The Mad Hatter's Tea Party
by Glen Draeger
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Hello Wonderland Adventurers,
As I was wandering around my backyard the other day I fell into a big hole that my dog, Fezzik, had dug. Instead of landing in the bottom I kept falling and falling and falling. Unlike Alice I was petrified. As I fell at enormous speed, the wind rushing through my hair, I flailed wildly, I yelled, screamed, tried to grab the side of the hole, did somersaults (not on purpose) and just when I had given up hope that I would survive I landed somewhat roughly on the doorstep of that giant tree I told you about a little while ago. While I checked myself to make sure I was not hurt the door opened and there stood Iris, my guide in the World of Literature.
"I've been expecting you," she said. "Come in." We stepped into the enormous first floor of the tree with a view above our heads of the spiral staircases that ascended toward the top of the tree and out of sight. Iris wore a black skirt that came down almost to her ankles, a white blouse that buttoned up around her neck, a gray, leathery-looking vest and she was barefoot. "Why have you come?" she asked.
"Why?" I said with exasperation. "I just fell into a hole. I thought I was going to die. I didn't plan to come."
She seemed to ignore my comments as if they were unimportant. "Surely, you must have some reason to be here?" she asked.
I thought hard for a moment then remembered that I wanted to tell you about Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. However, I didn't know anything about him so, I thought, maybe this would be the perfect time to get some information. Why not? This was the World of Literature and I was in it.
"Do you think," I asked her "that we could go to the Mad Hatter's Tea-Party so I could ask them about Lewis Carroll?"
"Certainly," she said, "but I don't know what they'll tell you—they're a little touchy concerning visitors."
We journeyed for a long time and we had to pass through the legend of St. George and the Dragon which is one of the scariest things I've ever had to do. Twice I dodged the dragon's hind foot just before becoming human mush and once his flames passed so near my face that some of my longer nose hairs burned. Don't worry, my mustache is safe. In spite of this we finally reached Wonderland and the Mad Tea-Party after about 4 hours of walking.
We sat down at the table.
"Well," the March Hare said disgustedly, "it's not very civil of people who are not part of this book to sit down as if they belong here."
"Not civil indeed," said the Mad Hatter. "They're full of drivel and I might have to snivel."
"Please," I said, "We wanted to ask you about Lewis Carroll, the man who created you."
"Do you know a Lewis Carroll?" the Mad Hatter asked the March Hare.
"Know him? No, of course, I know him not."
"Do you know what?" the Dormouse said sleepily.
"No," the March Hare said, "I don't know What either!"
"Listen," I said. "You must know who wrote the book you are a part of."
"Of course we do," the Mad Hatter said.
"Of course we do," the March Hare said.
"We do, of course," the Dormouse said.
There was a long pause. I waited. They sipped tea. I waited. They sipped more tea. I waited. "So?" I finally said loudly and with some anger, "Who is it?"
"There's no need to be cross," said the Mad Hatter.
"No indeed," said the March Hare. "Don't be cross or you might have to play lacrosse with an albatross."
Suddenly it occurred to me that Alice had not said anything. I turned to her.
"They're very rude," she said. "They know just as I do that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote our story."
I looked puzzled then Iris said, "She's right. That was Lewis Carroll's real name."
"One and the same," said the Mad Hatter.
"Dodgson became a different name so we could proclaim his pen name," said the March Hare.
"Is that like a nickname?" I asked.
"Oh shame, shame, it's not a surname."
"A pen name," said Alice authoritatively, "is a name a writer uses instead of his or her real name. It's also called a nom de plume."
"This tea party we must resume," The Mad Hatter said.
"My name," said Alice ignoring the Mad Hatter's comment, "comes from a real little girl who Mr. Dodgson knew. Her name was Alice Liddell. He told her and her sisters my story and Alice, the one who is not me, said to him one day, 'Oh, Mr. Dodgson, I wish you would write out Alice's adventures for me!' And that's just what he did. And," Alice said with an air of knowing something that no one else did, "he also wrote, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. That's where I have more adventures and they're just as good as these adventures. After the Bible and Shakespeare my stories are the most often quoted stories in the Western World."
