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The Massachusetts Review, Inc.

Solving the Mad Hatter's Riddle


Author(s): Margaret Boe Birns
Source: The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Autumn, 1984), pp. 457-468
Published by: The Massachusetts Review, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25089579 .
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Margaret
Boe Birns
Solving
the Mad Hatter's
Riddle
What did
they
live on? said
Alice,
who
always
took
a
great
interest in
questions
of
eating
and
drinking.
T^VEN
A CURSORY
glance
at Lewis Carroll's Alice's
^Adventures
in Wonderland will reveal
one
of its obsessive
themes,
namely, eating,
or more
darkly,
cannibalism. Most of
the creatures in Wonderland are relentless
carnivores,
and
they
eat creatures
who,
save
for some outer
physical
differen
ces,
are
very
like
themselves, united,
in
fact,
by
a common
"humanity."
The
very
first
poem
found in the text establishes
the motif of
eating
and
being
eaten:
How doth the little crocodile
Improve
his
shining
tail,
And
pour
the waters of the Nile
On
every
golden
scale!
How
cheerfully
he seems to
grin
How
neatly spreads
his
claws,
And welcomes little fishes
in,
With
gently smiling jaws!
Later
on,
the eaten
object
is not
simply
"eaten
alive," eaten,
that
is,
when it is still
sentient,
but is endowed with affective
and intellectual attributes?a "soul" that resembles that of
the creature
eating
it. For
instance,
in
Through
The
Looking
Glass,
the Walrus and the
Carpenter,
after
talking
of
many
things
with their
walking companions,
the
Oysters,
decide
the time has come to
dine:
'Now if
you're ready, Oysters
dear,
We can
begin
to
feed.'
'But not on
us!' the
Oysters
cried,
457
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Turning
a
little blue.
'After such
kindness,
that would be
A dismal
thing
to do!'
Earlier,
after the "Lobster
Quadrille"
in which various
sea
creatures are
flung,
or
rather
appear
to
fling
themselves,
into
the
maws
of
waiting
sharks,
and
directly
before the Mock
Turtle
sings
his
sentimentally
existential
song
"Turtle
Soup,"
Alice herself recites the
following
poem:
I
passed by
his
garden,
and
marked,
with one
eye,
How the Owl and the Panther were
sharing
a
pie:
The Panther took
pie-crust,
and
gravy,
and
meat,
While the Owl had the dish as its share of the treat.
When the
pie
was all
finished,
the
Owl,
as a
boon,
Was
kindly permitted
to
pocket
the
spoon:
While the Panther received knife and fork with a
growl,
And concluded the
banquet by?"
This is
a
poem
Carroll allows the reader the fun of
com
pleting,
as
well as
the
frisson
that
comes with the realization
that in
completing
the
poem
we are
also
allowing
the
Panther to conclude his
banquet by eating
the Owl. This
darker tone
comprises
the emotional
core,
the "heart" of
A
lice,
where
our most unadmitted needs
can
be
gratified.
As
Elizabeth Sewell in her useful
study
The Field
of
Nonsense
has shown
us,
Carroll's
nonsense
has at its
core
something
unbalanced and even humorless. Not
only
does his "ludic
discourse" subvert the reader's
logocentric expectations,
it
threatens him
viscerally
with
imagery
that invites
us to
expe
rience heretofore inhibited oral fantasies. As
we
explore
the
text of A lice and build
to a solution of the Hatter's
riddle,
we
will
see
that Wonderland invites the reader
to
participate
in
the same
compelling regressions
found not
only
in its
crea
tures,
but in Alice herself. For Alice is not all
good
form and
superior
manners,
although
that side of her that acts as a
defense
against
the often
intensely
oral
aggressions
of Won
derland is
generally
celebrated
as a
hallmark of the ideal
British character.
