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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Alice in Wonderland XI -- chapter 8: CALVINBALL or CROQUET?

The BIG QUESTION of chapter 8:  Yes, Alice enters a garden, and at the end of chapter 7 she even identifies it as the garden; but is this indeed the garden which she spied first through the little door?

I humbly acknowledge that these questions are asked remarkably inefficiently but declaim irresponsibly that I intend not to change them.
  1. More (see question 2 on "The Great Ugly") on the importance of appearances here, as three cards--gardeners--frantically paint mistakenly-planted white roses red.  Is this a parallel case to that of the previous post?
  2. Disregarding Tenniel's illustration, what does it mean to "be-head" a non-face-card (impertinent question)? 
  3. What would be the difference between Alice laying on her face (contrary to what may be minimally proper) like the cards?  What are the cards--gardeners--attempting to do, really, by prostrating themselves?  This introduces an interesting issue (and this also ties into the next question): what is going on with the utter lack of variety when their backs are turned: "she could not tell whether they were gardeners, or soldiers, or courtiers, or three of her own children."
  4. The general community of Wonderland is very diverse, and I've never thought of it as one inclusive group until now, perhaps fittingly, having just finished Jane Eyre.  Describe this community in terms of how it fits within the format of a typical Victorian region and/or countryside.  Which type of people perhaps have more substance than others, and what commentary is Carroll making?  (Grammatical aside (trick question, subject to grammatical subjectivity): is there a way to rewrite "what commentary is Carroll making" without splitting the infinitive, "is making," and without going into the dangerous waters of The Passive?)
  5. Interesting choice of words: "How should I know?  It's no business of mine," which, of course, comes across as rude; couldn't she have simply referred (*another ridiculous verbal split*) to the impossibility of distinguishing them in such a state.
  6. Apart from the primary argument at hand (in chapter, in book, in "series"), are the Alice books inappropriate for children?  Gardner humorously offers: "'I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts,' Carroll wrote in his article 'Alice on the Stage,' 'as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion--a blind and aimless Fury.'  Her constant orders for beheadings are shocking to those modern critics of children's literature who feel that juvenile fiction should be free of all violence and especially violence with Freudian undertones.  Even the Oz books of L. Frank Baum, so singularly free of the horrors to be found in Grimm and Andersen, contain many scenes of decapitation.  As far as I know, there have been no empirical studies of how children react to such scenes and what harm if any is done to their psyche.  My guess is that the normal child finds it all very amusing and is not damaged in the least, but that books like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz should not be allowed to circulate indiscriminately among adults who are undergoing analysis."
  7. Is there any way for the King of Hearts to be other than timid in the face of his spouse?  (Poor man!)
  8. What is Carroll doing to/with/by Alice when he writes her as contradicting, and effectively so, the Queen? Consider also that the Queen shifts from ordering the offing of her head to inviting her to play Croquet.
  9. "The Knave did so, very carefully, with one foot."  I expect there's a fair level of bigotry between the four suits of cards in the deck.
  10. "Their heads are gone, if it please your Majesty!"
  11. How do you suppose W. Rabbit feels now that Alice has been invited to play?
  12. Is it such a "great wonder," as Alice believes, that there are any members of the deck of cards yet alive?
  13. Notice the King's lack of ability--or authority--in the removal of the cat and his subsequent deferment to his wife.
  14. What of the court's petition to Alice to solve their problem?
by Bill Waterson: Calvinball


  1. The Big Question: I think that it is. Obviously I can't be sure. One possible thing that I like about the idea is that she could kind of stick her head through the door and look into the garden, and there's an awful lot of beheading in this chapter.

    1. I think that you could make that case. No one really cares about doing the queen's will, as much as appearing to do it and thus avoiding the consequences.
    2. Are we assuming that they are just regular cards, or do they have heads?
    3. The lack of variety is because they presumably are all from the same deck and aren't marked. And Alice could never get as low as the cards even if she did bow.
    4. It seems to me that only the Cheshire Cat is actually somewhat sane, and he APPEARS (there it is again) to be a grinning lunatic, who acknowledges that everyone there is mad.
    5. She could have, but with the special emphasis, it seems as though she wants to indict the Queen for not minding HER business and learning to know her subjects.
    6. I loved your last comment. It is odd how violent this book is at times. I would love to get inside Carroll's head. This scene is just so bizarre.
    7. I was wondering if any of the stuff you've read about this book mentions whether there is a game in which the Queen trumps or is more powerful than the King that might give rise to this scene. Of course it's the case in chess, but that's not a card game.
    8. It's almost like he's suggesting that the Queen did not realize the absurdity of her actions. When the more sensible Alice (importantly, I think, a child) points it out, she forgets her rage for a moment.
    11. Awkward? He thought that she was a worthless servant.
    12. Yes. Maybe they don't actually have heads to behead. But if they don't, why are they so confounded by the Cheshire Cat having only a face? Of course, that's the opposite problem.
    14. Again, she's the only one who's slightly sensible.

  2. The Big Question: I'm not sure either. I see two possibilities, and either works at this point, though doesn't fit with the original assumption that she would never find it. Either this is NOT the garden, which is possible, as we don't have a detailed description of what she saw through the door, or it is the garden but it's just not as great a place as she hoped it would be.

    2. The description Carroll gives is different than the image presented by Tenniel. Carroll saws hands and feet come out directly from the four corners of the cards and makes no mention of the their heads....

    3. The lack of variety is a hopeful crutch for getting away with the crime--for being overlooked. Obviously, as you say, Alice can't participate as there is nothing about her that fits in with the deck.

    4. To me there's an elevation of Alice above the royalty and cookie-cutter formalities of the court and rest of the deck. The Cheshire Cat is also apart from the rest, not fitting with any of the other characters throughout the adventure, and not fitting with the court. Is sanity just an issue of context, not an absolute?

    7. The closest thing I've ever found is that this might be a game of bridge. "Looking Glass" of course, as you say is obviously chess, but the moves (most legal, some not) are actually even all delineated. "LG" is also a much more refined piece than "Wonderland." When I reread this chapter yesterday, I also thought about the general power of Queens in cards and can't come up with anything. In my experience, either all face cards are worth the same (like in 21) or they're worth incrementally more moving from Jack up to Ace (like poker).

    8. I agree.

    11. I just felt sorry for him. The poor little bunny rabbit that made a potentially fatal class error.

    12. Well, for one, I don't think anyone's actually getting beheaded. Like you mention earlier, it's about the appearance of following her wishes, not actually following through. With her melodrama and chutzpah, she'll just forget anyway once she's rational enough to go back and check.

    14. That and they wouldn't have thought to ask the Cat.

  3. 4. Yeah, I think that's it.
    12. Yeah, this becomes clear in the next chapter.


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