You remember Alice – the girl who chased a white rabbit down a hole and almost got her head cut off by the Queen of Hearts! But did you know that later on, when she was a bit older, Alice had another, entirely different adventure?
Whenever Alice was bored, and she was often very bored – remember, in her day there was no TV and there were no video games – she would spend hours staring into the big mirror that hung on her living room wall.
As she gazed into that looking-glass, she could see a room on the other side. It looked just like her own living room…well, almost just like it. It looked just like it except that on the other side of the looking-glass, everything was reversed!
That’s right, reversed! If Alice stuck out her right hand to shake hands with the girl in the mirror, that girl would stick out her left hand. If Alice wrote a note (from left to right, of course), the girl on the other side of the glass would write the very same note…but from right to left.
Otherwise though, everything looked exactly the same. But Alice wondered. Was it really the same? After all, if right and left were reversed, maybe other things might be reversed as well. But how could she tell?
“How nice it would be if we could only get through into Looking-glass house,” she thought. And then, a moment later, there she was…on the other side of the glass!
As expected, whatever Alice had been able to see from her own living room was just the same… in other words, boring! But what about everything else, everything she couldn’t see from her side of glass? All that was as different as different could be! Alice had been right to be suspicious of the mirror after all.
Alice immediately headed out of Looking-glass house toward the garden. She was not at all surprised to find flowers in this garden…but she was VERY surprised to learn that these flowers could talk!
“…Can all the flowers talk?” Alice asked. “As well as you can,” said the Tiger-lily, “and a great deal louder.”
Alice noticed a high hill in the distance. “I should see the garden far better,” said Alice to herself, “if I could get to the top of that hill: and here’s a path that leads straight to it…”
Only it didn’t! No matter how hard Alice tried, no matter what turns she made, she always ended up right back where she started. But Alice was a very clever girl, so she decided to try a new plan. Instead of walking toward the hill and always missing it, she decided to walk in the opposite direction, away from the hill, to see where that would take her.
Her plan succeeded beautifully. She hadn’t been walking more than a minute when she found herself at the base of that hill.
So it isn’t just right and left that are reversed in Looking-glass world; it’s also to and from!
At the base of the hill, Alice met the Red Queen. After some polite conversation, Alice and the Queen suddenly started running. They ran hand-in-hand, as fast as they possibly could for as long as they possibly could. But while she was running, Alice noticed something strange: the trees and the other things around them never changed; they seemed to move right along with them.
Finally, the Queen stopped and Alice flopped to the ground breathless. Then she noticed, “…We’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!”
Alice complained to the Queen, “…In our country, you’d generally get to somewhere else – if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.”
But the Queen replied, “Now here you see it takes all the running you can do just to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
If it takes all the running you can do just to stay in one place, what happens when you stand still; do you go backwards?
Next, Alice encountered the White Queen and her majesty looked quite a mess. Alice did her best to help the Queen tidy up and then she suggested that the Queen might like to hire a maid to help her stay neat and clean in the future.
The Queen offered the job to Alice, “Two pence a week and jam every other day.” Imagine getting by on an allowance of two pennies a week! But Alice didn’t object to the low wage; instead she protested that she didn’t like jam, “Well, I don’t want any to-day at any rate.”
“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the Queen said. “The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today…”
Alice objected, “It must come sometimes to jam today.”
“No, it can’t,” said the Queen. “It’s jam every other day; today isn’t any other day, you know.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Alice, obviously puzzled.
“That’s the effect of living backwards,” the Queen explained. “It always makes one a little giddy at first.” Then the Queen decided to tell Alice more about what it’s like to live on her side of the glass. “Memory works both ways,” she said.
“I’m sure mine only works one way,” Alice replied, “I can’t remember things before they happen…What sorts of things do you remember best?”
“Oh, things that happened the week after next,” the Queen replied.
The Queen pointed to the King’s Messenger, “He’s in prison now, being punished, and the trial doesn’t even begin till next Wednesday, and of course the crime comes last of all.”
Before Alice could object to this unfair treatment, the Queen began screaming. Alice rushed to comfort her, “What is the matter? Have you pricked your finger?”
“I haven’t pricked it yet,” the Queen said, “but I soon shall.” And sure enough, a moment later, she did just that!
