31.Charles Dodgson, a mathematician at Christ Church, Oxford, first told his surreal story Alice's
Adventures in Wonderland to the daughters of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church, as they rowed
down the Thames. After the boating trip, 10-year-old Alice Liddell badgered Dodgson to write it down
and Alice in Wonderland—under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll—was born.
31 The Cheshire Cat disappears leaving only the enigmatic grin behind. Alice drinks potions
and eats pieces of mushroom to change her physical state. The caterpillar smokes an elaborate water pipe.
The whole atmosphere of the story is so profoundly disjointed from reality—surely drugs must have had
an influence? After all this was the era of legal opium use.
32 “When the men on the chessboard get up / And tell you where to go / And you’ve just had
some kind of mushroom / And your mind is moving low / Go ask Alice, I think she'll know.” The Matrix
provides a film reference point. “You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and
believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you
how deep the rabbit hole goes.”
But the experts are usually skeptical. 33 “The notion that the surreal aspects of the text are the
consequence of drug-fuelled dreams resonates with a culture, particularly perhaps in the 60s, 70s and 80s
when LSD was widely-circulated and even now where recreational drugs are commonplace,” says Dr.
Heather Worthington, Children's Literature lecturer at Cardiff University.
“It is the deviant aspects that continue to fascinate because the text is unusual, innovative, and hard
to grasp, so turning to the author offers simplicity and excitement simultaneously.” 34 In a recent
issue of Prospect magazine, Richard Jenkyns, professor of the classical tradition at Oxford University,
called Alice in Wonderland “probably the most purely child-centered book ever written” and said that its
only purpose “is to give pleasure.”
Yet another narrative imposed on the book is the idea of grappling with a sense of self. 35
“Perhaps that's why his book refers to ‘morality’ in jeering terms,” suggests Woolf. “And the action
takes place either underground or in a world which is the opposite of our own.”
~ 3 ~
We can't ever truly know what Carroll intended or if he meant to write anything beyond an
enchanting children's story. Ultimately, perhaps it's more enjoyable for the full intentions of the author to
remain unknown during the reading of the book.
(A) The mushroom is “magic” only in the context of the story. And the caterpillar is merely smoking
tobacco through a hookah.
(B) Since the 1960s there has been a trend for readers to identify an underlying drug theme in the book.
(C) Carroll wasn’t thought to have been a recreational user of opium or laudanum, and the references
may say more about the people making them than the author.
(D) Jefferson Airplane's 1967 psychedelic anthem White Rabbit runs with the drug theme.
(E) To many modern minds, a man who regularly formed friendships with young girls is inherently
(AB) Carroll led a very controlled existence, struggling with self-identity, a recurring theme in the book
as Alice regularly expresses uncertainty about who she is after she enters Wonderland.