem unlikely that Carroll, that straitlaced Victorian clergyman, could have approved.


  • Finnegans Wake by James Joyce is famously influenced by Alice. The novel is about a dream, and includes such lines as: "Alicious, twinstreams twinestraines, through alluring glass or alas in jumboland?" and "...Wonderlawn's lost us for ever. Alis, alas, she broke the glass! Liddell lokker through the leafery, ours is mistery of pain."
  • Vladimir Nabokov translated Alice into his native Russian. His novels include many Carrollian allusions, such as the spoof book titles that run through Ada, or Ardor. However, Nabokov told his student and annotator Alfred Appel that the infamous Lolita, with its pedophilic protagonist, makes no conscious allusions to Carroll (despite the novel's photography theme and Carroll's interest in the art form).
  • British writer Jeff Noon has inserted many Carrollian allusions into a series of cyberpunk novels, beginning with Vurt (1993), that are set in a fantasy-future Manchester. In the books, Noon applies a logical extension of the Wonderland and Looking-Glass World concepts into a virtual reality cyberverse that characters occasionally get lost in. One possible interpretation of the books is that everything happens in the dream of Alice, akin to the supposed "dream of the Red King" in Through the Looking-Glass. Noon also wrote Automated Alice, which he punningly calls a trequel to the Alice books. In this illustrated novella, Alice enters a grandfather clock and emerges in future Manchester, which has many bizarre denizens including an invisible cat named Quark and Celia, the Automated Alice.


  • Dorothea Tanning's 1943 painting Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (1946)  ( is evocative of Alice in Wonderland, though with mysterious threatening overtones.

Comics and animation

  • Alice makes an appearance (in passing) in Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; more significantly, she is a main character in Moore's Lost Girls, which imagines her having erotic adventures.
  • Neil Gaiman has used Carollian imagery in his Sandman series. In one issue, a minor character called Zelda is depicted as Alice in a dream.
  • Alice appears in a number of graphic novels, such as Haunted Knight (where Alice meets Batman).
  • Nippon Animation produced anime of Alice in Wonderland in 1983 to 1984. This anime adopted an original story that Alice and her rabbit Benny take a trip to Wonderland and go home for each episode.
  • Miyuki-chan in Wonderland, an anime by CLAMP, is a sexy animated parody of Alice. In Card Captor Sakura, another anime by CLAMP, the title character dresses up like Alice for an episode in which she shrinks drastically. In the third season, Sakura is sucked into a copy of "Alice in Wonderland" in which characters from the anime appear as characters in the story.
  • The anime series Serial Experiments Lain tells the story of a girl who is drawn into the cyberspace "underground" of the Wired, and features a character named Arisu ("Alice") Mizuki.
  • Additionally, the anime series InuYasha also follows the adventures of a young girl who is drawn into a fantasy world when she falls down an old well. Viz, the company who translated the series into English, translated the title of the third episode as, "Down the Rabbit Hole and Back Again".

Film, television and radio

  • Labyrinth, a 1986 film directed by Jim Henson, counts the Alice books among its influences. It has a distinct Carrollian flavor. After all, it is the story of a young girl who must brave a strange fantasy realm populated by unusual talking creatures, in which she must solve a number of puzzles.
  • The Matrix (1999) features a protagonist, Neo, who tags along with a gang after he sees one of them sporting a white rabbit tattoo. The Wachowski brothers who directed the film have stated that Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a running theme in their Matrix trilogy.
  • Donnie Darko (2001) recasts some Carrollian elements in a darker storyline: a state of dream or nightmare, a demonic rabbit man, a (golf) hole in the ground.
  • Resident Evil (2002) has several references to the stories—notably, the main character who is unnamed until the credits reveal that she is called Alice.

