Thursday 2 August 2007


Funny how names stick... I was thinking the other day, when writing about Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, how little we really know about this story with which we think we are so familiar.

Start with the title itself - Alice in Wonderland - which is not what the author called it: the correct title is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (just as the sequel isn't Alice Through the Looking-glass, but Through the Looking-glass and What Alice Found There).

Then there's the case of the so-called MAD HATTER... That, of course, is what everybody always calls him, but Lewis Carroll never does: he only ever refers to him as "the Hatter".

Nor, by the way, will you find Mr Carroll talking about "The Mad Hatter's Tea-Party": he titled the chapter in which the Hatter first appears as "A Mad Tea-Party" - which it clearly was! - and since it was held in the garden of the March Hare's house, it really wasn't the Hatter's tea-party anyway!

The Hatter's personal reputation for madness, it turns out, is based solely on the testimony of a CAT --- and a Cheshire Cat at that...
'In that direction,' the Cat said, waving its right paw round, 'lives a Hatter: and in that direction,' waving the other paw, 'lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they're both mad.'

'But I don't want to go among mad people,' Alice remarked.

'Oh, you ca'n't help that,' said the Cat: 'we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad.'

'How do you know I'm mad?' said Alice.

'You must be,' said the Cat, 'or you wouldn't have come here.'
There is, I submit, no reason whatever to condemn the Hatter as being Mad, merely on the say-so of a character who believes himself and everyone else to be mad!

Of course, authorities other than Lewis Carroll, were linking hatters with madness long before Alice tumbled into Wonderland, but that is no proof that this Hatter was any less sane than you or I!

Michael Caineism
("Not a Lot of People Know That")

* Another thing Lewis Carroll never mentioned was the fact that the Hatter wore a hat with a label reading In this Style 10/6...

That detail was contributed by the book's illustrator, Sir John Tenniel. However, so utterly married are the text and the pictures, that the majority of those who have subsequently illustrated the book have kept the label in the hat and often leaving the price unchanged. One exception was Arthur Rackham who daringly reduced the asking price to 8/11!


Elliot Cowan said...

Perhaps, given the dangerous occupation of the hatter, and the events that lead to brain damage in that occupation, it is safe to assume he's mad.

Diva of Deception said...

Fascinating informational links - thank you. Knew about the madness of hatters but not of the late abolition of the use of the nitrate product nor of the process of using beaver and similar skins for hats.