Although
she shows the best
"good
form"
in the
novel,
Alice
can
also let down her hair
by
not
only
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Solving
the Mad Hatter's Riddle
happily reciting
the cannibalistic
poem
about the owl and
the
panther,
but
by suggesting
a
game
to her
nanny:
Nurse! Do let's
pretend
that I'm
a
hungry hyena
and
you're
a bone!
In
identifying
with
Alice,
the reader
may
be astonished to
find himself
slipping enjoy ably
into a
similar level of
primi
tive oral fantasies. While Nurse does not take
kindly
to Alice's
suggestion
that she become the
object
of her
eating
wishes,
there
are
in Wonderland creatures whose
identity
is
com
pletely
defined
by
their function as food. There
are creatures
that are
granted only
that much
autonomy necessary
to
express
a
desire to be eaten
("Eat Me!")
or
drunk
("Drink
Me!").
There is in Wonderland
a
pudding
that insists
upon
a
formal introduction before it will allow itself to be
con
sumed,
and
an even more autonomous
clam,
which
though
caught
and
cooked,
will not
permit
itself
to be eaten at all:
For it holds it like
glue?
Holds lid to the
dish,
while it lies in the middle.
Food in these
examples
is
given
an
animating spirit, sug
gesting
the survival of
a
soul in what
one must eat.
Books,
food and
people
are
interchangeable.
For
instance,
in the last
chapter
of
Through
The
Looking
Glass Alice
. . .
heard a
hoarse
laugh
at her
side,
and turned to see
what
was
the matter with the White
Queen;
but,
instead of the
Queen,
there
was the
leg
of mutton
sitting
in the chair. "Here I am!" cried a voice
from the
soup-tureen,
and Alice turned
again, just
in time to see the
Queen's
broad
good-natured
face
grinning
at her for a moment over
the
edge
of the
tureen,
before she
disappeared
into the
soup.
Just
as
food can
become
human,
human
beings
can
become food. But in
spite
of these
fantasies,
which
suggest
an
awareness
that the eaten
object
is,
like
oneself, "human,"
all
the creatures of Wonderland suffer little diminution of
appe
tite,
and some eat
quite heartily:
"I like the walrus
best,"
said Alice: "because he was a
little
sorry
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for the
poor oysters."
"He ate more than the
carpenter, though,"
said Tweedledee.
"You see he held his handkerchief in
front,
so
that the
Carpenter
couldn't count how
many
he took: contrariwise."
"That was
mean!" Alice said
indignantly.
"Then I like the
Carpenter
best?if he didn't eat so
many
as the Walrus."
"But he ate as
many
as he could
get."
said Tweedledee.
These fantasies of voracious and
unscrupulous appetite
may,
in
part,
reflect the influence of Charles Darwin's theor
ies. Darwin's ideas about the laws of survival
can
supply
a
plausible
intellectual subtext for the ruthless
way
in which
the creatures of Wonderland
pounce
on
each
other,
and
may
account as
well for their
general
contentiousness. The issues
Carroll is
raising through
his fantasies have
an
emotional
and
not
simply
theoretical
impact,
however,
particularly
when the
biological imperatives
of Carroll's creatures are
complicated by
the
great pleasure they
take in
eating
their
fellow creatures. Their
pleasure
becomes
part
of the horror of
their existential
situation,
creating
that self-contradiction
that comes with the
mixing
of
opposites,
a
phenomenon
knit
into the texture of Alice's adventures. Paradox is the essence
of Wonderland. For
instance,
the creatures of Wonderland
are
both human and animal.
They
are
also both adult and
childlike,
at times
seeming
to satirize the
rigid
and authori
tarian
personality
of the Victorian
parent,
at other times
capering
like
incorrigible
children. The
story
itself
pulls
in
opposite
directions?Alice
goes
down the rabbit hole into the
wonder world of
childhood,
not
wishing
to
grow up
into
a
world where she will have to endure books "without
pictures
or
conversations,"
and
yet
she is destined to
outgrow
Won
derland,
master its
irrationality
and assume the
authority
of
a
sensible
adult,
as
she does when she announces that the Red
Queen
and her retinue are
"nothing
but
a
pack
of cards."
