Curiouser and Curiouser: Fun Facts About Alice in Wonderland's Zany Characters
What do the characters in Alice in Wonderland represent?
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – and its companion piece, Through the Looking Glass – are whimsical tales full of nonsense. Looking back on the story as an adult, it’s easy to wonder, “what drugs was Lewis Carroll on when he wrote Alice in Wonderland?".
It feels like a Victorian episode of HR Puffinstuff.
Once you realize what an insane imagination Lewis Carroll had, you start to wonder about the symbolism behind his famous characters.
Characters that have become part of the archetypal fabric of the English-speaking world.
Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee, mad tea parties, and a vicious Queen of Hearts are all gifts from the crazy wonderful mind of Lewis Carroll.
If you’ve grown curiouser and curouser about the history of whimsical Wonderland and these iconic characters – this blog says “read me.”
What was the White Rabbit late for in Alice in Wonderland?
The White Rabbit is one of the most iconic characters in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – for a good reason.
Alice is curious about the waistcoat-wearing rabbit when he appears at the beginning of the story – muttering to himself about being late – so she literally follows him “down the rabbit hole” to Wonderland.
The White Rabbit sets the entire adventure in motion. He sets the tone for what’s to follow in Wonderland.
The book never explicitly tells the reader what event the White Rabbit was late for – though he reappears later in the story as a servant of the King and Queen of Hearts.
As you can undoubtedly imagine, being late for – anything – concerning her majesty the Queen of Hearts is a reason for concern.
Part of our Alice in Wonderland book candle gift box, our White Rabbit book candle – “The Hurrier I Go, the Behinder I Get” – smells of zesty orange marmalade and woodsy thyme.
March Hare vs. White Rabbit
It’s easy to get rabbit confused when reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – not every story has two anthropomorphic rabbit characters.
So what are the differences between the March Hare and the White Rabbit?
While the White Rabbit is a bit of a foppish fussbudget, the March Hare is portrayed as an “absent-minded professor” type. The first edition of Alice illustrates the March Hare with hay on his head – a typical Victorian depiction of the mad - as an unwritten symbol to contemporary readers.
Like the White Rabbit – who is always late – the March Hare is a victim of time. Perpetually stuck at an unending tea party with his buddy the Hatter – being punished by the Queen of Hearts.
What happened at the Mad Hatter’s tea party?
So why is it always tea time? And why are the Hatter, March Hare, and Dormouse stuck at an unending tea party?
In the novel, we learn that the Hatter somehow offended her majesty, the Queen of Hearts – a grave transgression, indeed.
When he sang for the Queen, the Hatter was so tone-deaf that she accused him of “murdering the time.”
Although he kept his head, the Hatter was cursed. Time is frozen for the Hatter at 6pm – tea time.
“Have I Gone Mad?” – our book candle celebrating the Mad Hatter’s tea party – blends the aromas of black tea and treacle tart – must-haves at an endless tea party.
Why is the Mad Hatter mad?
“Mad as a hatter” was Victorian slang – inspired by the sad condition of hatmakers driven “mad” by mercury poisoning – after exposure in the workplace.
As for why Carroll’s Hatter was mad – being caught in a frozen time loop is enough to drive anyone to madness.
It drove Phil Connors to the brink in Groundhog Day.
Why is the Dormouse sleepy?
Victorian children often kept dormice as pets - and housed them in old teapots filled with hay.
Lewis Carroll never tells the reader why the Dormouse is so sleepy.
It makes me wonder if pet dormice were often lazy and lethargic – so Carroll didn’t need to explain it to contemporary Victorian readers.
Because Carroll’s depiction of the Dormouse is remarkably consistent – sleepy, afraid of cats, a bit of a pushover, and a mutterer of nonsense.
Why is it called Cheshire Cat?
There are a few different theories on this subject – because Carroll never tells us.
Lewis Carroll came from Cheshire - a countryside area between industrial Manchester and the Welsh border.
A contemporary turn of phrase, “grinning like a Cheshire cat,” was Victorian slang because of the rich milk produced in the region – making for happy farm kitties. Kind of a “Happy Cows Come from California” for Victorian Britain.
Others point to a series of pub and inn signs throughout Cheshire that depict a smiling lion. Painted by an artist who was a contemporary of Carroll’s, perhaps the character reflected the region’s happy cats.
Regardless of the Cheshire Cat’s origin, he is an iconic symbol for cat lovers because of how – well – cat he is. Mysterious, teasing, aloof – bringing substance and style to every scene.
We think we captured the essence of a cool cat in “We’re All Mad Here” – our Cheshire Cat book candle. The enticing blend of tiger nut, sweet cinnamon, and vanilla cream smells like a refreshing horchata – a little spicy, subtly sweet, and a lot of fun.
Why does the Caterpillar smoke in Alice in Wonderland?
He’s certainly iconic, isn’t he? The hookah-smoking Caterpillar is even in a Jefferson Airplane song.
Depictions of the Caterpillar with his hookah – speaking in riddles – advising Alice to eat mushrooms – is probably where a lot of the “Alice in Wonderland is about drugs” speculation comes from.
The truth is, Carroll never tells us exactly why he has a hookah-smoking Caterpillar acting like a rude twit. However – this rude twit gives Alice some terrific advice that saves her later in the story.
Advice about eating a magic mushroom. But we’ve covered that already.
Maybe the lesson is that even rude twits have something valuable to teach us?
Add a little zaniness to your bookshelf with “Who Are YOU?” – our book candle tribute to the Caterpillar. The fresh scents of green apple and honey blend with – what else? – tobacco for a springtime scent with extra substance.
Why is she called the Queen of Hearts?
Lewis Carroll intentionally wrote the Queen of Hearts as a character ruled by her own passions – an unreasonable tyrant.
Symbolically ruled by her heart rather than her head.
Carroll wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland at a time when the American and French Revolutions were less than 100 years old. Britain was moving away from absolute monarchy towards constitutional monarchy.
So this portrayal of the dangers of an absolute monarch off her marbles made a point.
The courtiers surrounding her majesty are constantly placating her whims, expending valuable energy and resources “painting the roses red” and fixing croquet games. While also undoing her crazier pronouncements condemning countless subjects to death for perceived offenses.
All because she is the Queen.
As she says, “all ways here are my ways.”
And will remain so until her death.
Even if she is mad.
“Why Sometimes I Believe as Many as Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast” – our Queen of Hearts book candle – smells of red roses and royal tea.
It also changes from white to red as you burn it – in homage to painting her majesty’s roses red.
You are definitely a big Alice in Wonderland fan if you read this far. Why not treat yourself to our limited edition Alice in Wonderland candle sampler box?
Inside, you’ll find six unique candles inspired by Alice’s iconic characters – and whimsical Alice-inspired accessories!
All of the artwork in our Alice in Wonderland candle box is inspired by John Tenniel’s iconic illustrations from the novel’s first edition.
You will love the vintage feel and complex scents inspired by your favorite story.