Printer Friendly

A letter to Martin.

                                                            July 8, 2002
Mr. Martin Gardner 3001 Chestnut Road Hendersonville, NC 28792
Dear Martin,
     In London recently, I bought a copy of the Definitive Edition of
the Annotated Alice
, at the bookshop in the British Library (where the books from the
British Museum were relocated a few years ago). It was a wonderful
reading experience. I had read your original Annotated Alice
ages ago, but this was like reading the Mice books for the first time.
     I made a few notes as I was reading.
   1. On p. 171, when the Red Queen says: "When you say
'hill', the Queen
      interrupted, "I could show you hills, in comparison with
which you'd
      call that a valley"; and Alice objects: "a hill
can't be a valley, you
      know. That would be nonsense--"; I suspect that Dodgson was
reacting
      to something in Hans Christian Andersen's story
"Elverhoj" (the Elf
      Hill
, which is very famous and was even made into a ballet).
      The Troll King (the Mountain King, or Dovregubben, in Ibsen's
Peer
      Gynt, written later) from Norway, is visiting the Elf King in
      Denmark; and the Troll King's ill-mannered son says,
regarding the
      "Elf Hill" of the rifle, "You call this a hill
? In Norway,
      we would call it a hole
!" (Denmark is very flat and Norway
      is very mountainous.) Alice expresses Dodgson's mathematical
view
      that what is convex cannot be concave. (We would need to know when
      the English translation of "Elverhoj" reached Oxford,
and if
      Dodgson is likely to have read it.)
   2. It is interesting to compare Dodgson and Andersen. Both were men
who
      liked children and never married, or even seem to have come very
      close. Both wrote children's stories with at least one eye on
the
      adult audience, and both consciously dispensed with the need to
end
      children's stories with a moral. Both were translated into
dozens of
      languages, and are still popular today. (Denmark is planning a
major
      celebration of the 200th anniversary of H.-C. Andersen's
birth, in
      2005.)
   3. On p. 192, you quote Carroll as writing: "In composing the
Walrus and
      the Carpenter, I had no particular poem in mind". It is
certainly true
      that in its entirety, this poem is not a specific parody of any
other.
      But the first three stanzas, and the first one in particular, were
      surely "inspired" by Coleridge's Rime of the
Ancient Mariner, which
      has several stanzas about the way the sun was shining, e.g.,
  "The sun now rose upon the right,
   Out of the sea came he,
   And he shone bright, and on the left
   Went down into the sea."
   (Carroll couldn't resist parodying the least poetic outputs of
the Lake
    Poets.) But it also seemed to me that Carroll was also parodying the
    explicit moral of the Ancient Mariner: "He prayeth best who
loveth best
                                           All creatures great and
small..."
   with the treatment of the oysters by the Walrus and the Carpenter.
   4. On p. 212 you have a note explaining what a "teetotum"
is. Many of
      your readers would be surprised to learn that this is precisely
the
      kind of spinning four-sided top, called a "dreidle",
with which
      Jewish children play on Chanukah. (The four Hebrew letters nun,
      gimmel, heh
, and shin
, are on the four sides, instructing
      the player, respectively, to take a) nothing, b) everything, c)
half,
      or d) a negative amount, from the pot.)
   5. On your notes on page 235, you indicate that the inspiration for
      Carroll reintroducing the Hare and the Hatter as Anglo-Saxons
named
      Haigha and Hatta is obscure. My vague recollection from high
school
      English history (more than fifty years ago) is that Anglo-Saxon
      history in England begins with two warriors named Hengist and
Horsa.
      Quite likely the Liddell sisters had learned something like this
from
      one of their tutors, or seen it in the play that you mentioned,
and
      Carroll couldn't resist wordplay on these names.
   6. There are many Britishisms that are still in current use but
      unfamiliar to Americans (e.g., that a pudding
 is any sort of
      sweet or dessert, or even a different food entirely as in
Yorkshire
      pudding); and things that have become less familiar even in
England
      during our own lifetimes (like the old pound-shilling-pence
currency;
      and "English" chess notation, which even in the UK has
been giving
      way to "algebraic"). If there is ever a post-definitive
edition (the
      "pluperfect Alice"?), it may be useful to include some
glossaries,
      and two chessboards side by side to exhibit the two notations.
(Even
      in English notation, N replaced Kt. for "knight" several
decades ago.)
   7. Another mathematician who had some things in common with Dodgson
was
      the late Paul Erdos, who also never married and was very fond of
      children. But the most striking similarity was their common
      preoccupation with aging and death, starting at an earlier age
than is
      customary.
   8. I recall sending you (or at least mentioning) a clipping from a
      British paper, after a previous trip to England about ten, years
ago,
      with the information that you summarize in your note on p. 64
about
      the grin being all that Mr. Joel Birenbaum could see of the
cat's
      head after kneeling down in a church in Croft-on-Tees where
Dodgson's
      father had once been the rector. It is the custom in Anglican
churches
      for the congregants to kneel (usually on a prie-dieu
, several
      inches above the floor) during the service (a fact which Mr.
Birenbaum
      may not have known?), so that seeing the cat's face disappear
except
      for the grin would have been experienced by the entire
congregation.
      In the clipping I saw, Mr. Birenbaum further speculated that
Dodgson
      had perhaps misremembered the locale, and transferred it from
      Croft-on-Tees to Cheshire, where his father had earlier preached.
But
      you make it clear that "to grin like a Cheshire cat" was
an
      established simile in England long before the Alice books were
      written. The Carroll innovation (as far as I'm aware) was to
have the
      cat disappear except for the grin.
   9. In your notes on p. 23, referring to Carroll's parodies of
once well
      known poems, you promised "... all the originals will be
reprinted
      in this edition." But you never included Wordsworth's
Resolution
      and Independence
, a.k.a. The Leech-Gatherer
, the original
      for the White Knight's The Aged Aged Man
 (a.k.a. Ways and
      Means
, etc., etc.).
This is all I can think of for now.
Best regards,
Solomon W. Golomb 


SWG:mat

SOLOMON W. GOLOMB

Los Angeles, California
COPYRIGHT 2010 Jeremiah Farrell
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Martin Gardner
Author:Golomb, Solomon W.
Publication:Word Ways
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2010
Words:1226
Previous Article:Bayley's Claims About "Alice".
Next Article:The Word Magic of Lewis Carroll.
Topics:

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters