Category Archives: Personal

The Fairies of Cornwall (6)

The story of Mr Noy which you read in Part 5 of “The Fairies of Cornwall”, has a good many parallels with quite a number of various themes. Those of you who have ever read the books of David Paulides about the huge numbers of people who have disappeared in the National Parks of the USA will feel almost uncanny connections with the prolonged search for Mr Noy. There is a further connection with those strange cases narrated by Paulides when:

“in the grey of the morning, a horse was heard to neigh and dogs were heard barking among a dense group of trees and bushes”

almost as if they were making a noise in a different dimension. This strange phenomenon occurs in one of Paulides’ books, when a lost woman’s voice is heard by several witnesses apparently inside the rock of a cliff in the desert. She was never found.

This incident with poor Mr Noy could well be an alien abduction of medieval times expressed in terms that an agricultural worker in, say, 1400 or 1500, could understand. Mr Noy is taken away into that thicket and kept separate from the world for several days. Anything could be happening to him, and, as in all the best sci-fi films, his memory has been wiped clean at the very end.

A further parallel with alien abduction comes with the idea of Mr Noy’s sleep and of his waking up days later although he thinks it is just the next morning. This is another very strong reminder of Rip van Winkle, a fictional story by Washington Irving but one which is closely connected to two folk tales, set nearly four thousand miles apart.

Washington Irving’s father lived in the Orkneys, islands to the north east of Scotland. He could not have avoided knowing the story of the drunken fiddler who hears music coming from the burial mound of Salt Knowe near to the Ring of Brodgar. He goes inside and finds a group of trolls having a party. He stays there for two hours but then discovers that fifty years have passed outside the mound. Here’s the Ring of Brodgar:

And here’s the nearby burial mound of Salt Knowe:

We have already seen how the plot of Rip van Winkle is very like the story of the Iroquois hunter in the twelfth century.  It is very similar also to an upstate New York legend told by the Seneca tribe. A young squirrel hunter encounters “The Little People”, and spends the night with them. When he goes back to his village, it is completely overgrown and his entire tribe has moved on. For them, a year has passed.

Most of the world’s religions have a very similar tale which usually takes place in a cave, or at least somewhere reminiscent of a cave. There is the story of the legendary sage Epimenides of Knossos who spent fifty-seven years in a Cretan cave. Here he is:

“The Seven Sleepers of Ephesus” spent three hundred years inside a cave near Ephesus and in Judaism, there is the story of Honi ha-M’agel. Here’s his tomb:

All of these widely scattered stories could conceivably be explained by superior beings who have mastered the manipulation of time.

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Alice in Wonderland (3)

I mentioned previously that “Alice in Wonderland” began its life as a book on Friday, July 4th 1862, when a select group of people, both adults and children, took a short trip by boat on the River Thames. They went from Folly Bridge near Oxford to the village of Godstow, a trip of some three miles. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll was with his friend the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and they had with them some of the daughters of the Dean of Christ Church College, namely “Prima”, Lorina Liddell (13), “Secunda”, Alice (10) and “Tertia”, Edith (8). Here’s Dodgson’s photograph of Edith, Lorina and Alice:

The tale was told that day, for the most part while resting under the haycocks of Godstow village. The story was a particularly rich and complex one, and Alice Liddell in particular asked several times that Dodgson should write it down. The latter spent most of the night recalling all of the many events he had invented. This is his first draft of the tale and can be bought as a book in its own right:

Dodgson, the son of a clergyman, was a long standing family friend of the Liddells, although the relationship ran off the rails rather badly in June 1863 when he stopped seeing both the parents and the children for many, many weeks. Dodgson would later mix socially with the Dean and his wife as he previously had, but the children would never be taken out by him again. Here’s Henry George Liddell, the Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford:

In 1864, Dodgson gave Alice a bound edition of the very first manuscript entitled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”. In 1865 the printed book “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” appeared and made the nom de plume of “Lewis Carroll” a household name. Here’s a first edition, dedicated to “Ella Chlora Williams from the Author”. It is currently on sale at Abebooks for £75,000.

