Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Rating 8.8/10
Brilliantly plotted, wonderfully inventive nonsense story, full of humour, riddles and rhymes.

Dangerous games in a topsy-turvy world.

A winter’s day, and Alice is feeling thoughtful. Gazing into a huge mirror above the drawing room mantelpiece, she wonders what the world would look like if everything in it was turned around, like a reflection. Suddenly the glass turns to mist – and Alice passes through it to the other side.

The looking-glass world she enters takes the form of a giant chessboard, the squares divided by green hedges and brooks. All the world’s citizens are a part of this great game of chess, explains the White Queen, who appoints Alice to be her pawn, and sends her on a magical journey across this strange country. On her travels she meets a whole host of characters: the White Knight; Tweedledum and Tweedledee; the Walrus and the Carpenter; the Rocking-Horse Fly – and even Humpty Dumpty himself.

Through the Looking-Glass was published in 1971, and is the famous sequel to Alice in Wonderland. Like the first Alice book, Looking-Glass is a brilliantly plotted, wonderfully inventive nonsense story, full of humour, riddles and rhymes. The two books were revolutionary: while most children’s novels had been written to educate and instruct, Carroll’s two book were produced firmly to amuse.

Carroll, a mathematics lecturer at Oxford University, was always comfortable around children – its told that an incurable stammer which troubled his communication with adults would disappear in their company. The time Carroll spent with the sons and daughters of his colleagues at the University was crucial in the creation of this entertaining story.

Carroll also wove into his story a heap of puzzles, even poems – the book contains the famous verses ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ and ‘Jabberwocky’. This latter poem is thought to have introduced two entirely new words into the English language: they are ‘chortle’ and ‘galumph’.

Lewis Carroll was the pen-name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, born in 1832 in Cheshire in the north of England. His father, the local rector, came from a family of distinguished scholars and clergymen. Dodgson continued the academic family tradition and studied mathematics and theology, eventually becoming a mathematician at Oxford University.

He first began to write comic poetry and prose in the 1850s and had several pieces published in magazines, where he first began to use the name Lewis Carroll. In 1856 he met four-year-old Alice Liddell who was to inspire the book which made Dodgson’s name, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865. The book was an immediate success, was translated into many languages and soon established itself as an English classic. Its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, appeared in 1871. Their revolutionary combination of word-play, humour and nonsense had never been seen before in writing for children. His other great masterpiece of nonsense is the poem The Hunting of the Snark (1876), and other books for children including Phantasmagoria (1869) and Sylvie and Bruno (1889).

Charles Dodgson never married and remained at Oxford all his adult life, where he wrote several books on mathematics and logic as well as devising board games and brainteasers. He was also an expert  photographer, famous for his portraits of children and many artistic personalities of the day. He died in 1898.

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