Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist

Through The Looking-Glass

Through the Looking-Glass is an autumn tale.  While Alice dozes in front of the fire with her cat and kittens the boys are building a bonfire outside- presumably for Guy Fawkes night. And it's snowing. Snow in early November? Well, why not? Perhaps someone somewhere has looked at the weather records for Oxford in the mid-19th century and can tell us exactly which year this is.

The dimness of snowy November informs the book. We are in dark woods (like Dante) a whole lot of the time. Things are often blurry and hard to see. In the railway carriage we know there's a horse on the seat opposite- beyond the man in white paper and the goat- but we can't see him; in the shop a shapechanging object evades our direct view and eventually disappears upwards through the ceiling. The rushes that Alices pick fade away. A note of valediction and loss is constantly being sounded. The sorrowful gnat sighs itself into oblivion, the fawn- in an allegory of lost innocence- leaps away in alarm when it realises its loving companion is a human child; we pause for reflection as the White Knight- the most loveable character in either book- rides slowly away.

Where Wonderland ripples with anxiety, Through the Looking-Glass is pervaded with quiet melancholy. Alice herself is older and less threatened. We know from the start- when she is invisible and messing with the little chess people-  that she is the controlling intelligence- that this is her dream.

Or is it? How cruel of the Tweedles to suggest that it may in fact be the red king who is dreaming her! This is a deeper fear than any in Wonderland. The sadness rests upon existential dread. Look again, and the book is haunted by death- the jabberwock is cut down, the gnat is extinguished, the oysters are massacred, Humpty Dumpty will fall and be smashed- and all the king's horses and all the king's men won't be able to put him "in his place again".

I love both books, but Through The Looking-Glass best-  because it moves me more. 


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