Popular music

  • The Beatles counted the Alice books among their many artistic influences, and this is referred to in various oblique ways. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band features a sleeve montage designed by Peter Blake that includes an image of Lewis Carroll. The third song on the record, "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds," begins with a line that Carroll could have written: "Picture yourself in a boat on a river..." Other Beatles songs with Carrollian imagery include "Cry Baby Cry," "Come Together," "Glass Onion," and "I am the Walrus"—supposedly this Walrus is the one from Through the Looking-Glass.
  • Neil Sedaka took Alice into the US Top 50 in 1963 with the single "Alice In Wonderland."
  • Words and images from the Alice books acquire blatant psychedelic connotations in "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane from their 1967 album Surrealistic Pillow. The song's lyrics refer to pills that make you larger or smaller, for example (view the lyrics here ( Journalist Hunter S. Thompson incorporated "White Rabbit" in his classic Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in an account of an LSD trip. "White Rabbit" has been covered by Sanctuary with Dave Mustaine on Refuge Denied (1988), and by the Blue Man Group on The Complex (2003).
  • There was a rash of Alice-related material in the music industry in the 1980s, a fad mainly fueled by goth and indie rock musicians. Siouxsie & the Banshees, for instance, named their label Wonderland and cut an album called Through The Looking Glass. The former London-based Batcave Club was renamed "Alice In Wonderland." The Sisters of Mercy had a hit single, "Alice," about the image of Carroll's heroine.
  • Stevie Nicks has a song titled "Alice" on her 1989 album The Other Side of the Mirror. Its lyrics mention Alice and the Mad Hatter (view the lyrics here (
  • Virginia Astley has released a lot of Alice-related work, including her LP From Gardens Where We Feel Secure with sound effects recorded a few miles south of where Alice's adventures began; and songs like "Tree Top Club," "Nothing Is What It Seems," and "Over the Edge of the World".
  • Tom Waits released an 2002 album entitled Alice, consisting of songs that were written for a stage adaptation of Alice.
  • The video for the Tom Petty song "Don't Come Around Here No More" portrays Alice, the Mad Hatter, and other Wonderland elements.
  • The music video of the Gwen Stefani song "What You Waiting For?" is clearly Alice-inspired and shows the Queen of Hearts' garden maze and a mad tea party.

Computer and video games

  • American McGee's Alice is a dark and bloody computer game loosely based on the books. Alice must return to a deadlier version of Wonderland and kill the Queen of Hearts. Alice (, a cinematic adaptation of the game sometimes erroneously referred to as Dark Wonderland, is currently in development.
  • Thief: The Dark Project has an early level that involves breaking into a huge mansion. As one goes deeper inside, it becomes "curiouser and curiouser"—resembling Alice more and more. The game Thief: Gold expanded this idea with an additional section to the mansion, known as "Little Big World" to fans, that involves first passing through a very small village and emerging in a gigantic kitchen. Thief was developed by Looking Glass Studios.
  • The RPG Kingdom Hearts includes Alice as a character and Disney's vesion of Wonderland as one of its worlds.
  • The Silent Hill series contain a few references of Wonderland, in a contrasting homage to its surreal world. The best example of this is in the first game, where a door puzzle at the Alchemilla Hospital involves coloured blocks imprinted with the Cheshire Cat, Mad Hatter, Mock Turtle and The Queen of Hearts.

Culture and collecting

Alice continues to be a cultural phenomenon today, spawning hundreds of collectors' items, websites, and works of art.

There is a vast Alice-collecting cottage industry, which has recently burgeoned due to the Internet. There are often more than 2500 items up for auction via eBay at any given time, from rare books to more recent commissioned art. Just about every kind of Alice merchandise imaginable is available, from clocks to earrings to pillow cases. They are not always easy to locate, but can often be found in so-called "Alice shops". In England, such shops include The Rabbit Hole in Llandudno and Alice's Shop in Oxford. Smaller ones can be found in Halton Cheshire and in Bournemouth where there is an Alice Theme Park. In the United States they include The White Rabbit in California. In fact, there is a lot of Alice merchandise in America that is not available elsewhere. One of these is a book called Sherlock Holmes and the Alice In Wonderland Murders.

See also

External links

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