10/6 Mad Hatter Day!

 

The Mad Hatter has always been a beloved character, and a bit of a cultural icon. He occupies just a small amount of the Alice stories, but he is one of Lewis Carroll’s most popular inventions. In fact, he is so popular, we even have a day to celebrate him! Today,  October 6, is National Mad Hatter Day.

Why October 6th? Well, if you remember the original Alice illustrations by Sir John Tennial, you might know that there is a slip of paper on the Hatter’s hat that reads: “In this style, 10/6.”

This means the Hatter has an order to make a hat in exactly that style, and it will cost ten shillings and sixpence. (It has nothing to do with October. But then again, Pi has nothing to do with March 14th, and we celebrate Pi Day on 3/14 anyway.)  In U.S. date representation, the month comes first and then the day, so 10/6 means October 6th.

Mad Hatter Day was founded in 1986 by a group of computer programmers in Boulder, Colorado who noticed the “date” on the Hatter’s hat. They thought it would be a good idea to make this a national holiday, and petitioned for it. Although it is not official, Mad Hatter Day is recognized by hat enthusiasts, time travelers, March Hares, and Alice fans worldwide.

But where did the Hatter come from? Was he really mad? And what exactly was his big gripe with Time?

Madness and Mercury

Lewis Carroll did not invent the idea of an insane hat maker solely on his own. The phrase “mad as a hatter” was part of popular jargon as early as 1837, some thirty years before the Alice stories were published. Many real life hatters were known to exhibit erratic, flamboyant behavior, talk to themselves and have mood swings.

What made the Mad Hatters mad?

In the 18th and 19th centuries, hat makers typically used mercury nitrate as part of the process for curing felt.  Exposure to mercury resulted in some weird behavior. Symptoms of mercury poisoning include anxiety, muscle weakness, memory loss, hearing and vision problems, slurred speech, drooling, and diarrhea. Top hats, so popular during the Victorian era, used a great deal of cured felt, so maybe there was a “rise” in madness during the time Carroll wrote Alice. Hence “mad as a hatter” became a popular phrase.

Luckily, use of mercury was eventually banned from the hatting industry. In 1898, laws were passed in Europe that protected hat makers from the risk of exposure. By the 20th century, mercury poisoning among British hat makers had become a rarity. The United States, however, did not ban mercury until 1941, when the Public Health Service deemed it hazardous and finally prohibited its use.

Insane Inventions

Ironically, Carroll is said to have based his Hatter not on a real hat maker, but on a furniture dealer named Theophilus Carter, who was known locally as the Mad Hatter. Carter always wore a top hat. (But apparently not in this picture.)

Carter was an eccentric with some far out ideas, and he produced some wacky inventions. One such invention was  the “Alarm Clock Bed”. This contraption contained a mattress that would tip the sleeper out of bed and into a tub of cold water to wake them up. According to the Virtual Victorian website: “At the appointed hour of alarm, after the sound of ringing bells to wake the ‘modern’ sleeper, an automated mattress tipped and flung the poor wretch from his bed to a bath of cold water  – supposedly refreshed and restored for the brand new day ahead.”

I am not making this up! The bed was actually featured as an attraction in Prince Albert’s Crystal Palace Exhibition, which took place in Hyde Park in 1851. We don’t have a real picture of this notorious thing, but it was thought to look something like this:

The ladder on the bottom would slide the victim into the refreshing tub of “seaside” cold water below.  Yeah, I can see why this invention didn’t take off…

Time Waits For No One

Or does it?

Perhaps it is significant that Carter’s invention involved a clock. Both Lewis Carroll and his Hatter were obsessed with time. As you may recall, at the Mad Tea Party, it was always six o’clock, tea time.

The time never changed, and this was because the Hatter was being punished. It all started at a concert where the Hatter was appointed to sing for the Queen. Halfway through the song, the Queen yelled that the Hatter was “murdering the time!”

As a result, Time would not cooperate with the Hatter.  “And ever after that,” says the Hatter, “he won’t do a thing I ask. It’s always six o’clock now.” (Time, according to the Hatter, is actually a “he” not an “it”.)

At the Tea Party, time stands still. They must keep full table settings all around, as they move from place to place to get clean cups  — because time never changes.

Interestingly, Albert Einstein himself held a point of view similar to the Mad Hatter’s!

Einstein was obsessed with, and distressed by, the conundrum of the present moment, or the “Now”.  According to Einstein, “the experience of the Now means something special for man, something essentially different from the past and the future, but this difference does not, and cannot occur within physics.”

Think about it. It is always Now.  You are reading these words Now, but I am also writing these words Now.  It is always Now. You can’t do anything tomorrow, or yesterday. You can plan or recall, but you cannot act. And what you actually do, you DO RIGHT NOW.  But Einstein tells us the experience of the Now cannot be grasped by science nor explained mathematically! Perhaps the Hatter was right. It was always six o’clock. Because it is always now. 🙂

In his sequel Through the Looking Glass, Carroll puts the Hatter in another unique time experience. Hatta (aka Hatter, in the version also the King’s messenger) is in jail for a crime he has not yet committed. The Queen explains to Alice: “He’s in prison now, being punished, and the trial does not even begin until Wednesday, and of course, the crime comes last of all.”

Alice wonders what will happen if he never commits the crime.

Similarly, the Queen justifies not serving jam. “The rule is jam yesterday, and jam tomorrow, but never jam today.” So they just never have jam. Which is a shame. They should have it NOW.

Crazy, right? But in his book Relativity (1952) Einstein wrote: “Since there exists in this four dimensional structure [space-time] no longer any sections which represent “now” objectively, the concepts of happening and becoming are indeed not completely suspended, but yet complicated. It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence.”

Einstein believed in an undivided solid reality, with no true division between past, present and future. When Einstein’s dearest friend Michele Besso died, Einstein wrote a letter of consolation to Besso’s family, summing up his thoughts:

“Now he has departed from this strange world a little ahead of me. That means nothing. For us physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future only has the meaning of an illusion.”

Lewis Carroll was an Oxford mathematician. I have argued before that he was ahead of his time. Perhaps Carroll was toying with the concept of non-linear time years before Einstein was even born! But then again, it is all in the NOW, so, from that perspective, one CANNOT BE “ahead of one’s time.” 

This is clearly a holiday worth celebrating! To make the most of Mad Hatter Day, you might want to:

Drink tea!

Wear hats!

Re-read the Alice stories.

Watch some Alice movies.

Ponder Einstein and time. Do it NOW 🙂 No time like the present. Or wait a minute… (CAN  we wait a minute??) See what I did there?

Have a great Mad Hatter’s Day!

 

 

 

 

 

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Mirrors

 

mirror 3

They fuse our vanity with imperfection, reflecting bone hair skin

undeciphered as we preen

fuss, adjust every eyelash every detail

and yet

fall prey to an astounding

disconnect.

 

Caught perpendicular, a grim imitation, false

replication

passed like alchemy though glass, copper, halide

and silver, a vast shattering

We are not

what we Are.

mirror 4

 

 

An Analysis of Alice

 

Alice vogue

I am a huge Lewis Carroll fan.  The Alice stories (In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) are among the best ever written. To my thinking, they are worthy of analyzing and revisiting many times over, always with something new to be discovered.

Because the original work is presented with a good deal of abstract symbolism, readers often misunderstand, or are completely baffled by the text. (Especially if they are trying to decipher it on an adult level.)  Hence, film makers tend to go ‘over the top’, often presenting the story with a lot of bells and whistles that were not included in the original story. (Tim Burton and Disney both did this.)

It is, at its core, a story about questioning authority. Carroll pokes fun at just about every Victorian institution. His attack at  child rearing, for example, is evident in the fate of the baby that turns into a pig.

Alice pig

He pokes fun at the school system, evident in the ‘reeling and writhing’ classes of the mock turtle. He makes fun of he British monarchy (‘Off with her head’ is a reference to its once frequent be-headings.)

Alice flamingo

The War of the Roses is also mocked, with the servants painting roses from white to red (representing York and Lancaster dynasties.) The court system is criticized in the Knave of Hearts’ trial. There is a message about being controlled by schedules in the rabbit’s obsession with his watch and the idea of ‘beating time’.

The Alice books show a test of one’s ability to adapt. Alice finds herself in the strangest of circumstances and tries her best to fit in. In the end she discovers the Wonderland creatures are ‘nothing but a pack of cards’ and thus no better than she herself. (Lower than she herself actually…)

As in any quest for knowledge, and as is frequently the experience of one ‘growing up’, Alice often becomes ‘too big’ for her own surroundings.

Alice house

She may be terrified at the changes within her own mind and body – frequently the experience of adolescents and young adults. And yet, as the frog footmen, the lizards and rabbits scurry about, Alice is aware of their silliness, much in the same way an enlightened being becomes aware of the triviality of the world.

Perhaps most importantly, the books teach self actualization. Alice is frustrated, but in the end she realizes her nuanced opinions have some validity. Her experience is just as important as anyone  else’s.

No wonder Wonderland became so popular!  First published in 1865, it has never been out of print. The first fans of the Alice books included Queen Victoria and Oscar Wilde.  The Alice books are also reportedly the most quoted books in the English language, right up there with the Bible and the works of Shakespeare.

Carroll was among the first to use a dream sequence in a novel — a technique that became more popular with the work of Sigmund Freud in the early 20th century. Today dream sequence in film is almost passe’. We have seen it a hundred times, and it is frequently uses as a cliffhanger, or to ‘trick’ the viewer.  But back then it was certainly innovative.