There is a tale attached to the first edition:

“The very first edition was printed in Oxford at the Clarendon Press in June 1865. On July 19th 1865, Dodgson discovered that John Tenniel was not happy with the printing, and he withdrew all two thousand copies from sale. He had gifted some to his friends, but he recalled them and then donated them to local hospitals in Oxford. There, over the weeks and months, they were trashed. Only 23 are thought to have survived, and one of the Holy Grails of book collecting was born.”

In 1871, the sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There” was published…..

This first edition will set you back £40,000.

Go on! Buy them both!! You know you want to !

We do not know why the sudden rift occurred between Dodgson and the Liddell family. The page of Dodgson’s diary for June 27th-29th 1863 has been torn out of the book by one of his family members, most probably his niece, Violet Dodgson, or her sister Menella. Reasons suggested include the idea that he had proposed marriage between himself and Alice when she was old enough. Mrs Liddell, though, supposedly wanted Alice to marry Prince Leopold of Belgium.

Further reasons were that there was gossip about Dodgson’s feelings towards Ina Liddell, then fourteen, going on fifteen and, by the standards of the time, ready to accept suitors (the age of consent was then twelve). Equally Dodgson may also have been making a play for the children’s governess, whose name I have been unable to discover.

In 1996, Karoline Leach found what have become known as the “Cut pages in diary” document—a note allegedly written by Charles Dodgson’s niece, Violet Dodgson, summarising the missing page from June 27th–29th  1863, apparently written before she (or her sister Menella) removed the page. The note reads:

“L.C. learns from Mrs. Liddell that he is supposed to be using the children as a means of paying court to the governess—he is also supposed by some to be courting Ina”

In her book, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, Jenny Woolf argues that the problem with Mrs Liddell was caused by Lorina herself becoming too keen on Dodgson and not the other way around.

I have the feeling that, as she gradually grew up, Alice became less and less happy, as if she was beginning to mourn for the passing of her childhood. Or perhaps she finally became fed up with her mother’s pushy ambitions. When she was twenty, Alice had her photograph taken by the society photographer, Julia Margaret Cameron. The results look as if she has just got back from storming the beaches of Iwo Jima:

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In actual fact, Mrs Liddell had already returned to Dodgson when Alice was eighteen, but only in his capacity as one of top society’s most fashionable photographers. She wanted the now famous author to take a series of photographs of her daughter, possibly to show Alice off as a good marriage prospect to potential suitors.

Dodgson then photographed Alice for the last time. There has been much speculation about why she has that “1,000 yard stare”, but my personal guess is that having found out that she was not allowed to marry Prince Leopold because she did not have royal status, Alice may not have been best pleased when she then found out that she could have had one of the nation’s most famous authors as her husband, only to have her own mother put a stop to it all.

Alice went on to marry Reginald Hargreaves who was immensely wealthy. When he died in 1926, though, the cost of maintaining the estate was such that Alice had to sell her bound edition of the manuscript entitled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground” which Dodgson had gifted her in 1864.

It realised £14,500 at auction, nearly four times the reserve price. The book was eventually bought by a consortium of American bibliophiles and presented to the British people “in recognition of Britain’s courage in facing Hitler before America came into the war”. And quite right too!

 

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What’s the School Play this year? (5)

The last year before the war, 1938, saw a marvellous School Play in “Knock ou la Triomphe de la Médecine”. The following year, though, saw, arguably, the greatest play ever in the long and distinguished history of the School Play. It should have been called “Androclès ou la Triomphe de la Zoologie”. Instead, George Bernard Shaw stuck with the tried and trusted “Androcles and the Lion”. Here’s the Great Man in his bathing suit, standing next to one of the great female impersonators of the era, Hermann Goering:

In 1938, the star of the show had been:

“…the Car, with all its rattles, its backfiring and trick number plates, which very nearly stole the performance.” Not to mention those high heels:

That car had been constructed by Mr James Harold Norris, a builder, of 6 Hillside, Derby Road, TN 75331. Hillside is off Derby Road just before the junction with the Ring Road, and roughly opposite the end of Wollaton Hall Drive. The star of our show, of course, as always, is that debonair man about town, the Orange Arrow:

James Harold Norris was perhaps the third generation of this building and contracting firm. Before James, it was presumably his father or perhaps uncle, Mr William Thomas Norris, who was operating at either 3 or 333 Lenton Boulevard, TN 75423, as early as 1904. Before that, there was a William Norris at 60 Willoughby Street, New Lenton in 1891-1899 at least.

