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Monday, February 28, 2011

Through The Looking Glass VII -- chapter 5: TRANSMOGRIFICATION

Chapter 5 is nearly as slippery as the subjects of its contents, but I think there are some patterns that emerge which lead to some likely insights.  The chapter is dominantly divided in two, with the first part a fairly innocuous discussion with the White Queen, and the second a combination of the sheep, the shop, and a stationary rowing expedition.

Nothing is solid or, more accurately, permanent in chapter 5; this impermanence is the foundation of any understanding to be had here.  Consider the following points:

  • Jam, or treats (despite Alice's dislike of jam--or iam in Latin, which interchanges i and j, and means "now," but only in past and future tenses), are only available tomorrow or yesterday;
  • there are tears in anticipation of an event, but once the event has happened, the emotions are spent;
  • the crow is gone, and Alice's words support the acknowledgment of the crow as death omen by admitting a fear of nightfall (which nightfall indicates death in the introductory poem), now optimistically passed;
  • Alice laments of Looking-Glass House's loneliness, which is interesting as Wonderland was not significantly more populace, but Looking-Glass certainly has a dense air of solitude;
  • and finally, the White Queen (Carroll, perhaps) indicates that it is healthy, important, and even necessary to believe in impossible things, which is an uncharacteristically optimistic sentiment for this book, along with the fallacious belief that the threat of nightfall has passed (night and death are always coming).


  • Again, nothing remains the same, and all the less so now we're in this shop.  Nothing is found when you look for it: the toys and amusements always in the periphery and nothing directly before you; however, when Alice isn't looking, she is suddenly back in the boat again (I say "back . . . again" because this is exactly how the Alice books got started in the first place: in a boat, rowing) and with, of all things, an innocent, white sheep.  The river banks are not golden this go-'round, however, and they frown disconsolately, and still Alice is so lonely.
  • Feathering is a rowing technique, which can be seen in use quite expertly in the movie The Social Network (no further connection between Alice and the film or filmmakers intended); to catch a crab was slang for extending the oar too deeply and it's subsequent "catching" in the water would often unseat the rower.
  • Also the rushes, similar to the items in the store, are elusive, especially those that are the loveliest, which are also the farthest away; and regardless of the ease of picking or getting at them, once picked the rushes rapidly lose their beauty.  Beauty, of course, is just as elusive and ephemeral, both in its subject abstraction and its permanence, and, according to the text, the beauty of dreams all the more so; but Alice, despite and perhaps for her similarity to these rushes, doesn't notice, distracted as she is by everything else, their wilting.
  • What do you make of the egg and the trees?


  1. The egg seems to represent chasing after something that will always elude you. Between the general themes of the books and the use of an egg in particular, I'm wondering if it's youth.

    I think that my favorite part of this chapter is imagining 6 impossible things before breakfast. So optimistic.

  2. This chapter has always been one of my very favorite from the Alice books. It's creepy, it's hopeful, it's optimistic, it's sad. It's got everything. Very meaty.

  3. It might be my favorite so far, too. I didn't say anything because I wasn't sure if you liked it.

  4. Alice chasing the egg is a perfect example of what I see as Carroll's projection of self onto and into everything, and which also tells me he's only marginally aware of it, if at all. Of course, it's possible to look at the moment as a desire for Alice to hold more desperately--or lure her back--to her youth. And as I write this, I wonder if Carroll would have any desire to return to youth. To be with his friends from within his friends' own perspective of age and maturity.... Actually, I expect he prefers his adult role, in which case those first sentences probably are inaccurate, and it is about Alice maintaining youth....

    What do you think?

  5. By the way, I still see Carroll's self-projections elsewhere. Maybe I'll be able to talk myself out them as well.

  6. Of all the chapters, this one feels most like the confinement I imagine a pawn might experience within a single square on a chess board. Everything is arbitrary, and there's essentially nothing to do but think/meditate and learn about one's self and/or puzzle out the mysteries of life. Or maybe pick some fragrant rushes.

    Also, the title of this chapter is perhaps one of the best. I wonder if there are indications buried within its perfect alliteration and cadence.

  7. I'm not sure that it's age to which Carroll objects. It's the silliness that accompanies it. If one could find a way to maintain his imagination and individuality while procuring the advantages of adulthood, then it might even be better than childhood. But most people can't.

  8. I think you're right. I can't imagine that Carroll rejects his age or objects to it at all, but how others his age handle it. Clearly it's is in adults that he sees the silliness. Well put.


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