A Chinese Alice Scholar Invites You To Judge: Is This An Illustration Of A Wedding?

One of the great mysteries of Lewis Carroll’s(Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s life) is precisely what was his relationship with Alice Pleasance Liddell, Dean Liddell’s winsome daughter.  Glancing through Charles’s photographs, we see a young girl with short-cropped dark hair and piercing eyes.  There is a particularly striking picture of her as “The Beggar Maid” in torn costume with somewhat downcast eyes.  Tenniel, of course, drew Alice as light-haired in both of the Alice books.  Was this to draw attention away from the real Alice.  Also, Alice in the two books never ages, while the real Alice Liddell aged from 13 to 19.

Alice was only 10 when Charles first told her and her sisters, Edith and Lorena, about Alice’s adventures underground.  It was Alice, herself, who insisted on Charles writing down his entertaining story.

Dodgson was a welcome guest at the Liddell’s home along with their governess, Miss Prickett.  He grew to know both her sisters and their friends.  But at some point, he was no longer welcome.  Unfortunately, there is no mention in his diaries as to the reason for the sudden change and that has led to much speculation.  Was Charles enamored of Alice?

In the concluding verse of Alice Through the Looking Glass, Alice is highlighted so that when the initial letters of each line are read downwards, her full name appears.  This last verse deals with the passage of time, and Alice was 19 at the time and no longer a young girl.  The references to the special boat trip in July of 1862 are particularly poignant:

Long has paled that sunny sky;

Echoes fade and memories die;

Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,

Alice moving under skies

Never seen by waking eyes.

Now enters a Chinese Alice scholar:  Howard Chang.  He is the writer of Well in the Rabbit Hole:  A New and Closer Look at Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  Not being satisfied with several points made in Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice:  The Definitive Edition, he asks us to look at a familiar Tenniel illustration of the awarding of a thimble to Alice by the Dodo.  Gardner saw the thimble as having to do with taxes that were taken and then returned as projects.  But Howard did not agree.  He did some research into Victorian customs, and found that the thimble was a common object for little girls(since they learned to do needle work when quite young) and was also the subject of a game:  Find the Thimble.  But, to Howard Chang, the thimble represents a wedding ring and he asks us to look at the illustration again with the following in mind:  Dodgson was a stutterer and often called himself Dodo;  the Duck was a pet name for the Rev. Robinson Duckworth;  the Lory and the Eaglet represent Alice’s two sisters, Lorena and Edith.  He argues that “the arrangement of the characters conforms perfectly to what we usually find in a wedding ring exchange ceremony.”  So, what do you think?  Is the illustration below a depiction of a wedding ceremony in disguise that shows Charles’s deep feelings for Alice?Alice 1

The Special World Of Piet Hein, Part 1.

Martin Gardner, Scientific American–Piet Hein has one of those rare and psychologically mysterious minds, possessed by so many great creative scientists such as Einstein and Niels Bohr, a mind that goes straight to the heart of a problem, seeing all its aspects as a single unity, then finding a solution that is as unexpected as it is beautiful.

TAUGHT from Grooks VII:

We are taught to live,

we are taught to feel.

We are taught to conform and conceal.

We are taught so well

what we

ought to feel

that we cannot feel what we feel.

The Dane Piet Hein was the inventor of the super ellipse. a respected mathematician, an activist in the Danish underground and the creator of grooks.  Grooks are aphoristic verses accompanied by a light-hearted and often humorous drawing.  Grooks often have several levels of meaning with philosophical overtones.  They have been declared in public places, set to music, and quoted extensively in Danish papers.  Piet Hein was enormously popular in the U.S. in the 1970s, but has since faded from view.  His Grooks, which were once commonplaces on University bookshelves, are more difficult to obtain.  Piet Hein himself translated his seven volumes of Grooks into English with the assistance of Jens Arup.  However, out of about 10,000 grooks, somewhat less than 400 have been translated into English. What a colossal loss for English readers as the following article will show.  Nils Aas wrote one of the few articles about Piet Hein, concentrating exclusively on grooks.  Roger Stevenson, Professor of Modern Languages at Southern Oregon University, provided the translation of this brief, but highly informative article. The * parenthetical comments are mine.


“If reason could be formulated as some kind of wonderful ism, there would be hope that it could be spread.”  Piet Hein

The most widely known of his output, the upwards of 10,000 grooks, is a specialty for which one can easily find literary influences(Christian Morgenstern, for example), but which are, nevertheless, completely his own.  The word “grook” is an invention of Hein’s(with the possible inspiration of the partridge, according to Johannes V. Jensen), and it has its own grammatical rules.  Throughout more than forty years, and through an eventual universal diffusion, the grooks have shown to be able to withstand even the most persistent repetition.  The grooks are a separate art form that are completely original, and which can be compared to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales, Johannes V. Jensen’s myths(* He wrote The Long Journey in which he attempted to rewrite the Genesis myth from a Darwinian perspective.) and Storm Peterson’s flies( *He was a Danish cartoonist, and his “Daily Flies” were drawings accompanied by philosophical sayings.)  Like everything that Hein produced, they are art forms in every way.  In various newspapers and journals of the 1930s, among others in Politiken’s “Day to Day” column, Hein had published several short poems, which later found their way into the collection of Grooks.  After the 9th of April 1940(the day Denmark was overrun and occupied by the German army), the Grooks appeared regularly in Politiken where, just like Poul Henningsen’s Musical Review songs(*Henningsen was an author, architect, and polemicist, who published a diatribe about Danish culture.), they were able to ridicule the occupation power:  “The cultural community depends on the power of understanding”(from Piet Hein’s poem, The Tenth Muse, Christmas, 1941.)  The Grooks appeared originally with the name Kumbel Kumbell in Politiken’s daily nonsense column”Just Think”.  Moreover, Hein furnished this column with aphoristic material under the name Notorius Jubelco.  These were eventually published under the title Word in 1949.  As these poems grew more and more popular with the time, Hein used the pseudonym Kumbel, which served as his alter-ego in the years to follow.  Eventually, Hein would even use his own name for the poems that were formally written by Kumbel.  The Dutch name Piet Hein helped perpetuate this pseudonym:  Piet can be translated as either stone or rock.  Hein translates as a whetstone, and, together with Kumbel, the meaning becomes a stone with an inscription, a memorial stone.  The poems should be able to withstand the ravages of time and be their own monument.

One of my favorite Grooks is the following(minus the drawing):

A bit beyond perception’s reach,

I think I sometimes see

that life is two locked boxes

each containing the other’s key.

A Belated Memory Of Martin Gardner

What follows is a belated memory of Martin Gardner.  I am grateful to him for his wonderful introductions to The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus and Queen Zixi of Ix by L.Frank Baum, the Night Before Christmas with all its wonderful imitators, his annotations of  The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and, especially, his many annotations for Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass.  I also enjoyed his work, The Ambidextrous Universe, which became the source of many discussions.

The only contact I had with him was when I sent him my topology and fractal interviews to look over. These interviews would become part of my book The Magicians of Form.  Martin was kind enough to give me encouragement, and to refer me to the head of the American Mathematical Association.  For all of the above and more, a belated thanks, Martin.