When mulling over boat trips that inspired major works
of fiction, we inevitably think of Mark Twain piloting
the 865-ton Memphis down the Mississippi River,
Joseph Conrad serving as a steamboat captain in the
Congo, or Herman Melville's 18-month trip to the
South Pacific.  But 150 years ago this week, a very short
boat trip took place that resulted in a very big book—
perhaps not in word count (it's only one-tenth the size
Moby Dick), but certainly by any
other measure.   

If you know which book I'm refer-
ring to, you will probably credit its
inspiration to a young girl named
Alice.  But I have a different view,
and prefer to give props to a for-
gotten Anglican minister, who
may be the real reason why we
now enjoy the famous story of
Alice in Wonderland.   

On July 4, 1862, mathematician Charles Dodgson—
better known to us as Lewis Carroll—spent a pleasant
afternoon with a small party of acquaintances.  The
group embarked on a rowing expedition from Oxford,
journeying to Godstow some three miles away, where
they stopped to have tea on the river bank.  Dodgson
was joined by his friend Reverend Robinson
Duckworth and the three Liddell sisters:  Edith (age 8),
Alice (age 10) and Lorina (age 13).  As he often did on
such occasions, Dodgson regaled his companions with
an extemporized tale, filled with such fantastic and
humorous characters and incidents as might delight
the young ladies in his charge.

He named the protagonist of his fanciful story Alice,
after the middle Liddell sister.  He told of his heroine's
pursuit of the White Rabbit, her journey down a rabbit
hole, and Alice’s ensuing adventures in a magical, topsy-
turvy world now known to us as Wonderland.  Alice
Liddell was so charmed by the tale that she insisted Mr.
Dodgson write it down for her.  The young
mathematician did just that, and later presented her
with a manuscript entitled
Alice's Adventures Under

Dodgson had already sent the story to George
MacDonald, an author whose works would later
C.S. Lewis (who called MacDonald his
"master") and
J. R. R. Tolkien. MacDonald submitted
the manuscript to the ultimate test—he gave it to his
own children to read, and relayed their enthusiastic
response to Dodgson, who embarked on rewrites
with an eye toward publication.  The new version,
now entitled
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, was
almost twice as long as the earlier manuscript, and
benefited from the addition of now famous scenes
involving the Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter's tea
party.  With the further enhancement of illustrations
by John Tenniel, the story was published in 1865, and
credited to author Lewis Carroll.

Those tracing the history of this now famous work
typically focus on the catalytic role of the young real-
life Alice, ten year old Alice Liddell, in inspiring the
story. But I have a different opinion, and see the other
adult, the forgotten Reverend Duckworth—a talented
singer, who was then a fellow at my alma mater Trinity
College, Oxford—playing the decisive role in shaping
the peculiar character of
Alice in Wonderland. In
Duckworth's account of the day, he provides these
important details:  "I rowed stroke and he rowed
bow…and the story was actually composed and spoken
over my shoulder for the benefit of Alice Liddell."

And why is this important?  This unusual setting for
literary invention helps us understand why Carroll's
narrative has the distinct flavor of a tale aimed
simultaneously at children and adults. As readers of
this classic are aware (and even more so, readers of
Martin Gardner's marvelous annotated version of the
work), this book is much more than an amusing story
for young children, but a multilayered work filled with
many things—allusions, puns, philosophical specu-
lation and humorous asides—far more suited to an
audience of grownups.  These coexist with the fantastic
fairy tale elements that no doubt delighted the Liddell
sisters.  So give the fine Reverend his due for forcing
his friend to extemporize in a manner suited to both
young and old.

Carroll was neither the first nor the last to instill adult
concerns into stories for children—other bearers of
tales, from Aesop to Lemony Snicket have done the
same.  But Carroll is the preeminent master of this
distinctive breed of fictive multivalence, mixing in
wildly different elements in a provocative manner that
anticipates postmodern narrative techniques, even
while understanding the demands of composing stories
for younger readers.  This balancing act, never easy,
would be beyond many celebrated authors who write
with skill and success for either adults or children, but
would be flummoxed trying to do both at the same time.

The memorable characters—the Queen of Hearts, the
Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, and
others—provide much of the magic here.  They are the
parts of this story most often remembered and
discussed…and most easily transferred to other media
via the book's numerous adaptations.  Of these, there
are no shortage: Carroll’s work has inspired films,
cartoons, video games, graphic novels, stage
productions, operas, radio broadcasts, and theme park
rides.  But the real essence of Carroll's achievement,
namely his unique mixture of the playful, profound
and paradoxical, is far less easy to transplant into other
formats.  For this reason, even those who think they
are intimately familiar with the story of Alice from
these adaptations are likely to be surprised and
delighted when they first encounter Carroll's book.   

This in itself offers a valuable lesson.  In our day and
age, many are inclined to see a story on the printed
page as one-dimensional, as inevitably falling short of
the technologically-enhanced tales shown on the
screen, turbocharged with special effects, 3D, and
all the other advances that Carroll—himself a devoted
photographer fascinated with the visual image—could
never have anticipated.  Yet with this particular story
the roles are reversed.  When grappling with
Alice in
, the movie or computer screen is the flat,
undifferentiated surface, while the printed page takes on
extraordinary depth, conveying a plenitude of meanings
and marvels that cannot be "enhanced" or even
replicated by the most advanced digital tools.

