Through the Looking-Glass

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Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There
Through the looking glass.jpg
First edition cover of Through the Looking-Glass
Author Lewis Carroll
Illustrator John Tenniel
CountryUnited Kingdom
Genre Children's fiction
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date
27 December 1871 (dated 1872)
Preceded by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  

Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (also known as Alice Through the Looking-Glass or simply Through the Looking-Glass) is a novel published on 27 December 1871 (though indicated as 1872) [1] by Lewis Carroll, a mathematics lecturer at Christ Church, University of Oxford, and the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). Alice again enters a fantastical world, this time by climbing through a mirror into the world that she can see beyond it. There she finds that, just like a reflection, everything is reversed, including logic (for example, running helps one remain stationary, walking away from something brings one towards it, chessmen are alive, nursery rhyme characters exist, and so on).


Through the Looking-Glass includes such verses as "Jabberwocky" and "The Walrus and the Carpenter", and the episode involving Tweedledum and Tweedledee. The mirror above the fireplace that is displayed at Hetton Lawn in Charlton Kings, Gloucestershire (a house that was owned by Alice Liddell's grandparents, and was regularly visited by Alice and Lewis Carroll) resembles the one drawn by John Tenniel and is cited as a possible inspiration for Carroll. [2] It prompted a newfound appreciation for its predecessor when it was published. [3]

Plot summary

Alice is playing with a white kitten (whom she calls "Snowdrop") and a black kitten (whom she calls "Kitty") while pondering what the world is like on the other side of a mirror's reflection. Climbing up onto a mantelpiece, she pokes at the wall-hung mirror behind a fireplace and discovers, to her surprise, that she can step through it. She ends up in a reflected version of her own house and finds a book with looking-glass poetry, "Jabberwocky", whose reversed printing she can read only by holding it up to the mirror. She also observes that the chess pieces have come to life, though they remain small enough for her to pick up.

Alice entering the looking-glass. Aliceroom3.jpg
Alice entering the looking-glass.

Upon leaving the house (where it had been a cold, snowy night), she enters a sunny spring garden where the flowers can speak. Elsewhere in the garden, Alice meets the Red Queen, who is now human-sized, and who impresses Alice with her ability to run at breathtaking speeds.

The Red Queen reveals that the entire countryside is laid out in squares, like a gigantic chessboard, and offers to make Alice a queen if she can move all the way to the eighth rank/row in a chess match. Alice is placed in the second rank as one of the White Queen's pawns, and begins her journey across the chessboard by boarding a train that jumps over the third row and directly into the fourth rank, thus acting on the rule that pawns can advance two spaces on their first move. She arrives in a forest where a gnat teaches her about the looking glass insects, creatures part bug part object (e.g., bread and butterfly, rocking horse fly), before flying away. Continuing her journey, Alice crosses the "wood where things have no names". There she forgets all nouns, including her own name. With the help of a fawn who has also forgotten his identity, she makes it to the other side, where they both remember everything. Realizing that he is a fawn, she is a human, and that fawns are afraid of humans, it runs off.

Alice meeting Tweedledum (centre) and Tweedledee (right) Tennieldumdee.jpg
Alice meeting Tweedledum (centre) and Tweedledee (right)

She then meets the twin brothers Tweedledum and Tweedledee, whom she knows from the nursery rhyme. After reciting a poem, they draw Alice's attention to the Red King—sleeping under a nearby tree—and provoke her with idle philosophical banter that she is but an imaginary figure in his dreams. The brothers begin suiting up for battle, only to be frightened away by an enormous crow, as the nursery rhyme about them predicts.

The Red King dreaming Red King sleeping.jpg
The Red King dreaming

Alice next meets the White Queen, who is absent-minded but can remember future events before they have happened. Alice and the White Queen advance into the chessboard's fifth rank by crossing over a brook together, but at the very moment of the crossing, the Queen transforms into a talking Sheep in a small shop. Alice soon finds herself struggling to handle the oars of a small rowboat, where the Sheep annoys her with shouting about "crabs" and "feathers".