Alice herself is made
up
of
opposites,
since she functions in
Wonderland both
as an
adult and
as a
child,
at times the
prim
schoolmistress,
at other times the chastened
schoolgirl.
Similarly,
ravens and
writing
desks,
which
seem to have
nothing
in common and which will be revealed
to be in fact
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Solving
the Mad Hatter's Riddle
opposites,
are
united in the Mad Hatter's
Riddle,
and
by
a
hidden
principle
Alice is asked to
discern. Let us
briefly
return to Carroll's contentious tea
party,
where Alice is about
to
undergo
one
of her
many
transformations from
prim
schoolmistress to chastened
schoolgirl:
"You should learn not to make
personal
remarks,"
Alice said
with some
severity.
"It's
very
rude."
The Hatter
opened
his
eyes very
wide on
hearing
this;
but all he
said was
"Why
is a raven like a
writing
desk?"
"Come,
we shall have some fun now!"
thought
Alice. "I'm
glad
they've begun asking
riddles?I believe I can
guess that,"
she added
aloud.
Carroll himself claimed the riddle had
no answer at
all,
but
this has not
prevented
numerous
attempts
to solve it. Francis
Huxley's
The Raven and The
Writing
Desk includes
some of
the cleverer
solutions,
having
to do with
notes, bills,
tales and
Edgar
Allan Poe. But none of these
answers,
while techni
cally
correct,
are
emotionally satisfying.
What unites the
raven and the
writing
desk must fit into the overall emotional
and intellectual
pattern
Carroll has
carefully
established
through
his other
rhymes
and
riddles; otherwise,
clever
as
the
solution
may be,
it will not
give
us
that sense of aesthetic
rightness,
or
"fit"
necessary
to
make it fall
so
naturally
into
the narrative as to seem as
if it had
always
been there. But
before
supplying
my
answer to the Hatter's
riddle,
let
us
remind ourselves that this riddle is
posed
at a tea
party,
an
event which is
normally comprised
not
only
of
tea,
but of
other delectable foodstuffs. It is at the tea
party
that Alice
poses
a
question
whose
subject
haunts
many
of the
rhymes
found in the narrative. When the Dormouse
begins
his
story
of the three little
girls
who lived at the bottom of a
well,
Alice
interrupts, asking
"What did
they
live on?" Carroll
goes
on to
note that Alice
always
took a
great
interest in
questions
of
eating
and
drinking,
and when she is told
by
the Dormouse
that the little
girls
lived
only
on
treacle and were as a
result
very
ill
indeed,
we are
reminded
by
inference of the kinds of
foods
we must in fact eat in order to live well. Beneath the
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solution to the riddle is not
simply
the material in the tea
party chapter,
however,
but as
well
many
of the other
rhymes
and riddles that refer to the
eating
habits of the creatures of
Wonderland. With all this in
mind,
we are
ready
for
a
solu
tion to the riddle. But
although
Alice,
with characteristic
self-assurance,
believes she can
solve the
riddle,
the answer is
better left to one
of the denizens of
Wonderland,
and
even
more
appropriately
to one of the members of the tea
party.
Either the
bossy
Hatter
or
the
put-upon
Dormouse will
do,
depending
upon
whether the riddle's
answer is to be told
from the
point
of view of an
aggressor
or a
victim.
My
own
choice is the
Hatter, who,
soon
after
posing
the
riddle,
hints
at
my
answer when he
says,
"Why,
you
might
as well
say
that
T see
what I eat' is the same
thing
as T eat what I see!'" Let us
imagine
that it is the
Hatter, then,
who reminds Alice of
certain hidden but home truths in the
following
solution to
the riddle: "A raven eats
worms;
a
writing
desk is
worm
eaten."
