British Columbia

Alice in Wonderland full of symbolism, author says

Alice in Wonderland is a wonderful story, says a Victoria author, but did you know the characters have hidden meanings?

David Day, a Victoria author, spent 18 years researching his new book about Lewis Carroll's work

Johnny Depp is shown as the Mad Hatter from the 2010 film, Alice in Wonderland. The book has inspired a dedicated following in the 150 years since it was first published, and also has more than its fair share of hidden meanings. (Disney/Associated Press)

When writing his book on Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Victoria's David Day began at the beginning, then went on until he came to the end. Then he stopped.

It took him 18 years and readings and re-readings of over 1,000 editions and translations of the book.

Now, his book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Decoded is on the shelves just in time for the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland's original publication.

"It seems kind of a mystery, doesn't it?" Day said about the enduring appeal of Alice. "It seems a simple enough story, it makes a lovely Disney cartoon, but it's extraordinary. … It's a book about a book of secrets, because everything is disguised."

On The Coast host Stephen Quinn asked the Victoria-based author about decoding Alice, and Day told him about the meanings behind three characters in the book.

The King and Queen of Hearts

David Day's new book is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Decoded. (Liam Britten/CBC)
All the creatures are people at Oxford at that time. The real Alice, Alice Liddell, was the daughter of the dean of Christ Church College, Henry Liddell. He's the King of Hearts, his wife is the Queen of Hearts. They turn kind of bad at the end because Carroll had an argument with her family because they wouldn't let him see her any more.

The Caterpillar

The Caterpillar is interesting. People think Lewis Carroll was taking a lot of drugs, but there's no indication of that. However, one of his favourite authors was Thomas De Quincey, who wrote Confessions of an English Opium Eater. The Caterpillar is very much in De Quincey style and approach.

The White Rabbit

The White Rabbit is Alice Liddell's doctor, Dr. Acland, who was Regius Professor of Medicine, but also was Queen Victoria's doctor. Alice was not a poor girl. They lived in the deanery, which during the English Civil War, was where the king lived. Probably the only reason Lewis Carroll, who was a lowly mathematics don at the college got any contact with her was because he was a photographer. It just became legal for people to take photographs in a movable form right around 1850. He got into circles he never would have gotten into being lower middle class.


This interview has been condensed and edited. To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: What are the hidden meanings behind Alice in Wonderland characters?

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