After crossing another brook into the sixth rank, Alice encounters Humpty Dumpty, who, besides celebrating his unbirthday, provides his own translation of the strange terms in "Jabberwocky". In the process, he introduces Alice to the concept of portmanteau words, before his inevitable fall.

The White Knight Alice knight.jpg
The White Knight

"All the king's horses and all the king's men" come to Humpty Dumpty's assistance, and are accompanied by the White King, along with the Lion and the Unicorn, who proceed to act out a nursery rhyme by fighting with each other. The March Hare and Hatter [lower-alpha 1] appear in the guise of "Anglo-Saxon messengers" called "Haigha" and "Hatta".

Upon leaving the Lion and Unicorn to their fight, Alice reaches the seventh rank by crossing another brook into the forested territory of the Red Knight, who wants to capture the "white pawn"—Alice—until the White Knight comes to her rescue. Escorting her through the forest towards the final brook-crossing, the Knight recites a poem of his own composition and repeatedly falls off his horse.

Bidding farewell to the White Knight, Alice steps across the last brook, and is automatically crowned a queen, with the crown materialising abruptly on her head. [lower-alpha 2] She soon finds herself in the company of both the White and Red Queens, who confound Alice by using word play to thwart her attempts at logical discussion. They then invite one another to a party that will be hosted by Alice—of which Alice herself had no prior knowledge.

Alice arrives and seats herself at her own party, which quickly turns into chaos. Alice grabs the Red Queen, believing her to be responsible for all the day's nonsense, and begins shaking her.

Alice awakes in her armchair to find herself holding Kitty, whom she deduces to have been the Red Queen all along, with Snowdrop having been the White Queen. Alice then recalls the speculation of the Tweedle brothers, that everything may have been a dream of the Red King, and that Alice might herself be no more than a figment of his imagination.


Main characters

Minor characters



One of the key motifs of Through the Looking-Glass is that of mirrors, including the use of opposites, time running backwards, and so on, not to mention the title of the book itself. In fact, the themes and settings of the book make it somewhat of a mirror image of its predecessor, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865). The first book begins in the warm outdoors, on 4 May; [lower-alpha 3] uses frequent changes in size as a plot device; and draws on the imagery of playing cards. The second book, however, opens indoors on a snowy, wintry night exactly six months later, on 4 November (the day before Guy Fawkes Night); [lower-alpha 4] uses frequent changes in time and spatial directions as a plot device; and draws on the imagery of chess.


Lewis Carroll's diagram of the story as a chess game Alice chess game.png
Lewis Carroll's diagram of the story as a chess game
The composition, according to Glen Downey Through the Looking-Glass chess game.gif
The composition, according to Glen Downey

While the first Alice novel took playing cards as a theme, Through the Looking-Glass instead used chess; most of the main characters are represented by chess pieces, with Alice being a pawn. The looking-glass world consists of square fields divided by brooks or streams, and the crossing of each brook typically signifies a change in scene, with Alice advancing one square. At the book's beginning, Carroll provided and explained a chess composition with descriptive notation, corresponding to the events of the story. Although the piece movements follow the rules of chess, other basic rules are ignored: one player (White) makes several consecutive moves while the (Red/Black) opponent's moves are skipped, and a late check (12... Qe8+) is left undealt with. Carroll also explained that certain items listed in the composition do not have corresponding piece moves but simply refer to the story, e.g. the "castling of the three Queens, which is merely a way of saying that they entered the palace". Despite these liberties, the final position is an authentic checkmate.