This year, then, 1938, the School Play was by George Bernard Shaw. It was called “Androcles and the Lion” and had first been performed in 1912. One peculiarity is that when it was published, Shaw’s preface was longer than his play.

“Knock” had given Mr Norris the Builder the opportunity to build “The car that nearly stole the show”, but “Androcles and the Lion” was way beyond the wildest dreams of the wildest optimist in the Dramatic Society. It was just wonderful. A creation, a creature, years ahead of its time.

Interestingly, the lion was played, or perhaps “operated” would be a better word, by Mr Norris’ fourteen year old son, James Harold Norris. I wonder if a deal was cut. Did Mr Norris and James come in one day and demonstrate what they had made:

“Yes, it is marvellous, isn’t it? Would you like to borrow our lion for your play? You would? Who did you have in mind to play the part of the lion? Billy Smith? Oh, dear.”

Well, that’s a pity because the lion is already booked for three birthday parties on those three evenings. How unfortunate.”

“What? Billy Smith is going to be ill on all of those three days? My son is his replacement? Why, that’s excellent news! For James, certainly, but most of all for the play. Now you won’t have to use that old army blanket and the papier-mâché head of a donkey from that other play years back.”

At this point, I cannot resist quoting one of the reviews in the School Magazine:

“What acting talents were shown by James Harold Norris, the fourteen year old son of a builder from 6 Hillside, off Derby Road. James made a remarkable lion, a lion of distinction and of individuality; a lion of understanding and of gratitude. What mattered a tail whose length varied from one night to another in a lion whose eyes could wink either separately or together at will? A delightful lion, the sort of lion anyone should be proud to know.”

And here he is. The only thing we have left of “The Lion”. A Photoshopped photograph. Unless, of course, he still roams the grassy savannahs of Ebay, waiting for somebody to recognise him and scoop him up for £15.13.

Here is that photograph in its entirety. Lots of Roman soldiers and, on the extreme right, the boy who had already played Madame Knock in the play about her husband, seventeen year old Eric Richard Gale:

In “Androcles and the Lion”, as Lavinia, though, Eric now had the biggest female part in the play. He was generally judged as “excellent” throughout, even though now, he did not have the benefit of those extremely elegant high heels of yesteryear. The Nottinghamian said:

“ER Gale was an extremely convincing lady in voice, manner and appearance; one of the best “ladies” the school has ever produced.”

Here is my best effort at a picture:

The programme for this production is still in the School Archives and, a very nice gesture, it actually lists the eleven members of the School’s Hobbies Club who made all of the: “armour, helmets, swords and other stage properties”. That doesn’t happen for every School Play. Indeed, I would take a wild bet that it doesn’t happen for any of them.

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The Fairies of Cornwall (5)

After a short respite (or perhaps, time off for good behaviour), this is another story about the man-sized evil fairies of Cornwall. We met them for the first time quite a while ago.

This is another typical Droll Teller’s tale . It concerns the behaviour of the fairies towards a Mr Noy,  a farmer who is travelling from his distant home to a particular village, on the night before the village’s Harvest Festival. There’s an especially fine crop of biscuits this year:

Mr Noy goes down to the pub, sinks a few pints, and then, cue Droll Teller….

“……. eventually, Mr Noy, with his dogs, left the public house to go home, but he didn’t arrive there that night or the next. It was thought at first that he must have enjoyed himself at the inn until late, and only then have gone home. Mr Noy had no wife or anybody else to be much alarmed about him, as he was an elderly bachelor.