Later, Alice was seated on the bank of a little brook. She was balancing a large dish on her knees and in the middle of the dish was a delicious looking cake. Alice began cutting slices but as soon as she’d finish cutting one slice that slice would join right up again with the rest of the cake.
“You don’t know how to manage Looking-glass cakes”, the Unicorn said (oh yes, there are unicorns beyond the looking-glass as well; did I forget to mention that? And they talk!).
“Hand it round first, and cut it afterwards.” This sounded like utter nonsense to Alice, but she was a very obedient girl, most of the time at least, so she got up and carried the dish around as the Unicorn had ordered her to do. To Alice’s utter amazement, the cake divided itself into three pieces.
“Now cut it up,” said the Lion (Oh yes, there are lions too!).
So it’s not only memory that goes both ways beyond the looking-glass.
But let’s get back to the matter of the jam. Alice explained to the Queen that she did not like jam, “Well, I don’t want any to-day at any rate.”
Remember what the Queen said? “’You couldn’t have it if you did want it…the rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.”
So in Looking-glass world there is a past (yesterday) and a future (tomorrow), but is there are a present (jam today)?
Later on, Alice found herself in a shop where every shelf seemed to be overflowing with interesting things to buy. But whenever she walked up to any particular shelf, that shelf was always completely empty.
The shelves that are there are always full but the shelf that is here is always empty!
In Looking-glass world, it seems you can have all the jam you want…just not now; and you can buy anything you want…just not here. You can never actually have jam (or anything else you want) when you want it and the stores are always totally out of what you want, even though their shelves are overflowing with whatever you don’t want.
In Looking-glass world, there is plenty of there and then but not a bit of here and now. How different is that from our side of the glass? We always seem to be living here and now.
Later, while visiting Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Alice sees the Red King. He is asleep. “’He’s dreaming now,” said Tweedledee. “And what do you think he’s dreaming about?’”
“Nobody can guess that,” Alice replied
“Why about you!” Tweedledee exclaimed. “And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?”
“Where I am now, of course,” said Alice.
“’You’d be nowhere,” replied Tweedledee. “Why you’re only a sort of thing in his dream!’”
“If the King were to wake,” added Tweedledum, “you’d go out – bang! – just like a candle!’”
On our side of the looking-glass, things have insides and outsides. If you’re outside you may not be able to see inside and if you’re inside you may not be able to see outside. For example, you cannot see into anyone else’s mind to read anyone else’s thoughts and, thank goodness, no one can see into your mind to read your thought either.
On the other side of the mirror, things are quite different. There is no inside and no outside. Thoughts are not private. You might even be someone else’s thought, but then again, someone else might actually be your thought.
Toward the end of her stay in Looking-glass world, Alice met the famous Humpty-Dumpty. Like any good girl of her day, Alice knew her nursery rhymes backwards and forwards, so when she met Humpty, she was immediately worried for his safety. “Don’t you think you’d be safer down on the ground? That wall is so very narrow!”
In response, Humpty Dumpty growled. “Of course I don’t think so. Why, if I ever did fall off – which there’s no chance of – but if I did…the King has promised me – with his very own mouth…”
Here Alice interrupted, “To send all his horses and all his men…”
Moments later, a crash shook the forest from end to end and soldiers came running, first two or three, then ten or twenty, finally thousands. So many that they seemed to fill the whole forest! The king had kept his promise. But would his horses and his men be able to put Humpty together again?
Maybe not on our side of the looking-glass but on the other side…who knows?
At the end of her adventure, when Alice was safely back on her own side of the mirror again, she thought about her experience and said to her pussy cat, “’Now, Kitty, let’s consider, who it was that dreamed it all…it must have been either me or the Red King. He was part of my dream, of course – but then I was part of his dream too!’”
Was it a dream? And if it was, who do you think dreamed it all?
Alice’s adventure began when she noticed that left and right were reversed in her living room mirror. She was curious and wondered if other things might be reversed on the other side as well. She might have sat in front of that looking-glass wondering forever if she hadn’t suddenly found herself on the other side…in Looking-glass world.
Once there, every new adventure, some recorded here, some not, showed her just how different things are on the other side of the mirror. Could such a world actually exist? Does it exist? If such a world did exist, would it be just the way Alice found it?
To learn more about Alice and her adventures, check out Lewis Carroll’s novel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.