It is this solution that touches
on
the
large
themes that
inform the
seemingly
trivial and nonsensical surface of the
Alice books. The
image
of the raven
eating
the worm reca
pitulates
the theme of voracious
or
"ravenous"
appetite
that
is a
major psychological
and existential theme in A lice. The
raven's "sadistic oral
incorporation"
of the worm
also
reminds
us of the
story's
Darwinian theme of life
feeding
on
life,
the life-force of the raven
necessarily contingent
on
the
life-force of the
worm.
The
raven is another
example
of the
predatory,
amoral,
natural world of
Wonderland,
seemingly
removed from the culture and civilization
objectified
in the
writing
desk. We can now
perceive
that the raven and the
writing
desk are not
simply absurdly juxtaposed,
but
are
logical opposites, representing, respectively,
the
age-old
con
flict between nature and
culture,
instinct and
reason. But the
writing
desk,
like the
raven,
also has
a
relationship
with the
worm; here,
the worm
turns,
and instead of
being
food for
others,
feeds
on
the
writing
desk. As the raven's
ingestion
of
the worm
represents
the fact of
life,
the law of
survival,
so the
image
of the woodworm
infesting
the
writing
desk
suggests
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Solving
the Mad Hatter's Riddle
the fact of
mortality. Something
as
seemingly
solid and as
impervious
to time as a
writing
table is
being
devoured
slowly,
is
being
eaten
away.
To
some
degree
a worm-eaten
casket
or
corpse
is
suggested:
the worm-eaten desk
points
to
what E. M. Forster in
Passage
to India has called the
"undy
ing
worm,''
an
image
of the
inevitability
and
reality
of
death,
even as the worm's life-force is affirmed in its
ability
not
only
to be
eaten,
but to eat others. This
particular
solution to The
Mad Hatter's
Riddle, then,
mixes life and death in such a
way
as to render them
interdependent
rather than
opposing;
even
more, the. solution
supplies
that aforementioned
frisson
that
gives
the Alice narrative its
special edge,
that dark
quality
that can
terrify
as
many
children
as
it
enchants,
and that has
made Alice
one of the
patron
saints of the modernist move
ment. The riddle thus answered becomes
a
reverberation of
that
endless,
circular dance of life and
death,
of death-in-life
and
life-in-death,
that is
one of the
deep subjects
of the A lice
books. In the loss of a Divine Plan
or
Purpose,
in the wake of
Darwinism,
life is reframed
as a
giant
"lobster
quadrille,"
in
which one's own
life and death
are
part
of nature's
larger
life-and-death
cycle,
in which
one is both walrus and
oyster,
both raven and
worm,
both
worm
and
writing
desk.
Like Forster's
undying
worm,
which was both
phallic
and
thanatotic,
Carroll's worm both
gives
life and takes life
away.
But
although
in this solution to the riddle the worm serves
the raven's
life-principle,
the second half of the solution seals
the fate of both
raven
and
writing
desk
(and
its
Maker,
Man).
The solution of the riddle
suggests
that nature and its life
forces
bring
not
only
individual
death,
but transcend the laws
and values of
civilization,
imaged
here as the
writing
desk. It
is that lack of
purpose beyond
a Nature red in tooth
(or beak)
and claw?a lack of
"higher" purpose?that
is
responsible
for the anarchic
circularity
of not
only
the Mad Tea
Party
but
of such
episodes
as
the Caucus Race. We can see now
that the
hidden
principle
that unites both raven and
writing
desk is
the law of nature. Both the
writing
desk and the raven are
subject
to the rule of
appetite,
of
an
eat-or-be-eaten ethos.
The eaten and
eating
worm I have introduced into the Mad
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Hatter's riddle fits well into
a
narrative that is
literally
riddled
with
anxiety.