The next day people from the village of Pendrea along with scores of neighbours from other farms came to attend the feast at the Harvest Festival, but none of them had heard or seen Mr Noy from the time he left the inn. They became somewhat uneasy. Yet they still supposed that Mr Noy might have gone to some merry-making down near the village of St Buryan. (about eight-ten miles away, look for the orange arrow)…

In the meantime, a local woman, Dame Pendar, sent messengers to all the places where she thought Mr Noy might have gone, but they returned, just as the Harvest Festival feast was coming to an end, without any news of him. At this everyone became anxious, and they all volunteered to search everywhere they could think of, before going to bed. So away they went, some on horseback and some on foot, to examine pools, streams, cliffs and other dangerous places, both near and far away. They returned at night, but nobody had seen or heard of the missing gentleman.

The next day, horsemen were despatched to other districts, and, as Mr Noy was well known and well liked, there was a good general turn out to hunt for him. But this day too was passed in a fruitless search.

On the third day, in the grey of the morning and very close to Mr Noy’s own farm, a horse was heard neighing and dogs were heard barking, among a dense group of trees and bushes on a dry piece of ground almost surrounded with bogs and pools on the side of Selena Moor (which is between Penzance and St Buryan):

Nobody had even considered looking for Mr Noy so close to his own home, but when a score or so of men discovered a path onto this island in the bogs, they saw Mr Noy’s horse and hounds. The horse had found plenty of grass, but the dogs were half starved. Both the horse and the dogs were excited and they led the men through thorns and brambles that might have been growing there for hundreds of years. Eventually they came to some large trees and the ruins of an old sheep fold that nobody knew was there. In winter, hunters never attempted to cross the boggy ground that almost surrounded this island of dry land, and in summer nobody was curious enough to penetrate this wilderness of bushes which was swarming with poisonous snakes:

The horse stopped at an old doorway and whinnied. The dogs, with several people, pushed through the brambles that choked the entrance, and inside they found Mr Noy lying on the ground fast asleep. It was a difficult matter to wake him up. At last he awoke, stretched himself, rubbed his eyes and said, “Why, you are all from the village of Pendea! Why have you all come here? Today is the Harvest Festival and I am miles and miles away from home. What district is this? How could you have found me? Have my dogs been home and brought you here? Mr Noy seemed like one dazed and numb, so without staying to answer his questions, they gave him some brandy, lifted him onto the back of his horse, and then left the animal to pick its way out, which it did without hesitation and even discovered a shorter way out than Mr Noy’s rescuers had.

Though he was on his own land and less than half a mile from his farm, Mr Noy was unable to recognise the countryside, until he crossed the running water that divides the farms. “I am glad,” said Mr Noy, “however it came about, to have got back in time for the Harvest Festival”. When they told him how the Festival had taken place three days previously, he said they were joking, and wouldn’t believe it until he had seen all the mown hay in the barn, and all the harvest tools put away until next year.”

Another fairy abduction, then. For what reason we do not know, but Mr Noy had been absent for several days. He was then found right next to his own home, although he didn’t recognise any of the landmarks he could see. Only crossing running water restores normality. Vampires then, are not the only supernatural beings who can be thwarted by water.

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What’s the School Play this year? (4)

Just one year before the outbreak of war, 1938 saw what must surely be one of Nottingham High School Dramatic Society’s greatest triumphs. It was the English version of the iconic play of the inter-war years, “Knock ou le Triomphe de la médecine” (“Knock or The Triumph of Medicine”) by Jules Romains. This was the school play where, according to the “Nottinghamian”:

“…the Car, with all its rattles, its backfiring and trick number plates very nearly stole the performance.”

Perhaps you had to be there. The car with all those rattles, loud backfiring and laugh-a-minute number plates” was supplied by Mr Norris, whose greatest special effects triumph was now a mere two years in the future.

The play was produced by the Chief English Master at this time, Mr John Ward Roche, who had both an MA in English and a BSc in Economics from University College, London. He was nicknamed “Fishy” and he was a man of extraordinary energy. In School Drama, he instituted the Christmas form-play competitions, the best three plays going forward to be performed before the parents. This idea, slightly adapted to fit the circumstances, has been used throughout the High School ever since.

