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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
      to something in Hans Christian Andersen's story
"Elverhoj" (the Elf
, which is very famous and was even made into a ballet).
      The Troll King (the Mountain King, or Dovregubben, in Ibsen's
      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
      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
      liked children and never married, or even seem to have come very
      close. Both wrote children's stories with at least one eye on
      adult audience, and both consciously dispensed with the need to
      children's stories with a moral. Both were translated into
dozens of
      languages, and are still popular today. (Denmark is planning a
      celebration of the 200th anniversary of H.-C. Andersen's
birth, in
   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
      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
   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
      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)
      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
      Haigha and Hatta is obscure. My vague recollection from high
      English history (more than fifty years ago) is that Anglo-Saxon
      history in England begins with two warriors named Hengist and
      Quite likely the Liddell sisters had learned something like this
      one of their tutors, or seen it in the play that you mentioned,
      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
      pudding); and things that have become less familiar even in
      during our own lifetimes (like the old pound-shilling-pence
      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
      and two chessboards side by side to exhibit the two notations.
      in English notation, N replaced Kt. for "knight" several
decades ago.)
   7. Another mathematician who had some things in common with Dodgson
      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
   8. I recall sending you (or at least mentioning) a clipping from a
      British paper, after a previous trip to England about ten, years
      with the information that you summarize in your note on p. 64
      the grin being all that Mr. Joel Birenbaum could see of the
      head after kneeling down in a church in Croft-on-Tees where
      father had once been the rector. It is the custom in Anglican
      for the congregants to kneel (usually on a prie-dieu
, several
      inches above the floor) during the service (a fact which Mr.
      may not have known?), so that seeing the cat's face disappear
      for the grin would have been experienced by the entire
      In the clipping I saw, Mr. Birenbaum further speculated that
      had perhaps misremembered the locale, and transferred it from
      Croft-on-Tees to Cheshire, where his father had earlier preached.
      you make it clear that "to grin like a Cheshire cat" was
      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
      in this edition." But you never included Wordsworth's
      and Independence
, a.k.a. The Leech-Gatherer
, the original
      for the White Knight's The Aged Aged Man
 (a.k.a. Ways and
, etc., etc.).
This is all I can think of for now.
Best regards,
Solomon W. Golomb 



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Title Annotation:Martin Gardner
Author:Golomb, Solomon W.
Publication:Word Ways
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 1, 2010
Previous Article:Bayley's Claims About "Alice".
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