Ironically, although Carroll is frequently accused of drug use, the kinds of drugs they associate him with were not discovered until much later. For example, ‘magic mushrooms’ were discovered in 1955, and LSD was first synthesized in 1938, which I guess proves that Carroll had a brilliant imagination.

alice mushroom

So, forget Tim Burton and all other fabrications. Here I give you a movie which is actually very close in sentiment to the Real Alice!

This 1972 film, directed by William Sterling, captures the intent of Lewis Carroll. Using most of the book’s original dialogue, script writing owes credit to Carroll as well as Sterling. The talented cast includes Fiona Fullerton, Dudley Moore and Peter Sellers.

Although the film is lacking in super-duper mind blowing special effects (it was, after all, made in 1972 on a limited budget) it nonetheless does a great job of capturing Carroll’s  ideas.

Running time is about 1 hour 30 minutes. Hope you get a chance to watch it!

 

 

Go Ask Alice

 

Alice-Through-the-Looking-Glass-Trailer-Mia-Wasikowska-1024x518

“When logic and proportion   

Have fallen sloppy dead

And the white knight is walking backwards

And the Red Queen’s lost her head

Remember what the dormouse said.”

Can we change history by traveling back in time?  This very interesting question is posed in the new movie Alice Through The Looking Glass.  At first glance you might think this is a kid’s film, but don’t be fooled; this is actually a quite complicated story that will most appeal to adults and fantasy/ sci fi fans.

A Steam-punk  Alice (Mia Wasikowska)  is captain of The Wonder, her deceased father’s ship, circa 1870.   After three years out at sea, Alice returns to her home town to find her life in shambles.  The evil Hamish  has taken over her father’s company. Her mother’s fortune is in jeopardy and  Alice must give her up her beloved ship, resign as captain and take a boring job as a desk clerk.

In a moment of confusion Alice retreats to the parlor and follows a butterfly through the mirror. She then lands in Underland where the real trouble begins.

Alice_through_the_looking_glass

Alice’s best friend the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp)  has gone into a state of depression regarding his family and painful past incidents.   Alice is given a mission by the  White Queen (Anne Hathaway)  to travel back in time in order to change situations that have created grief —  not only for the Hatter, but for many other characters. People in general. You and me probably…

Anne_Hatheway_as_White_Queen_(Through_the_Looking_Glass)

Everyone knows the Grandfather Theory regarding time travel. That is — if you travel back in time and kill your grandfather, you could never be born (because Grandpa wasn’t around to  sire your father, hence your father could not sire you.) Which would also mean you would not be there to time travel in the first place. Which would mean time travel is impossible.

Quantum physicists, however,  have recently made some new discoveries, and are now theorizing that there may actually be as many as eleven different dimensions, through some of which time travel would be possible. Your grandfather  is thus existing in a completely different dimension of space and time. Kill him in one dimension and he still is alive in another. Yes, kind of like Schrodinger’s cat. (This based upon Einstein’s theory and the Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum physics, suggesting that particles can exist in two separate states, depending upon a conditional variable and how it is observed.)

 

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“Logic and proportion have fallen sloppy dead.”   Or have they?

lewis_carroll_quote

Back to the movie!  Alice’s mission involves stealing the magic chrono-meter, which can enable her to travel through time, but can also basically destroy the world if it falls into the wrong hands.  And you know it WILL fall into the wrong hands.  Enter the evil Red Queen (Helena Bohman Carter).

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Time incarnate  (Sasha Baron Cohen) is an actual person, or maybe a robot of sorts — like I said,  this is all very Steam-punkish.   He has some really cool supernatural blue  eyes.   See this movie in 3D for an awesome surreal experience!  Psychedelic gardens, a talking butterfly, weird-funky hats and variety of time pieces which determine one’s death. Plus a disappearing cat. (No coincidence there, Schrodinger.)

I am a HUGE fan of the original Alice in Wonderland  books. This movie, however, has absolutely nothing to do with the  books.  Do not expect a replica of Carroll’s tales.   What the writers have done is create a new, thought provoking story revolving around the original characters.

Lewis Carroll was a mathemetician. He was actually an Oxford professor of mathematics, interested in time travel, the subconscious mind, photography and mirror imagery, as well as storytelling and poetry.    Alice Through The Looking Glass keeps the magical sentiment of Carroll’s original books and also stays true to the provocative questions he had in mind when he wrote them.

lewis carroll quote

I absolutely LOVED this movie.  If you are a fan of fantasy, time travel, Steam-punk or sci fi I think you will like it too.  Oh yeah, and the voice of the butterfly iis the late great Alan Rickman in probably his last performance. Which is somehow poetically and metaphorically correct…

Here is a picture of the real Alice Liddell, inspiration for the books. When in doubt, go ask Alice, or perhaps go ask Lewis.  In any case, Feed Your Head  🙂

Alice_Liddell_2