With “Knock”, Mr Roche was assisted by Mr Gregg, Mrs Roche, Mr Hubbuck the caretaker and his staff and the popular woodwork teacher, Mr Jack Mells. The School Magazine was suitably impressed:

“It is largely due to their efforts that the cast were able to give so satisfactory an account of themselves.”

Here is the full cast:

Overall, the play was stunning, despite Mr Roche having to get through a horrendous setback which occurred completely unexpectedly. One of the main actors had what is now, eighty years later, an unknown but extremely serious problem, most probably that of stage fright. Mr Roche decided to take the rôle himself. With only three days’ notice he had to learn all the lines and then play the part of Dr Parpalaid in addition to all of his many other commitments as the producer of the play. The review in the School Magazine said:

“He imparted to Dr Parpalaid, the rather vague, fussy and ineffectual country GP, the right air of admiration for, mingled with bewilderment at, his more successful, but doubtfully honest successor, Dr Knock.”

Here is Mr Roche:

All of the female parts were still, of course, filled by boys, so Mr Roche was in the rather uncomfortable position of being married, for the duration of the play at least, to sixteen year old Eric Richard Gale, who was “excellent” throughout. Much of this was because of his extremely elegant high heels. Eric was the probably mortified son of a civil servant from 19 North Road in West Bridgford. Here is Eric, looking both extremely pretty and rather seductive:

And here are what the Nottinghamian thought were high heels (bottom right):

Here is fourteen year old Philip Blackburn, looking every inch Knock’s beautiful nurse:

And here’s Anthony Oscroft from 7, Mount Hooton, playing the part of the hall porter:

Two of the cast were marked for death in the Second World War. Does it show in their eyes? This young man played the part of Madame Remy. He had only six years left of his tragically short life:

And this young man had one year fewer:

That terror, that anguish, it is there, isn’t it?

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What’s the School Play this year? (3)

In the late 1930s came four plays which more or less enshrined the High School’s “Golden Age of Female Impersonation”. The first of the four was put on in 1936. It was that well-known Shakespeare rib-tickler, “Twelfth Night”. Here is the full cast:

And here is a smaller selection, although, strangely, I can’t find every single one of them in the previous photograph:

They all look pretty good, more or less, at least until you manage to see them in close up. This young man will die in the outskirts of Dunkirk 1n 1940. He has only four years left of his young life. He has such a strange expression on his face. If I didn’t know better, I would say he was well aware of his imminent demise. Or perhaps it’s the famous “thousand yard stare”. Here’s the actor:

And here’s the “thousand yard stare”:

This pious “young lady” (below) will be one of the two hundred or more parachute troops who were drowned when their gliders crashed into the sea during Operation Husky, the disastrous attempt to invade Sicily with airborne forces. Does that knowledge that he has only seven short years to live show on his face, too?

In 1937 the School Play was “The Fourth Wall”, a detective story in three acts by A.A. Milne. It was a marvellous opportunity  to get your hands stuck into a pair of plus fours made from the R101 (left leg) and the Hindenburg (right leg).

And just look at that wonderful dress on the right. It’s so frothy, so summery, so YOU !  Warm evenings in August or even September. Perhaps good for dancing. Perhaps even a Charleston or ten.

And this time, they actually want you to wear it. Your Dad won’t go crazy and offer to lend you his jodhpurs. And for the first time ever, your sister will want to borrow one of your dresses.  

And just ;look at the seductive whites of that pretty young man’s eyes. And those cheekbones. Somebody out there really knows how to give make-up some “oooomph!” :

 

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What would you do ? (5) The Solution

“What would you do ?” used to figure on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys, and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for the front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

And the correct solution given on page 2 of the comic is:

“There was only one possible thing the trapper could do. He shot one of the attacking wolves. The rest of the pack, ravenous with hunger, turned on the fallen beast. This gave the man time to make a dash for the safety of his cabin.”

The trouble is that I just don’t think that that would work. We know a lot more about wolves nowadays than we did in 1963. Wolves are known to be extremely loyal to one another and I cannot imagine that their first reaction to one of their number being shot would be to eat him, no matter how hungry they were. I know that a wolf will fight and kill a rival from another pack, but he would never eat him, even if he himself was starving. In that case, why would he devour a colleague from his own pack?

