A Mad Tea Party

 

Today, April 21 is “National Tea Day” in the UK.  It also happens to be the 92nd birthday of Queen Elizabeth II. It seems a day could not be more authentically British. In honor of this I am wishing all my friends in the UK (and tea drinkers everywhere) a Happy National Tea Day!

No tea celebration would be complete without stopping by what is perhaps the most famous tea drinking occasion in history – Alice’s Mad Tea Party.

After chasing the White Rabbit down his hole, Alice encounters the Cheshire Cat,  who tells her she will definitely be meeting up with mad people. It’s unavoidable.  ( “We’re all mad here,” the Cat assures Alice. “I’m mad, you’re mad.”) Alice  asks the Cat how he knows she is mad. “You must be,” he replies, “Or you would not have come here.”

Alice then wanders upon a tea table in the middle of the forest.

There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter were having tea at it: a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head. `Very uncomfortable for the Dormouse,’ thought Alice; `only, as it’s asleep, I suppose it doesn’t mind.’

*** We know right away there is going to be trouble. The March Hare is a wild animal, known for his crazy antics during mating season. The sleeping Dormouse seems pretty benign, but watch out for the Hatter, as they were known at the time to have some mental deficiencies due to mercury exposure involved in the process of making hats.

The table was a large one, but the three were all crowded together at one corner of it: `No room! No room!’ they cried out when they saw Alice coming. `There’s plenty of room!’ said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table.

`Have some wine,’ the March Hare said in an encouraging tone.

Alice looked all round the table, but there was nothing on it but tea. `I don’t see any wine,’ she remarked.

`There isn’t any,’ said the March Hare.

`Then it wasn’t very civil of you to offer it,’ said Alice angrily.

***  Alice is only seven years old. Good thing the Hare did not actually have any wine to offer her. Today he might be arrested for child endangerment.

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, `Why is a raven like a writing-desk?’

*** Again, the mercury exposed Hatter is known to be wacky.

`Come, we shall have some fun now!’ thought Alice. `I’m glad they’ve begun asking riddles.–I believe I can guess that,’ she added aloud.

`Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?’ said the March Hare.

`Exactly so,’ said Alice.

`Then you should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on.

`I do,’ Alice hastily replied; `at least–at least I mean what I say–that’s the same thing, you know.’

`Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter. `You might just as well say that “I see what I eat” is the same thing as “I eat what I see”!’

`You might just as well say,’ added the March Hare, `that “I like what I get” is the same thing as “I get what I like”!’

*** The study of “meaning what you say” and “saying what you mean” is an interesting one. Carroll shows us how just a few words of juxtaposition can give a completely different meaning. Try it yourself, just for fun! “I know who I am — I am who I know? I believe what I see — I see what I believe? We are what we eat — we eat what we are?” Yes, it should drive you a bit mad 🙂

`Have you guessed the riddle yet?’ the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

`No, I give it up,’ Alice replied: `what’s the answer?’

`I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter.

`Nor I,’ said the March Hare.

*** The riddle is never actually solved, but I heard a possible answer: Why is a raven like a writing desk? Because Poe wrote on both.

What follows is a discussion of time in which the Alice states she must beat time in order to learn music. The Hatter insists that time is a ‘he’ not an ‘it’. Furthermore: ‘He won’t stand beating. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he’d do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were nine o’clock in the morning, just time to begin lessons: you’d only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Half-past one, time for dinner!’

Finally Alice can take it no longer. She gets up and leaves.

`At any rate I’ll never go there again!’ said Alice as she picked her way through the wood. `It’s the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!’

Contrary to Alice’s belief (and providing we don’t dine with Hatters) more tea drinking would probably be good for us. Tea is full of anti-oxidants and is known to boost our immune systems. According to sage wisdom, tea with honey is great for soothing sore throats. Besides that, many cultures celebrate tea drinking with particular rituals and ceremonies.

A tea ceremony is like a meditation — time set aside for rest and contemplation. In fact, tea drinking could probably bring about more civility, peace and sanity for us all.