And that may be the greatest wonder of Wonderland.
It's a wonder, moreover, that need not ever expire,
given the extraordinary nature of Carroll's imagination.  
For this book, in contradistinction to almost every
other narrative for children, delights in asking
questions rather than offering answers, in opening
doors and passageways (or rabbit holes, for that
matter), rather than shutting them off, in inspiring
creativity rather than serving it up pre-packaged.  
And that’s a kind of wonder we ought always to
nurture, and never to outgrow.  

Ted Gioia writes on music, literature, and popular culture.
His newest book is
The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the
How Alice Got to Wonderland
by Ted Gioia
Click on image to purchase
The Year
(click here)
Welcome to my year of magical
reading.  Each week during the
course of 2012,  I will explore an
important work of fiction that
incorporates elements of magic,
fantasy or the surreal.  My choices
will cross conventional boundary
lines of genre, style and
historical period—indeed,
one of my intentions in
this project is to show
how the conventional
labels applied to these
works have become
constraining, deaden-
ing and misleading.

In its earliest days, story-
telling almost always
partook of the magical.
Only in recent years have we
segregated works arising from this
venerable tradition into publishing
industry categories such as
"magical realism" or "paranormal"
or "fantasy" or some other 'genre'
pigeonhole. These labels are not
without their value, but too often
they have blinded us to the rich
and multidimensional heritage
beyond category that these works

This larger heritage is mimicked in
our individual lives: most of us first
experienced the joys of narrative
fiction through stories of myth and
magic, the fanciful and
phantasmagorical; but only a very
few retain into adulthood this
sense of the kind of enchantment
possible only through storytelling.  
As such, revisiting this stream of
fiction from a mature, literate
perspective both broadens our
horizons and allows us to
recapture some of that magic in
our imaginative lives.

The Year of Magical Reading:

Week 1:
Midnight's Children by
Salman Rushdie

Week 2:  The House of the Spirits
Isabel Allende

Week 3:  The Witches of Eastwick
John Updike

Week 4:  Magic for Beginners by
Kelly Link

Week 5:  The Tin Drum by Günter

Week 6:  The Golden Ass by

Week 7:  The Tiger's Wife by Téa

Week 8:  One Hundred Years of
Solitude  by Gabriel García

Week 9:  The Book of Laughter
and Forgetting by Milan Kundera

Week 10: Gargantua and
Pantagruel by François Rabelais

Week 11: The Famished Road by
Ben Okri

Week 12: Like Water for
Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

Week 13: Winter's Tale by Mark

Week 14: Dhalgren by Samuel R.

Week 15:  Johnathan Strange &
Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Week 16:  The Master and
Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Week 17:  Dangerous Laughter by
Steven Millhauser

Week 18:  Conjure Wife by Fritz

Week 19:  1Q84 by Haruki

Week 20:  The Hobbit by J.R.R.

Week 21:  Aura by Carlos Fuentes

Week 22:  Dr. Faustus by Thomas

Week 23:  Orlando by Virginia

Week 24:  Little, Big by John

Week 25:  The White Hotel by D.
M. Thomas

Week 26:  Neverwhere by Neil

Week 27:  Alice's Adventures in
Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Week 28:  Fifth Business by
Robertson Davies

Week 29:  The Kingdom of This
World by Alejo Carpentier

Week 30:  The Bear Comes Home
by R
afi Zabor

Week 31:  The Color of Magic by
Terry Pratchett

Week 32:  Ficciones by Jorge Luis

Week 33:  Beloved by Toni

Week 34:  Dona Flor and Her Two
Husbands by Jorge Amado

Week 35:  Hard-Boiled
Wonderland and the End of the
World by Haruki Murakami

Week 36:  What Dreams May
Come by Richard Matheson

Week 37:  Practical Magic by Alice

Week 38:  Blindess by José

Week 39:  The Fortress of
Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

Week 40:  The Magicians by Lev

Week 41:  Suddenly, A Knock at
the Door by Etgar Keret

Week 42:  Cloudstreet by Tim

Week 43:  The Obscene Bird of
NIght by José Donoso

Week 44:  The Fifty Year Sword
by M
ark Z. Danielewski

Week 45:  Gulliver's Travels by
Jonathan Swift

Week 46:  Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Week 47:  The End of the Affair by
Graham Greene

Week 48:  The Chronicles of
Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Week 49:  Hieroglyphic Tales by
Horace Walpole

Week 50:  The View from the
Seventh Layer by Kevin Brockmeier

Week 51:  Gods Without Men by
Hari Kunzru

Week 52:  At Swim-Two-Birds by
Flann O'Brien
150 years ago this week,
Lewis Carroll took the now
famous boat trip with Alice
Liddell that inspired his book
Alice in Wonderland. But did
a little-known Anglican
minister play a bigger role
than the real-life Alice in the
creation of this classic work?
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tedgioia
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features
Notes on Conceptual Fiction
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

Links to related sites
The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter

SF Site
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog

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