Book Review


The Imagination of Lewis Carroll

The Imagination of Lewis Carroll

By William Todd Seabrook
Rose Metal Press
ISBN: 978-0-9887645-7-6,
56 pp, $10.28


Reviewed by Trena Machado:

The Imagination of Lewis Carroll is the winner of the Rose Metal Press eighth annual short short chapbook contest. The book is appealing to the hand and eye, a font and layout with a flavor of Carroll’s nineteenth century. The twenty-four short chapters imaginatively take us through the life of Lewis Carroll and perhaps is a more accurate biography of him than a factual one. Seabrook uses the techniques of Carroll’s own imagination to imagine Carroll’s life of imagination.

John Tenniel, the illustrator of Alice in Wonderland, visited Carroll, who was surrounded by many chessboards with ongoing games, to show him the Cheshire cat drawing. Carroll responded, “Ah good, knight to C1…” Tenniel, looking at all the chessboards in the room, said,

“I don’t see what game you’re talking about.”
No one ever does, Carroll said.
“Few people see it, Carroll said. “They always want answers. B4.”
“Before what?”
“I don’t understand.”
Et tu, Tenniel?”

The kind of logical-nonsense conversation the caterpillar and Alice could have had with multiple levels of interpretation: “knight to C1, “nice to see one,” and “nice to see one at all (considering it was a disappearing cat),” a chess move, and also a pattern for a pun which Seabrook uses to replicate Carroll’s techniques. Carroll had made up over 5000 games, found at his death.

The Bishop of Wales visited Christ Church in 1973 saying that he feared for Lewis Carroll’s soul. The Bishop asked him where God was in Alice in Wonderland and in his book A Syllabus of Plane Algebraical Geometry?

“Maybe God isn’t in them,” Carroll said.
“God is in everything,” the Bishop replied. “How can a man who has taken his Holy Orders believe otherwise?”
“The Orders have holes, as you just said.”

Seabrook writes of Carroll’s own life using unstable space and time found in Alice in Wonderland. The first sentence of the book begins, “The day was so hot it melted the gold out of the clouds, and Lewis Carroll rowed the three Liddell sisters, Lorina, Alice, and Edith, up the winding Thames.” Echoes here of going down the Rabbit Hole and we enter Carroll’s wavering reality “…and still he [Carroll] nearly fell into the Thames, no longer able to tell the difference between wood and water.”

Lewis Carroll was a teacher of mathematics at Oxford, a deacon of the Anglican Church and a scholar. He was shy and stuttered with adults, but not with children. He was partially deaf. He took 3000 photographs, half of which are of children and thirty of them are nude or semi-nude (the parents always present)—Victorian postcards often used nude children to represent innocence. As an adult he preferred to be with children, especially little girls. There are two interpretations of Carroll’s interior life. One, Carroll used drugs and was a pedophile. The other, there is no record of him taking drugs, nor of him doing anything inappropriate with children. Both sides are equally convinced of their positions based on circumstantial evidence. Seabrook steps out of both positions, even as the dark allegations are included, and has an identity-bending, reality-eviscerating summation of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson a.k.a. Lewis Carroll:

Lewis Carroll used his pseudonym Charles Lutwidge Dodgson as little as possible…. He signed C.L.D. on all his correspondence, all his bills…. It was the name he used for this world…. And even though it was the name by which God greeted him in heaven, he always knew it was not his real name.

Going down another layer of an imagined, malleable reality, the Red King sleeps “knowing he had already won” while Carroll lives out the years of his life. But the end does come and the Red King knocks on his door. Carroll says, “It is time to wake up….” The Red King asks, “But who is dreaming whom?” Carroll answers, “I should think we are all dreams…I can’t imagine anything else.”

Seabrook’s darkly whimsical stories, fictional explanations of Carroll’s interior thoughts, illustrates the techniques Carroll’s writing gave to literature, imagination and reality are interchangeable...and we have no fixed boundary as to how separate they are from each other. The centuries old question, Is life a dream?, in this context, is word play.


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