And they’re all so sweet and cuddly. Here’s Mummy Wolf:

And here’s Baby Wolf:

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What would you do ? (5) The Puzzle

My 500th blog post……….enjoy !!!

“What would you do ?” used to appear on the cover of a boys’ comic called “Boys’ World”. This was a publication, obviously, aimed at boys and first appeared on January 26th 1963. There were 89 issues before the comic was merged with Eagle in 1964. The last issue of “Boys’ World” came out on October 3rd 1964.

I used to buy “Boys’ World”, and this was mainly for its front cover which always featured a kind of puzzle. It was called “What would you do ?” and was based on somebody being in what Ned Flanders would call “A dilly of a pickle”. Here’s the situation:

The yellow box sets the scene, and the task is for you to solve the situation. Perhaps you might like to write your idea in the “Comments” section.

Here’s the yellow box enlarged:

I hate snow. It always makes its way into your clothes and then melts. That, though, is the least of Trapper Jacques’s problems. He has been cut off by the wolves, at least six of them, and he only has a single bullet left. They are hunger crazed after the fish-and-chip van broke down and they stand firmly between Jacques and his lovely little cabin with his new Liberty curtains. If Jacques tries to run they will chase him and bite him and then tear him to pieces. The same fate will eventually befall him if he tries climbing that tree in the background.

What can  he do??

 

 

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The Fairies of Cornwall (4)

Let’s have a look at one of the old Cornish stories, and see what kind of things the human sized  fairies used to get up to. As soon as I had read a few of these stories, I was immediately struck by how they seemed to echo aspects of modern life. The people who disappear in the USA’s National Parks. The activities of those nasty aliens. And bear in mind that this is one of the first stories in Volume I, so I would think it was put there as a gentle introduction. Not that the fairies are at all gentle.

In this traditional droll-teller’s story, therefore, “Uter” is a commercial traveller who is led astray by the fairies, as he tries to go back to his hotel after visiting a big country festival in Penzance. Here is its modern equivalent:

“When Uter got into the field, a cloud of fog was rising from the moors, entirely surrounding him and so thick that he could scarcely see a yard before him. Yet, although he couldn’t see anything, he could hear distant singing plainer than ever. He steered his course for the eastern side of the field, as near as he could guess toward the place with an opening in the hedgerow where he intended to pass into the next field. He soon came to the fence, but he found no opening. He searched back and forth. He wandered round and round, without success. And then he tried to get over what appeared to be a low place in the hedge; but the more he climbed, the higher the hedge seem to rise above him.”

“He tried ever so many places, but could never quite reach the top of the fence, and every time he gave up, his ears rang with such mocking laughter as nothing but a Fairy ever made. He was very anxious to reach the hotel, and above all to get out of this field, as it had a bad reputation, and was shunned by most people after nightfall. The ugliest of sprites and fairies, with other stranger apparitions, such as unearthly lights, were often seen firstly hovering around the old Chapel which stood in this field, and then departing in all directions. These ruins were so overgrown with brambles and thorns that there was but little of the building to be seen.”

“Uter had turned round and round so often that he neither knew what course he was steering nor in which part of the field he stood, until he found himself among the thickets surrounding the ruins. Even here he heard the same teasing, tormenting laughter proceeding from inside the chapel. Then he took it into his head that someone in flesh and blood was following him about in the mist. He soon lost his temper and threatened to let whoever, or whatever, was dogging his footsteps, feel the weight of his boot as soon as he could lay hands on him.

He had no sooner hit the Fairy then than the cudgel was snatched from his hand, his heels tripped up, and he was laid flat on his back; then he was sent rolling down the hill faster and faster, until he went down like a stone bowled over a cliff, tossed over the hedge at the bottom of the field like a bundle of rags, then pushed through the brambles on the moor, or pitched over the bogs and stream on the Fairy’s horns. Then he was whirled away like dust before the wind. When he fell down, he was pitched up again, and not allowed a moment’s rest from rolling or running until he passed the high road and was driven on by the Fairy, smashing against a high rock at the foot of the hill, where he was found quite insensible the next day.”

