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In Lewis Carroll’s classics, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, kings and queens appear embodied in animated playing cards and chessmen. But are they really only “a pack of cards” (Carroll 72) and ordinary chess figures in the eyes of Alice, the heroine of the two books, or does she take them seriously? And if she takes the kings and queens seriously, why doesn’t she always treat them as adult-authorities as one might have expected from a Victorian girl? The idea suggests itself that it was Carroll’s intention to draw a satirical picture of the Victorian monarchy because Queen Victoria’s popularity was no longer at it’s height when he wrote the Alice books. But according to the author himself, his chief motive was to “please a child (he) loved” (Carroll, AotS). Here Lewis Carroll is referring to a girl named Alice Liddell to whom he told Alice’s adventures before he later wrote them for publication. Indeed, Lewis Carroll had an exceptional knowledge of the child’s mind and could thus create a unique fairytale, as the author himself calls his narrative, which is still considered a children’s classic today. How do the kings and queens in the two Alice books then contribute to the success of Carroll’s works of Alice and Wonderland and Through The Looking-Glass ?
This paper is an attempt to answer the questions mentioned above and thus find out more about the role of the monarchy in the two Alice books. My research will mainly be based on the original text and quotes from the author himself.
Alice’s adventures begin when the curious little girl follows a “white rabbit with pink eyes” down a rabbit-hole, “never once considering how in the world she was to get out again” (Carroll 10). At the end of her fall, Alice enters a dream world full of curious creatures and characters. But as Alice feels as if she were “in the middle of” (Carroll 33) a fairytale, she is ready to take all the characters seriously and deal with them as if they were real people. It is not until the end that she realises that all the characters have merely been part of her “wonderful dream” (Carroll 110). On her journey through Wonderland Alice also meets the King and Queen of Hearts. Soon Alice finds out that getting along with the two monarchs happens to be particularly challenging.
Alice doesn’t meet the Royalty until Chapter XIII when she is invited to the Queen’s croquet-ground. At first Alice overhears a conversation of three of her majesty’s gardeners. Alice finds out that the Queen thinks people deserve to be beheaded for little trifles like “bringing the cook tulip-roots instead of onions” (Carroll 69) or for not planting a red rose-tree and “(putting) a white one in by mistake” (Carroll 69). Carroll knew that children with their strong sense for justice would immediately notice that the Queen of Hearts treats people unjustly.
Furthermore, Lewis Carroll probably expected Alice Liddell, the little girl whom he told the story of Alice before it was published, to notice the parallel in English History, since he had a knowledge of what the children were learning at school. Queen Margaret wanted to maintain the Lancastrian monarchy and not share her power with the Duke of York. This event is reflected by The Queen of Heart’s wish to have all the white roses in the garden painted red. (Carroll 257).
“THE KING AND QUEEN OF HEARTS” (Carroll 70) arrive in a spectacular parade accompanied by their entire court. The author stresses the great power of the monarchs by printing their names in capitals although they are all but part of a set of playing cards: “oblong and flat, with their hands and feet at the corners” (Carroll 70). With this technique Carroll can make clear that the Royalty possess a certain authority. At the same time he enables Alice to question the absolute power of the monarchs. The three gardeners throw “themselves flat on their faces” (Carroll 70), for fear of this “blind and aimless Fury”, as Lewis Carroll described the Queen in Alice on the Stage.
Alice, however, is not very intimidated by the Royal family’s pompous arrival. Unlike the silly servants, Alice always “tries to maintain her mental activity” (Lucas 159), meaning that she questions things that seem to be absurd or illogical. Considering the possible rule of having to lie down on your face during a procession useless, she simply “(stands) where she (is) and (waits)” (Carroll 71).
When Alice is asked to introduce herself to the Queen, she responds in a very polite manner. Being a girl of the Victorian Age, she has certainly been taught to be corteous when addressed by a stranger, especially when addressed by someone her superior. Her reaction can furthermore be explained by assuming that she is a little afraid of the cruel Queen. But the wise Alice knows how to overcome her fear. In order to encourage herself Alice thus says to herself: “Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all” (Carroll 72).
Alice, having realised that the Queen treats people rudely and unfairly, at last succeeds in contradicting the “savage” (Carroll 83) woman. At the Queens remark “Off with her head”, Alice simply shouts out “Nonsense” (Carroll 72) and thus shuts the Queen up. As Judith Bloomingdale expresses in an article, Alice “speaks for all children who are threatened by adults with unjust punishments” (Phillips 384).