A Lesson From Lewis Carroll


We have no way of obtaining knowledge of the workings of the mind of the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Jan. 27, 1832-Jan. 14, 1898), better known by the pen name Lewis Carroll. What we do know astounds us. Some of the most intriguing and controversial literature in the history of English language came from his pen. It is probably no exaggeration to state that "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is one of the most recognizable titles in all of English literature, closely followed by, "Through the Looking Glass," and "The Jabberwocky."

All are wildly fantastical, verging on psychotropic "Trips." There is speculation that the Reverend Dodgson was under the influence of mind-influencing drugs when he penned these immortal writings. He would not be the first or the only author to attract such claims.

Regardless, his images and characters stick in our minds and strongly attract our attempts at understanding as if they represent a sort of Rosetta Stone for de-coding human behavior for either good or ill. One cannot read his stories or poems phlegmatically. They have a power to seduce, to influence conclusions, to require the taking of sides, to beg involvement. Who does this character represent? What is this situation saying about social conditions or attitudes?

The over-riding influence is to conclude that something very central and significant is being portrayed in his writings. Yet, his own word, "Jabberwocky" may, indeed, be a clue that one should not bet the farm on any one interpretation of his intentions or revelations. Is he leading us toward the profound, or is he showing us our hubris in assuming essential meaning in our interactions?

"Mad as a March Hare" is a term widely used. It pre-dates Lewis Carroll, and it refers to the observation of the behavior of hares and/or rabbits in the countryside of England during a long mating season beginning in March of each year. This bizarre behavior was commonly chronicled, and became ingrained in the lexicon of early English vocabulary.

Whether the phrase had an influence on Carroll is unknown.

I believe a case can be made, however, that the Reverend Dodgson, hiding behind his famous pen name, was, indeed, attempting to show his readers the pretentious and supercilious nature of an "enlightened" late 19th century attitude. Taking oneself very seriously, one's country, one's place in society, was powerful stuff in that day, and not to be trivialized. Perhaps if one was "Mad as a Hatter," one could not be held totally responsible for comparing social behavior to the fantastic displays of the furry creatures.

The fact that Dodgson stuttered terribly and was extremely shy (preventing him from taking formal vows as a priest) no doubt led him to find an outlet for his feelings. As Lewis Carroll, he could vent his frustrations and portray his disdain for a distorted, shallow social order. The piercing satire is, after all, evident if one puts it into context. In any event, the sheer intractable "looniness" of his immortal writing is so compelling that it stands as its own fortress.

Why does any of this matter? It most likely will have no influence whatsoever in any present day event or interest.

March is at hand though, and it's also a fervent time in politics. One hears claims and charges from every pulpit. Hubris is demanded of those pleading for our devotion. Our favorite must show unequivocally that he/she is ordained to lead us to a greater heritage. No claim is too outrageous.

Generally speaking, we "throw the rascals out" about every four to eight years and replace them with new rascals. The political process grinds all but the most unique specimens into rascals after a while. Besides, my champion is your rascal, isn't he/she?

We all want to believe in the ability of a great leader to take us to "The Promised Land." Like Charlie Brown, we run to kick that football every time with absolute confidence. It is to our credit that we somehow never lose the innocence and hope.

Lewis Carroll has admonished us, though, "beware the Jabberwocky."

Let's pray that whoever is elected this year can deliver the goods.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.