The
image
of the raven
eating
the
worm
reiter
ates the
anxiety
about
eating
that
appears
consistently
in the
Alice
books,
an
anxiety
that includes death as a
form of
eating, eating
as a
form of death. This
anxiety may
be inter
preted
as
the
product
of Wonderland's
general regression
to
what Erich
Neumann,
in his The
Origins
and
History of
Consciousness,
would call
a
primitive
"maternal uroboros."
"On this
level,"
Neumann
points
out,
"which is
pregenital
because
sex is not
yet operative
and the
polar
tension of the
sexes
is still in
abeyance,
there is
only
a
stronger
that eats and
a
weaker that is eaten." In this
early phase
of human
con
sciousness,
hunger
is
experienced
as
the
prime
mover
of
mankind,
and the laws of the
alimentary
canal
reign
supreme.
Since all life comes under the
archetype
of
being
swallowed and
eaten,
death in this
stage
of consciousness is
also
experienced
as a
devourer. Such
fantasies,
concerning
a
stronger
who eats and
a
weaker that is
eaten,
permeates
A lice.
While the creatures of Wonderland swim
amorally
in what
Neumann called a
"swamp" stage
of
consciousness,
where
every
creature devours
every other,
Alice herself does not. At
times, indeed,
Alice comes
close to a
feeling
of
revulsion,
as in
Through
The
Looking
Glass's final
banquet:
"Meanwhile,
we'll drink
your
health?Queen
Alice's health!"
she screamed at the
top
of her
voice,
and all the
guests began
drinking
it
directly,
and
very
queerly they managed
it:
some of them
put
their
glasses upon
their heads like
extinguishers,
and drank all
that trickled down their faces?others
upset
the
decanters,
and
drank the wine as it ran off the
edges
of the table?and three of them
(who
looked like
kangaroos)
scrambled into the dish of roast mut
ton,
and
began eagerly lapping up
the
gravy, "just
like
pigs
in a
trough!" thought
Alice.
The overall tone of this
passage
communicates
a sense of
pleasure-in-horror
or
horror-in-pleasure,
in the
paradoxical
way
discussed
earlier,
and as such
helps
raise the level of
anxiety.
Alice
herself, however,
is less ambivalent and
more
moralistic when
observing
the ravenous
guests,
who seem to
be
reverting
to a
Hobbesian state of nature. Alice's attitude
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Solving
the Mad Hatter's Riddle
can,
perhaps,
be traced back to Carroll's
own
abstemious,
or
even
anorexic behavior.
Carroll,
like
many anorexics,
seemed
to wish to be above the state of
worm or
raven,
preferring
instead the more
ethereal
identity
of
metaphorical "writing
desk."
Writing
desks,
of
course,
don't
eat,
although they
are
not
completely
"above"
nature,
since like God's creatures
they
can,
significantly,
be worm-eaten. Alice's own
prim
nature has often been
compared
to
Carroll's,
and there
are
those who feel that Lewis Carroll and his Alice
represent
one
of the
strongest examples
of a
psychological
alliance between
author and character to be found in literature.
At this
point
it is
possible
to
bring
forward another solu
tion to the Hatter's
riddle,
one that
points
not so
much
toward the
text,
calling
attention to certain
important
themes
in the
narrative,
but toward
a
solution that would refer to
Carroll himself. Before
supplying
this second
solution,
let us
remind ourselves that Alice has
just
admonished the Hatter
about his rude remarks. The
Hatter,
by
way
of
rejoinder,
comes back with the riddle. The
riddle,
as a
response
to
Alice's
charge
of
rudeness,
suggests
the
following
solution:
"A
writing
desk and
a raven
both make rude remarks."
A raven makes rude noises
through
his
caws
and
cackles;
a
writing
desk makes rude remarks
through
the medium of the
author. In this solution to the
riddle,
the
writing
desk,
of
course,
stands
metonymically
for the writer. The rude
remarks of the Hatter and the March Hare
are,
therefore,
made
by
the
writer,
who is in this
aspect
like a raven in his
rudeness. The
creatures,
the riddle
hints,
are the
products
of
Carroll's
own
writing
desk,
which is
really making
the rude
remarks for which Alice has chastised the Mad Hatter. In this
way,
the Hatter is
shifting
the blame
to his
maker,
the
writer,
or
writing
desk. Writers will make rude
remarks,
the Hatter
reminds Alice. The raven is not
only
like
a
writing
desk, but,
more
darkly,
the
writing
desk is like
a
rude
raven.
