"Alice in Wonderland" & "Through the Looking Glass" Summary

by Goody Clairenstein

"Alice in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass" are inventive 19th-century novels by Lewis Carroll.

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"Alice in Wonderland" is the common abbreviated title of Lewis Carroll's famous 1865 novel, "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." Its sequel, "Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There," was published in 1871 and enjoyed even greater commercial success. Where the first book plays with logic and spatial awareness, the sequel employs mirror imagery and symbolism, in addition to relying on the rules of the game of chess to give the book much of its structure.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Beginning

"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" is considered an excellent example of the literary nonsense genre -- Carroll invented many words and nursery rhymes to weave into the absurd storyline, making the book a perennial favorite with children and adults alike. The book begins with Alice sitting on a riverbank with her older sister. Alice sees a white rabbit running frantically by with a pocket watch. She decides to follow the rabbit, and falls down a rabbit hole, finding herself at the bottom in a room filled with several locked doors. She finds a small key for a door too small for her to fit, but through the window she can see a beautiful garden. She drinks the contents of a bottle labeled "DRINK ME," which causes her to shrink to a size that would permit her to pass through the small door. However, Alice eats a cake marked "EAT ME," and grows so large her head bumps the ceiling of the room. As she cries unhappily, her tears flood the room, but she shrinks again after picking up a particular fan. Other animals are washed away by the ocean of Alice's tears, and they wash up on a bank, where they discuss how to become dry. Alice frightens them off by talking about her pet cat.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Middle

The white rabbit appears again, on a frenzied search for the Duchess' gloves and fan. He spots Alice and mistakes her for Mary Ann, his maid, ordering her to go into his house and find the items. Alice enters and begins growing, quickly becoming too large for the house and compromising its structural integrity. Horrified, the rabbit panics, and animals gather to stare at Alice's enormous physique. They throw pebbles at her, which turn into small cakes upon impact; Alice eats them, and shrinks down to normal size. Alice then meets a caterpillar smoking a hookah, filled with a sedating drug that appears to be similar to opium. The caterpillar tells Alice that one side of the mushroom he is sitting on will make her taller, and the other side will make her smaller. Alice breaks off a section of each side of the mushroom. After experimenting with different heights, Alice comes upon a small estate, where she sees a footman deliver an invitation for the Duchess of the house. Alice enters the house to find the Duchess, her baby, and the cook, whose cooking causes everyone to sneeze. The Duchess hands her baby to Alice, whereupon it turns into a pig. The Cheshire cat appears and directs her to the March Hare's home.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: End

On her way to find the March Hare, Alice becomes an unwitting guest at an impromptu tea party with the March Hare, the Mad Hatter and a sleeping Dormouse. They bombard her with riddles and inform her that time for them has been stuck at six o'clock (tea time) forever. Alice leaves, angry and annoyed. Alice comes upon a garden where playing cards are painting white rosebushes red to avoid the wrath of the Queen of Hearts. The King, Queen, and white rabbit appear, and the Queen commands "Off with his head!" at the slightest provocation from her subjects. The Queen meets Alice and commands her to play croquet, but Alice's mallet is a live and capricious flamingo, making the game virtually impossible to play properly. Alice requests the presence of the Duchess, but her moralizing infuriates the Queen and she is dismissed. The Queen introduces Alice to the Gryphon, who in turn introduces her to the sorrowful Mock Turtle, who tells his tale of woe. While the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle dance the Lobster Quadrille, the Queen takes Alice away to attend a trial, where a knave is accused of stealing tarts. Alice begins growing uncontrollably again, and when she is called to the witness stand, she leaves destruction in her wake, maddening the other animals. Alice is ordered to leave, but refuses; a heated debate begins, and the novel ends as Alice's sister wakes her by brushing leaves from her face and calling her to tea.

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There: Beginning

Playing with her small pet cats indoors on a snowy evening, Alice wonders what it's like on the reverse side of a mirror's reflection. To her surprise, she discovers she can enter the mirror in the room and steps into an alternative universe, in which the chess pieces have come to life. She finds a volume of mirror-written poetry called "Jabberwocky," which she can decipher only by holding it up to the mirror. She exits the house and enters a warm, spring garden with talking flowers. Alice meets the Red Queen, who informs Alice that the entire alternative world is constructed as a chess board. The Red Queen promises to make Alice a queen if she can make her way to the eighth row -- the opposite end of the chess board. When she makes her way to fourth rank, Alice meets Tweedledum and Tweedledee, who recite "The Walrus and the Carpenter." The fat twins taunt Alice and are ultimately scared off by a crow, as the nursery rhyme where they are featured accurately forecasts.

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There: Middle

Alice next encounters the White Queen, with whom she crosses into the fifth rank, whereupon the White Queen turns into a talking sheep. The two find themselves in a small rowboat, and Alice struggles with the oars while the sheep shouts apparently meaningless instructions at her. Upon successfully abandoning the White Queen and reaching the sixth rank, Alice meets Humpty Dumpty, who attempts to interpret the nonsense poem "Jabberwocky." True to the nursery rhyme, "all the king's horses and all the king's men" come to Humpty Dumpty's rescue, accompanied by the Lion and the Unicorn, who proceed to fight. Alice escapes to the seventh rank, but she soon discovers that the Red Knight is determined to capture her, calling her a "white pawn." Alice is rescued by the White Knight. After witnessing the White Knight's clumsy antics, during which he repeatedly falls off his horse, Alice reaches the eighth rank and is automatically crowned Queen.

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There: End

The White and Red Queens are also present in the eighth rank, and after frustrating Alice with their wordplay, they inform her that she is to host a party as the newly crowned queen. Alice arrives at her party and becomes angry with the Red Queen, who she seizes and shakes vigorously. Capturing the Red Queen as such, Alice actually puts the Red King in checkmate, and he awakens from the slumber that he has enjoyed for the length of the book. Alice wakes up with a start to find herself in an armchair with her black and white kittens. Lewis Carroll closes the book with a poetic epilogue suggesting that life itself is nothing more than a dream.

About the Author

Goody Clairenstein has been a writer since 2004. She has sat on the editorial board of several non-academic journals and writes about creative writing, editing and languages. She has worked in professional publishing and news reporting in print and broadcast journalism. Her poems have appeared in "Small Craft Warnings." Clairenstein earned her Bachelor of Arts in European languages from Skidmore College.

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