Back to entry: carroll_lewis | Show links black

Carroll, Lewis

Pseudonym of UK photographer, mathematician and author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), whose famous children's stories, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871) – an early example of the novel (sf or otherwise) structured around the moves of a game of Chess – have had a profound impact on a wide range of writers, over and above the numerous Parodies, often dealing with Politics, that the Innocent-in-Wonderland topos very easily inspires. It has been argued more seriously, by Brian W Aldiss among others, that the underlying logic of these "nonsense" adventures has provided a significant model for much of sf's typical reorderings of reality – certainly in most sf novels whose heroes' Paranoia about reality turns out to be justified, or where human spaces can seem more congested with pearls and tchotchkes than can be counted, and/or organized fractally (Carroll was much affected by the "fairyland" Great Exhibition of 1851). Both novels were assembled much later, very usefully, as The Annotated Alice: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (omni 1960; rev vt More Annotated Alice 1990; The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Version 1999) edited and extensively annotated by Martin Gardner. Alice Through the Needle's Eye (1984) by Gilbert Adair is, interestingly, not a Wonderland Parody (these are very numerous; Saki's political sketches assembled as The Westminster Alice [coll 1902] are effectively Carrollian in style) but a genuine continuation. Very interestingly, After Alice (2015) by Gregory Maguire (1954-    ) conveys a second young girl, the palindromic Ada, down the rabbit hole to attempt to bring Alice (like Eurydice) back to the surface; Through a Looking Glass Darkly (2020) by Jake Fior (circa 1967-    ) seeks to extract a sense of the oddity of the original through a twice-told rendering of Alice's life as a twentieth-century teenager.

The extraordinarily resonant metaphysical pathos of The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony, in Eight Fits (1876 chap) has many literary and personal implications. In sf terms, it can certainly be understood as a reductio ad absurdum of the extraordinary voyage (see Fantastic Voyages) of a Ship of Fools, in pursuit of a McGuffin; the nullity of its climactic final line – "For the Snark was a Boojum, you see" – ghosts the success story implicit in the standard narratology of the Voyage, including the merciless male triumphalism of Joseph Campbell's Monomyth in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949). The incidental whimsy of the Bellman's exercise in crypto-mathematics, "What I tell you three times is true" (laid down in the second verse), has been much quoted as an anticipation of protective redundancy in Computer applications (see Information Theory); a curve-ball use of this application serves, in "Chaos, Co-Ordinated" (January 1946 Astounding) by James Blish and Robert A W Lowndes writing together as John Macdougal, to flummox an Alien Computer.

Carroll's mathematical and logical fantasies, as found in the puzzle stories of A Tangled Tale (coll 1886) have also had repercussions in sf; further quiddities and Paradoxes are included in the posthumously assembled The Lewis Carroll Picture Book (coll 1899) edited by Stuart Dodgson Collingwood. Even the generally unsatisfactory and over-sentimental Fantasy diptych Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893) contains some notable sf Inventions, including an early Time Machine – the Outlandish Watch – permitting Time-in-Reverse travel into the past. Understandably, Carroll's mutable and arbitrary realities have had at least as great an impact on Fantasy. [JC/DRL]

see also: Alice in Borderland; John MacDougal; Mathematics; Virtual Reality; Underground.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

born Daresbury parsonage, Cheshire: 27 January 1832

died Guildford, Surrey: 14 January 1898

works (highly selected)



Sylvie and Bruno

individual titles

collections and stories

about the author

A few selections from the very many critical studies.

further reading


Entry from The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011-current) edited by John Clute and David Langford.
Accessed 10:11 am on 26 November 2022.