In
twinning
the
writing
desk and the
raven,
Carroll is
up
to
his old trick of
indicating through
the
joining
of
seeming
opposites
a
hidden
identity.
Mild and
intellectual,
the writ
ing
desk,
or
writer,
is twinned with a
bird of evil
omen,
a
bird
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with habits that
are not
very nice,
are in fact rude and
preda
tory.
Carroll
himself,
giving toys
to little
girls
on the
beach,
taking pictures
of
them,
entertaining
them with
delightful
tales,
seemed
an
avuncular
writing
desk. The
twinning
of the
raven with the
writer, however,
points
to less altruistic and
more
emotionally
ravenous
aspects
to Carroll's
behavior,
and
his "tales" for us are
tailed with
appetites
more
carnal in
origin.
In this riddle Carroll's
splitting
of himself into raven
and
writing
desk,
and then
twinning
the
two,
indicates
a
covert confession
on
Carroll's
part
that he
may
have
pos
sessed
aspects
of the Victorian dissociated
personality.
It is
this
personality type
that
gave
rise to a
multitude of nine
teenth
century
novels
featuring hypocrites
and
split personali
ties,
such as that of
John Jasper
in The
Mystery of
Edwin
Drood
or
of Dr.
Jeky
11 in Dr.
Jeky
ll and Mr.
Hyde.
One
might
even
say
that modern
psychoanalysis
was
created
to deal with
dissociations such as those
symbolized
here
by
the riddle of
the raven
and the
writing
desk.
The answer that solves
our
riddle with rude remarks is not
so
very
far from the
more resonant themes evoked
through
the introduction of a worm into the riddle. Both solutions
remind Alice of the existence of
a
ruder,
lower
self,
a
self that
Carroll is
suggesting
may
have more
powers
over the idealis
tic
higher
self of Victorians than
they
cared
to
admit.
Throughout
her
stay
in
Wonderland,
Alice is reminded
by
other creatures that she is not "above" her lower self. She is
often informed that
she, too,
is
a
creature,
or not better than
a
creature?and therefore
not
only prone
to
appetite,
but also
vulnerable to the
appetites
of others.
To be
a victim of others'
voracity
is
perhaps
the ultimate
insult in a
Wonderland where insult and
incivility
are the
rule. The breakdown in
civility
in
Wonderland,
a
place
where
rude,
powerful figures
can ride
roughshod
over the
autonomy
of
others,
is
mirrored,
or even
troped,
in the
eating
behavior of the
creatures,
whose
appetites
constantly
victim
ize other creatures.
Often,
Carroll will
present
the
matter
from the victim's
point
of
view,
as in the
self-pitying
lament
of the Mock
Turtle,
or in the
complaint
of the feistier
pud
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Solving
the Mad Hatter's Riddle
ding,
out of which Alice has
just
cut a
slice:
"What
impertinence!"
said the
Pudding.
"I wonder how
you'd
like
it,
if I were to cut a slice out of
you, you
creature!"
The
Pudding
not
only
reminds Alice that
she, too,
is
a
creature,
subject
to all the laws of
creaturedom,
but also is
quick
to
characterize Alice's behavior
as
rude. Since Alice
must
eat,
and must slice the
pudding
in order to eat
it,
Carroll
seems to be
suggesting
that life itself is
extremely
rude.
At this
point,
in
fact,
let
us
go
back to Alice's
admonitory
words to The Mad Hatter at his Tea
Party:
"You should learn
not to make
personal
remarks,"
Alice said
with some
severity,
"It's
very
rude."