Whoever or whatever was responsible for those events, it certainly doesn’t sound like it was Tinkerbell!

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Alice in Wonderland (2)

Last time I was looking at how ““The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass” by Martin Gardner added to our understanding of the two books.

One of the most famous characters of Carroll’s book is the Cheshire Cat. Here’s Tenniel’s illustration:

Ao, what does “Annotated Alice” have to say about the Cheshire cat? Well, did you know that “He grins like a Cheshire cat” was already a well known saying before Alice ever met this particular cat? Or that Cheshire cheese was once sold in the shape of a grinning cat? (Difficult to believe that one!) Here’s Mabel Lucie Atwell’s Cheshire Cat:

“Annotated Alice” reveals that Lewis Carroll’s father was once the rector of St Peter’s church at Croft-on-Tees near Darlington in northern England. There, Joel Birenbaum recently found a stone carving of a cat’s head on the east wall of the church’s chancel, just a few feet above floor level. When Joel went down on his knees and looked upward, just the cat’s mouth could be seen as a broad grin.

Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat has even been compared to Jack Kerouac:

“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

In “On the Beat” apparently, the conversation runs:

“Where we goin’, man?”

“I don’t know, but we betta go.”

I personally would even compare a subsequent piece of dialogue between Alice and the Cheshire Cat with the novel “Catch-22” by Joseph Heller. Carroll wrote:

“In that direction lives a Hatter and in that direction lives a March Hare. Visit either you like. They’re both mad”.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people.”

“Oh, you can’t help that, we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?”

“You must be, or you wouldn’t have come here.”

The absolute “Star of the Show”, of course, is the Mad Hatter.

Apparently, in the 1850s and 60s, the phrase “Mad as a Hatter” was as equally common as “Mad as a March Hare”. The expression may originally have been “mad as an adder” but it is thought to be much more probable that it comes from the fact that hatters did frequently go mad through using mercury to cure felt, from which hats may be made. Mercury is highly poisonous.

“Hatter’s shakes” were exactly that, and eyes, limbs and speech were frequently affected. After that came hallucinations and psychotic episodes. Apart from that, “hatter” was quite a good career.

There are a good few different versions of the Mad Hatter. There are two styles of Tenniel and also Mabel Lucie Atwell, Blanche MacManus and Charles Robinson:

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My own favourite is WH Walker in his “I want a clean cup”. Notice how the ears of the Mad March Hare are used as cowls on the chimneys of the Mad Hatter’s house. Or is that all part of the hallucination?:

“Annotated Alice” has very little to say about the Mad March Hare. This is from Wikipedia:

“A long-held view is that the hare will behave strangely and excitedly throughout its breeding season, which in Europe peaks in the month of March. This odd behaviour includes boxing at other hares, jumping vertically for seemingly no reason and generally displaying abnormal behaviour.”

On the other hand, “Annotated Alice” reveals that Victorian children used to keep dormice as pets and housed them in large old teapots with dry grass as bedding. Here the Mad Hatter and the March Hare try to stuff the sleeping dormouse into the teapot:

“Annotated Alice” seems to know something about virtually every event in the two books, no matter how trivial they seem. I have only scratched the surface of what subtleties are hidden away in the story. Does anybody realise nowadays, for example, that the Victorians thought a lot about falling down a hole that went straight through the centre of the earth?

And did we notice very much about the Pool of Tears in Chapter Two? Who was in it? Well, there was “A Duck and a Dodo, a Lory and an Eaglet and several other curious creatures.”

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Did they represent anything?

Well, they represented that select group of people, who took that short trip by boat on the River Thames on Friday, July 4th 1862.

As they progressed slowly down the river, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll recounted the story of Alice. He was the Dodo. His stammer made him give his name as “Do—Do—Dodgson”. The duck was his friend the Reverend Robinson Duckworth, a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford. The Lory is Lorina, the eldest of the Liddell sisters. Edith Liddell is the Eaglet.

“Annotated Alice” has these and a thousand other hidden details. What an excellent book!

Next time, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, the man.

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