"Wow. He must have been a good writer," I said.
"Well," Alice said haughtily, "he wasn't just a children's writer and he wasn't just a writer. He was also a photographer."
"I concur, he was an amateur photographer," the March Hare said.
"You don't know anything," said Alice contemptuously. "He is considered to be the best photographer of children in the 19th century." She concluded by throwing her head back arrogantly and saying, "Humph!"
"Wow, a writer and photographer," I said.
"Not just those things," Alice said. "He was also a mathematician. He lectured on mathematics and he wrote books the title of one which is: An Elementary Treatise on Determinants With Their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraical Geometry."
"She thinks she is so smart," the Mad Hatter said.
"She thinks," the March Hare said.
"She stinks," the Dormouse said.
"I do not!" Alice screamed. "I shrink, but I most definitely do not stink."
"I know some things about Mr. Dodgson too," the Mad Hatter said.
"Like what?" I asked.
"He wrote thousands of letters to children. Some of them he wrote backwards, some of them could only be read in a mirror and some of them he even illustrated. So there!" the Mad Hatter concluded.
At this the Dormouse woke up and pulled out a piece of paper. "I happen to have," he said sleepily, "a letter, one of the 98,721 letters that Mr. Dodgson wrote and received, that he wrote to Mary MacDonald, daughter of the famous writer, George MacDonald." Then the Dormouse went to sleep.
"Excuse me," I said. The Dormouse still slept. "Hey Dormouse!" I yelled. It jerked awake. "Would you please read us the letter?"
"Oh, certainly, I will read this better letter . It goes like this:
If you set to work to believe everything, you will tire out the believing-muscles of your mind, and then you'll be so weak you won't be able to believe the simplest true things. Only last week a friend of mine set to work to believe Jack-the-giant-killer. He managed to do it, but he was so exhausted by it that when I told him it was raining (which was true) he couldn't believe it, but rushed out into the street without his hat or umbrella, the consequence of which was his hair got seriously damp, and one curl didn't recover its shape for nearly two days.
I did it. Can I go to sleep now?" Before anyone could answer the Dormouse fell fast asleep.
"I know something too," the March Hare said.
"You know nothing," the Mad Hatter replied.
"No, I know something. Mr. Dodgson was deaf in his right ear and he stammered."
"A lecturer that stammered? Where's my hammer?" laughed the Mad Hatter.
Now Alice spoke again. "But he never stammered when he was speaking to children which is one reason why he liked us so much."
"I'll bet he had lots of his own children," I said.
"Oh no," Alice replied. "He never married. To teach at the school he did he had to remain single. He became a deacon and even preached sermons."
"What sort of advice did he give?"
"Well," Alice said in a tone that was starting to annoy me, "in his adult book, Sylvia and Bruno he gave advice about life and I use this advice everyday. It goes like this:
'The secret of enjoying it . . . is intensity! . . . What I mean is intensity of thought—-a concentrated attention. We lose half the pleasure we might have in Life, by not really attending.'"
"By not really attending what? This tea-party?" the March Hare asked.
"He means attending like attention, like paying attention," Alice said with frustration.
"I don't want to pay Attention anything. I don't owe him money," the Mad Hatter said.
By that time I had learned just about everything I wanted to. "I think I'm ready to go back now," I said to Iris. As we walked back on the long trail she told me that Lewis Carroll was born in 1832 and he died in 1898 at the age of 65. He had seven sisters and three brothers. When she was about to tell me more Count Dracula, the vampire, rushed at me and I awoke in my backyard, in the hole Fezzik dug with his cold nose and wet tongue on my face.
Cohen, Morton N., Lewis Carroll: A Biography, Alfred A. Knoph, New York, 1995.
The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., Chicago, Ill., 1988, 15th edition, Vol. 2, pp. 901-902.
Pudney, John, Lewis Carroll and his World, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1976.
Stoffel, Stephanie Lovett, Lewis Carroll in Wonderland: The Life and Times of Alice and Her Creator, Discoveries, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, New York, 1997
©2005-2013 Glen Draeger (all rights reserved)
Millstone Education: World Literature / http://www.millstoneeducation.com/worldLit