To which the Hatter
replies,
his
eyes
opening
very
wide in a
familiar
signal
that,
especially
in
genteel English
circles,
indicates that somehow
one
has
gone
too far:
"Why
is a raven
like
a
writing
desk?" If he had
gone
on to
supply
Alice with
either of
our
solutions,
she would have
seen
that he
was,
indirectly, responding
to her
charge
of rudeness. While his
riddle
nonsensically
deflects Alice's
task-taking,
our
first
solution,
which unites the raven and the
writing
desk
through
the
introduction
of a
worm,
comes
right
back to the
themes Carroll has been
exploring throughout
the narrative.
A raven eats
worms,
a
writing
desk is worm-eaten. When life
itself,
with its worms
and
ravens,
is
so
very rude,
what
can
the
manners of a Hatter matter? Far from
being particular
to the
Hatter's tea
party, incivility
is
actually
what makes the world
go
round. While the Hatter is
breaking
Alice's rules of eti
quette,
he is
observing
the laws of nature. Rudeness is
so
much
a
law of life in
Wonderland, that,
as our
second solu
tion to the Hatter's riddle
suggests,
writers of riddles can be
rude
as
ravens,
if
they
choose. The Hatter is
telling
us
that
he,
the
riddler,
or
riddle-writer
(at
his
writing desk)
is not other
than
a
rude
raven,
but
is,
in
fact,
none
other than
a
rude
raven. His widened
eyes
tell
us,
furthermore,
that Alice her
self has been
a
bit of
a raven herself in her
admonishing
of her
host,
breaking
the laws of
civility
she is
asking
him to
observe.
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Similarly,
the
Pudding's
reaction to
Alice's
quite
natural,
creaturely attempt
to eat it reminds Alice that she has in fact
"rudely"
failed to
respect
the
Pudding's right
to
autonomy,
to
selfhood,
to
existence itself. In
being
of
necessity
bound to the
laws of
nature,
she has broken the rules of
civility,
which
puts
her in rather
a
double-bind. The
Pudding's separate identity
must
clearly
be
rudely ignored
and discounted
by
Alice if she
is to eat well.
Many
of the creatures in Wonderland
engage
in
a
struggle,
often
vainly,
for their
autonomy.
Characters such
as the
Pepper
Duchess and the Red
Queen
crush
indepen
dence
by psychologically devouring
those around
them,
especially
those
they perceive
as
oppositional
"others." Other
creatures are eaten alive in a more
literal
manner?although
these
episodes
often
suggest metaphors
of sadistic domina
tion,
in which the
autonomy
and
integrity
of the eaten
object
is denied or
disallowed.
Food in Wonderland is like oneself in its
creatureliness,
but it is
clearly something
other than oneself
as
well. A
differentiating process
takes
place
when creatures eat crea
tures. It
is,
in
fact,
Alice's
even more
advanced differentiation
of herself from the world of the creatures around her which
will enable her to
grow up
and out of this
underground
society altogether,
and,
not
incidentally, keep
her from
being
(quite rudely)
beheaded
by
the
punitive
Red
Queen.
Alice
literally
and
figuratively outgrows
the creatures of Wonder
land;
her differentiation from them and
sense of
power
over
them saves her from
being
their victim. Alice's rational facul
ties,
combined with her
self-control,
transcend the
more
primary, impulsive underground
world with its ruthless
principle
of
eat-or-be-eaten,
providing
her adventures with
a
happy ending.
Alice returns to terra
firma,
regaining
con
sciousness
just
in time to run
along
to tea in her
normal,
well-run household. It is a measure of Carroll's
genius,
how
ever,
that he leaves
us
with the
strong
conviction that the
more
authentic
reality
does not reside in Alice's
placid
life
above
ground,
but in the far more formidable and
terrifying
dreamworld of
ravenous
worms,
worm-eaten
writing
desks,
dark birds of
prey.
468
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