The most extensive treatment of the chess motif in Carroll's novel was made by Glen Downey in his master's thesis, later expanded and incorporated into his dissertation on the use of chess as a device in Victorian fiction. In the former piece, Downey gave the composition's moves in algebraic notation: 1... Qh5 2. d4 3. Qc4 4. Qc5 5. d5 6. Qf8 7. d6 8. Qc8 9. d7 Ne7+ 10. Nxe7 11. Nf5 12. d8=Q Qe8+ 13. Qa6 14. Qxe8#. [4] In the latter piece, Downey treated the 21 items in the composition sequentially, identifying the above 16 coherent chess moves, and another five items as "non-moves" or pure story descriptors, per Carroll's qualification. [5]

The mating position nearly satisfies the conditions of a pure mate, a special type of checkmate where the mated king is prevented from moving to any of the adjacent squares in its field by exactly one enemy attack, among other conditions. The position is also nearly an ideal mate, a stronger form of pure mate in which every piece on the board of either colour contributes to the checkmate. The one feature of the position which prevents it from being either a pure or an ideal mate is that the Red (Black) King is unable to move to e3 for two reasons: the knight's attack, and the (sustained) attack of the newly promoted, mating queen. Although pure and ideal mates are "incidental" in real games, they are objects of aesthetic interest to composers of chess problems. [6]


The White Queen offers to hire Alice as her lady's maid and to pay her "twopence a week, and jam every other day". Alice says that she does not want any jam today, to which the Queen replies, "you couldn't have it if you did want it. The rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterdaybut never jam to-day." This is a reference to the rule in Latin that the word iam or jam—which means now, in the sense of already or at that time—cannot be used to describe now in the present, which is nunc in Latin. Therefore, "jam" is never available today. [7] This exchange is also a demonstration of the logical fallacy of equivocation. [8]

Poems and songs

The Walrus and the Carpenter Briny Beach.jpg
The Walrus and the Carpenter

Most poems and songs in the book do not include a title.

The Wasp in a Wig

Lewis Carroll decided to suppress a scene involving what was described as "a wasp in a wig" (possibly a play on the commonplace expression "bee in the bonnet"). A biography of Carroll, written by Carroll's nephew, Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, suggests that one of the reasons for this suppression was a suggestion from his illustrator, John Tenniel, [11] who wrote in a letter to Carroll dated 1 June 1870: [12]

I am bound to say that the 'wasp' chapter doesn't interest me in the least, and I can't see my way to a picture. If you want to shorten the book, I can't help thinking—with all submission—that there is your opportunity.

For many years, no one had any idea what this missing section was or whether it had survived. In 1974, a document purporting to be the galley proofs of the missing section was auctioned at Sotheby's; the catalogue description, in part, read, "the proofs were bought at the sale of the author's…personal effects…Oxford, 1898". The document would be won by John Fleming, a Manhattan book dealer, for a bid of about US$832(equivalent to $4,937 in 2022). [13] The contents were subsequently published in Martin Gardner's More Annotated Alice (1990), [14] and are also available as a hardback book. [15]

The rediscovered section describes Alice's encounter with a wasp wearing a yellow wig, and includes a full previously unpublished poem. If included in the book, it would have followed, or been included at the end of, Chapter 8the chapter featuring the encounter with the White Knight. The discovery is generally accepted as genuine, but the proofs have yet to receive any physical examination to establish age and authenticity. [16]

The missing episode was included in the 1998 TV film adaptation Alice through the Looking Glass , with the character being portrayed by Ian Richardson. It was also included in the 2010 graphic novel "The Complete Alice in Wonderland".

Dramatic adaptations

The Jabberwock Jabberwocky.jpg
The Jabberwock

The book has been adapted several times, both in combination with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and as a stand-alone feature.