Whatever you do today, take some time out to enjoy a nice cup of tea 🙂

a mad tea

 

 

 

 

 

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Happy Birthday Lewis Carroll

 

Lewis Carroll

Today we celebrate the life of Lewis Carroll, best known for his books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass.  He was an author, mathematician, Oxford don, part time babysitter, photographer, inventor, and a bit of an all-around inscrutable person.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you already know of my big obsession with Alice in Wonderland. I have long been fascinated by its white rabbits, mirrors, painted rosebushes, flamingo croquet, and the man who brought all these tales to life.

His given name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, but I will call him Lewis, since he is best known by his pen name Lewis Carroll. He was born on January 27, 1832 in Daresbury, Cheshire, England.  Yes, Cheshire! No evidence as to whether or not he had a cat 🙂

Cheshire_Cat

Carroll’s father was a conservative minister in the Church of England, one in a long line of Dodgson men who had respectable positions in the Anglican clergy. Lewis was home-schooled until the age of twelve and developed an early love for reading amd writing. He attended grammar school at Rugby in Warwickshire, and began study at Oxford University in 1850.  He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics and graduated with high honors.  In 1855 he won the Mathematical Lectureship for the college of Christ Church at Oxford, which he held for the next 26 years.

In 1856, a man named Henry Liddell took a position as Dean at Christ Church. Henry arrived in town with his young family, all of whom would eventually serve to influence Lewis’ writing. Lewis became close friends with  Liddell’s wife Lorina and their children, particularly the three sisters Lorina, Edith, and Alice Liddell.

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It was this Alice Liddell who served as the inspiration and namesake for the fictional Alice.  Lewis frequently took the children on outings. It was on one such outing, a rowing trip, that the girls begged to hear a story; the result eventually became Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

It is said that Carroll never intended to publish Alice’s adventures, but his friend, fairy-tale author George MacDonald convinced him to do so after Macdonald’s own children read the stories and and loved them. Good thing they did! Can’t imagine a world without Alice.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published in 1865. The book quickly became an international hit, and was liked and promoted by Queen Victoria herself! In 1871, Carroll published the sequel Through the Looking-Glass. The Alice books are still among the most popular in the world. Reportedly they are also among the most quoted, second only to the Bible and Shakespeare.  And many of those quotes are really phenomenal, full of wisdom and humor.  Some of my favorites:

“I’m afraid I can’t explain myself, sir. Because I am not myself, you see?”

“I give up,” Alice replied. “What’s the answer?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea,” said the Hatter. 

“I wish the creatures wouldn’t be so easily offended,” Alice thought to herself.

“Shall I never get any older than I am now? That will be a comfort, in one way — never to be an old woman. But then — always to have lessons to learn? Oh, I shouldn’t like THAT!” 

“How am I to get in?” asked Alice. “Are you to get in AT ALL?” said the Footman. “That’s the first question, you know.”  It was, no doubt; only Alice did not like to be told so.

“Well, now that we have seen each other,” said the unicorn, “if you’ll believe in me, I’ll believe in you.”

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Lewis Carroll was also an amateur photographer. He ran in artistic circles with pre-Raphaelites Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Christina Rossetti, William Holman Hunt, John Everett Millais, and photographer Julia Margaret Cameron.

He took this photo of Alice Liddell. dated 1868. Alice would have been about six.

Alice LIddell

Years later, Julia Margaret Cameron photographed the grown up Alice.

Alice LIddell 2

Despite the fact that the Alice books brought him fame and fortune, Carroll never left his position as don at Oxford. Other than traveling a bit throughout Europe, he seems to have lived modestly. He wrote a few more books — The Hunting of the Snark, a fantastical “nonsense” poem, and Sylvie and Bruno, a fairy tale which satirized English society. Neither had the astounding success of the Alice stories. He also wrote several treatises  on mathematics, which he published under his real name, Charles Dodgson. His writings included works of geometry, linear and matrix algebra, mathematical logic and recreational mathematics. Yes, complicated stuff!

Carroll/ Dodgson’s mathematical contributions are noteworthy. Apparently, he was exploring The Matrix long before Keanu Reeves.

matrix

At Oxford he developed a theory known as the “Dodgson Condensation”, a method of evaluating mathematical determinants and patterns within equations. His work attracted renewed interest in the late 20th century when mathematicians Martin Gardner and William Warren Bartley reevaluated his  contributions to symbolic logic. This led them to the “Alternating Sign Matrix” conjecture, now a theorem. The discovery  of additional ciphers that Carroll had constructed showed that he had employed sophisticated mathematical ideas in their creation.  Perhaps he understood that through mathematics and chemistry, humankind may eventually reach the kind of alternate worlds he created for Alice.

alice matrix

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

Lewis Carroll died of pneumonia on 14 January 1898 at the age of 65.

Some Fun Facts:

  • He was one of eleven children, the oldest son
  • As a young child, he suffered a fever which left him deaf in one ear
  • He was six feet tall — really tall by Victorian standards.
  • A self- deprecating guy, he often referred to himself as “the dodo” and is said to have modeled the Dodo in Alice after himself!
  • In actuality he was hardly a dodo, more like a near genius.
  • He invented the earliest version of Scrabble — a type of word ladder in which the words were changed by adding one letter.
  • He was an ordained deacon of the Anglican Church.
  • Don’t let the stoic pictures fool you. Although he never married, his letters and diary entries indicate he had relationships with several women, both married and single, which would have been considered “scandalous” by Victorian standards.

 

Happy Birthday Lewis!

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An Analysis of Alice

 

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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!

 

 

Rhetorics and Politics

 

 

Alice court pd

That’s a bit out of your depth, don’t you think? 

Ever hear that voice? The one that says  Oh  no.  Not you.                                                                      Not good enough not smart enough                                                                                                      who the hell                                                                                                                                                    do you think you are                                                                                                                                  that YOU                                                                                      

 should be allowed to do THAT

 

They will tell you all kinds of things. Philosophy, theosophy                                                       Nietzsche and Sartre                                                                                                                                    Kant and Descartes.                                                                                                                                   Rousseau and Plato.                                                                                                                                   constitution institution politics and rhetorics

But in the end

They are nothing

but a pack of cards.

 

alice cards 2 pd

 

This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Depth

 

Confessions of an Anglophile on 4th of July

 

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This blog was inspired by Tony Burgess’ post Happy Treason Day, Ungrateful Colonists!

Treason day indeed…  Now don’t get me wrong. I love apple pie and freedom just as much as the next guy.  But truth be told, I often do feel like a treasonous American.  All my life I have been an Anglophile and felt a bit out of place here in my home country. I  blame it on Shakespeare. Or more specifically, Franco Zeffirelli. I saw  his Romeo and Juliet movie when I was a little girl.  I then became obsessed with England, Shakespeare, and all things Elizabethan.

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I also blame it on Lewis Carroll, his tales of Alice, powerful queens, rabbit holes and  mad tea parties.

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Oh yeah, and I really blame it on the Rolling Stones!  Once they hit town I was completely hooked, sold, crossed over.  A total traitor to the New World 🙂

Rolling-Stones-live-1972

 

When I was 17 I got my chance to go to the UK for the first time. It was my senior class trip,  a memory I still hold dearly.  First time to see Stonehenge, the Tower and those stoic soldiers who never blink an eye.  First time to ride the Tube and hang out in pubs with scruffy backpackers from all over Europe.   Since then, whenever I could scrape together enough money, I’d hop a plane and head back to England. I still love everything about the place — the gardens, the cobblestone streets. And especially the pretty cottages where I’d love to live one day.

countrycottages

 

I have been fortunate enough to visit the stomping grounds of all my heroes. Oxford, Canterbury, Stratford,  Liverpool, Abbey Road.  Over the years friends have gravitated to me who were just as Anglophilian as myself. We have theories that all of us have lived past lives in England, which I am certain is true.

This always made me feel a bit guilty.  American by birth but British in my heart.  Since the Revolution, other wars (specifically WWI and II) have brought England and the U.S. together, inextricably bound against our common enemies.

Now I hear that England has left the EU. We shall see where this decision will lead them, but one thing is for sure: they are marching to the beat of a different drum, just like their sons and daughters of the American Colonies. Maybe we are not so different after all.  As for me, I will always embrace America, the land of my birth. But I will also embrace England, the land of my heart, hopes and imagination.

lavendar england public domain

Hope everyone had a safe, sane and fantastic Fourth!

 

 

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?

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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