Stand-alone adaptations

Adaptations with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Film and TV

  • Alice in Wonderland (1933) is a pre-code live-action film directed by Norman Z. McLeod, with Charlotte Henry in the role of Alice, along with Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, and others. Despite the title, the film features most elements from Through the Looking Glass as well, including Humpty Dumpty (played by W. C. Fields) and a Harman-Ising animated version of "The Walrus and the Carpenter". [27]
  • The animated Alice in Wonderland (1951) is the 13th animated feature film of Walt Disney and the most famous among all direct adaptions of Carroll's work. The film features several elements from Through the Looking-Glass, including the talking flowers, Tweedledee & Tweedledum, and "The Walrus and the Carpenter". The Unbirthbay celebration is held by the Mad Hatter and March Hare during the tea party scene. [28]
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1972), a musical film starring Fiona Fullerton as Alice, includes the twins Fred and Frank Cox as Tweedledum & Tweedledee. [29]
  • Nel Mondo Di Alice ("In the World of Alice") is a 1974 Italian TV series that covers both novels, particularly Through the Looking-Glass in episodes 3 and 4. [30]
  • Alice in Wonderland (1985) is a two-part TV musical produced by Irwin Allen that covers both books, and stars Natalie Gregory as Alice. In this adaptation, the Jabberwock materialises into reality after Alice reads "Jabberwocky", pursuing her throughout the second half of the musical. [31]
  • Fushigi no Kuni no Arisu (1985; Japanese : ふしぎの国のアリス) is an anime adaptation of the two novels in which later episodes adhere more closely with Through the Looking Glass.
  • Alice in Wonderland (1999), a made-for-TV Hallmark/NBC film with Tina Majorino as Alice, uses elements from Through the Looking Glass, such as the talking flowers, Tweedledee & Tweedledum, and "The Walrus and the Carpenter", as well as the chess theme, including the snoring Red King and White Knight. [32]
  • Alice (2009) is a Syfy TV miniseries that contains elements from both novels. [33]
  • Alice in Wonderland (2010), directed by Tim Burton, is a live-action Disney reboot that follows Alice at an adult age, containing elements from both books. [34]

Stage productions

Maidie Andrews as Alice in Alice Through the Looking-Glass at the Comedy Theatre, London during the Christmas period 1903-04. Pictured in The Tatler (January 1904) Maidie Andrews Tatler 1904.jpg
Maidie Andrews as Alice in Alice Through the Looking-Glass at the Comedy Theatre, London during the Christmas period 1903–04. Pictured in The Tatler (January 1904)


See also

Related Research Articles

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  1. First introduced in the first book.
  2. This is a reference to pawn promotion.
  3. During the "Mad Tea-Party", Alice reveals that the date is "the fourth" and that the month is "May" (chap.7).
  4. In the first chapter, Alice speaks of the snow outside and the "bonfire" that "the boys" are building for a celebration "to-morrow," a clear reference to the traditional bonfires of Guy Fawkes Night that take place on 5 November. In Chapter 5, she affirms that her age is "seven and a half exactly."
  5. See "Jabberwocky" full poem including readings, via Wikisource.
  6. See "Walrus and the Carpenter" full poem, via Wikisource.


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  4. Downey, Glen (1992). Theoretical Checkmating: an Analysis of the Manner in which the "Chess Problem" in Through the Looking-Glass Resists and Subverts Critical Interpretations of the Novel's Chess Motif (PDF) (MA). McMaster University. p. 66 (.pdf p. 73).
  5. Downey, Glen (1998). "3" (PDF). The Truth about Pawn Promotion: The Development of the Chess Motif in Victorian Fiction (PhD). University of Victoria.
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  11. Symon, Evan V. (18 June 2014) [2013]. "10 Deleted Chapters that Transformed Famous Books". Listverse.
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  13. "The Wasp in a Wig: A 'Suppressed' Episode of Through The Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There [exhibit item]". University of Maryland Libraries . Retrieved 12 January 2023. Alice 150 Years and Counting…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll
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  23. Henderson, John. 1998. Alice Through the Looking Glass. UK: Projector Productions and Channel 4. See Alice Through the Looking Glass (1998) at IMDb.
  24. Burden, Andy (dir.). Alice Through a Looking Glass [live production], written by H. Naylor, music by P. Dodgson. Factory Theatre: Tobacco Factory Theatres.
  25. Upton, Andrew. 2008. Through the Looking Glass [opera], composed by A. John. Malthouse Theatre: Victorian Opera.
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  28. Geronimi, Clyde, Wilfred Jackson and Hamilton Luske. 1951. Alice in Wonderland. US: Walt Disney Studios. See Alice in Wonderland (1951) at IMDb.
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Other sources

Online texts