Dark Origins – The creepy true story behind Alice in Wonderland #DarkOrigins #AliceinWonderland

Cave background lighted with colors Text: Dark Origins - Nursery Rhymes, Fairytales and Stories Hosted by Writing to be Read and Robbie Cheadle

Alice in Wonderland is one of my favourite childhood books. I love it so much, I have seven different copies, one of which is vintage.

The book, Alice in Wonderland, starts with a young girl, Alice, sitting on a bank and watching her sister read a boring book with no pictures or conversations. Seeing a white rabbit passing by, she follows it down a rabbit hole. The rabbit walks and talks and has a pocket watch. Alice falls down and down the rabbit hole, all the while having an interesting conversation with herself, and ends up in a large entrance hall. There is a small door beyond which is a beautiful world, but Alice is to big to pass through it. She experiments with eating and drinking various items until she is finally small enough to gain entry to Wonderland.

Wonderland is a strange and mysterious world filled with unusual creatures and people. It is summed up by this quote: “If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would.”

You can obtain a free copy of Alice in Wonderland from Gutenberg here: https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/11

Picture credit: A smartly dressed and standing White Rabbit checking his pocket watch from the Project Gutenberg e-book, The Tenniel Illustrations for Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, available here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/114/114-h/114-h.htm

About the author

Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who was born in England in 1832. At the age of 18, Dodgson left home to attend Oxford University, where he studied and worked for the next 20 years. He was a student and then a professor and a mathematician.

Dodgson created the Lewis Carroll pseudonym while he was at Oxford, in order to write children’s books that would not be connected to his academic career. He was well known for developing close friendships with children but very few relationships with adults. He befriended the children of his colleagues and acquaintances and spent a lot of time with them, even writing them letters.

“Extra thanks and kisses for the lock of hair,” he wrote to a 10-year-old girl. “I have kissed it several times — for want of having you to kiss, you know, even hair is better than nothing.”

When Henry George Liddell became the Dean of Christ Church at Oxford, Dodgson became friends with his three young daughters: Lorina, Edith and Alice.

The story, Alice in Wonderland, came into existence in 1862 when Dodgson and a colleague took the three girls out on a picnic and rowing trip along the Thames. In order to keep the trio entertained, Dodgson started telling the story that would become Alice in Wonderland which was published in 1865.

Picture credit: A picture of Edith, Ina and Alice Liddell on a Sofa from https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/306206

Dodgson was also a keen photographer and it is known that he took photos of nude and semi-nude children – including a full-frontal nude shot of Alice’s sister Lorina.

Dodgson wrote:

“I confess I do not admire naked boys in pictures. They always seem to me to need clothes: whereas one hardly sees why the lovely forms of girls should ever be coverd [sic] up!”

In 1863, Dodgson’s friendship with the Liddell family came to a sudden end and he never again spent time alone with their daughters.

There’s no record of why Dodgson’s relationship with the family ended, but there is a theory that he proposed marriage to Alice. This wasn’t that unusual in the mid 1800s as the age of consent was 12 years old and some men did marry young girls.

Before even examining the deeper meaning and themes of Alice in Wonderland, its author and the creation of this story are cast in rather a creepy light.

Deeper meaning and themes of Alice in Wonderland

The Tragic and Inevitable Loss of Childhood Innocence

The theme of growing up is central to Alice in Wonderland. The author is credited with enjoying the innocence with which children approach the world. The multitude of physically changes Alice goes through in Wonderland are believed to be symbolic of puberty and the many changes that take place during that period of a person’s life.

Alice finds these changes disturbing and traumatic and she struggles to find a comfortable size, reverting eventually to her original size.

Relevant quotes:

“I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night. Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!”

“It was much pleasanter at home,” thought poor Alice, “when one wasn’t always growing larger and smaller, and being ordered about by mice and rabbits. I almost wish I hadn’t gone down the rabbit-hole–and yet–and yet–…”

“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”

Alice is also confused about who she is and her role in the world around her, namely, Wonderland.

“It’ll be no use their putting their heads down and saying “Come up again, dear!” I shall only look up and say “Who am I then? Tell me that first, and then, if I like being that person, I’ll come up: if not, I’ll stay down here till I’m somebody else”–but, oh dear!’ cried Alice, with a sudden burst of tears, ‘I do wish they WOULD put their heads down! I am so VERY tired of being all alone here!”

Life as a Meaningless Puzzle

As Alice travels through Wonderland, she encounters a series of situations and circumstances which she cannot make sense of and which have no clear solutions. This is symbolism for how life throws frustrating curveballs and problems that cannot be solved or unraveled in the expected way. Often, lateral thinking is required to circumvent issues and, sometimes, problems have no solution in life.

Relevant quotes:

“One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. ‘Where do you want to go?’ was his response. ‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered. ‘Then,’ said the cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

“Mad Hatter: Would you like a little more tea?
Alice: Well, I haven’t had any yet, so I can’t very well take more.
March Hare: Ah, you mean you can’t very well take less.
Mad Hatter: Yes. You can always take more than nothing.”

“The March Hare took the watch and looked at it gloomily: then he dipped it into his cup of tea, and looked at it again: but he could think of nothing better to say than his first remark, ‘It was the best butter, you know.’ Alice had been looking over his shoulder with some curiosity. ‘What a funny watch!’ she remarked. ‘It tells the day of the month, and doesn’t tell what o’clock it is!’ ‘Why should it?’ muttered the Hatter. ‘Does your watch tell you what year it is?’ ‘Of course not,’ Alice replied very readily: ‘but that’s because it stays the same year for such a long time together.’ ‘Which is just the case with mine,’ said the Hatter. Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter’s remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. ‘I don’t quite understand you,’ she said, as politely as she could. ‘The Dormouse is asleep again,’ said the Hatter, and he poured a little hot tea upon its nose. The Dormouse shook its head impatiently, and said, without opening its eyes, ‘Of course, of course; just what I was going to remark myself.’ ‘Have you guessed the riddle yet?’ the Hatter said, turning to Alice again. ‘No, I give it up,’ Alice replied: ‘what’s the answer?’ ‘I haven’t the slightest idea,’ said the Hatter. ‘Nor I,’ said the March Hare. Alice sighed wearily. ‘I think you might do something better with the time,’ she said, ‘than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers.’ ‘If you knew Time as well as I do,’ said the Hatter, ‘you wouldn’t talk about wasting it.”

Picture credit: Mad Hatter tea party from the Project Gutenberg e-book, The Tenniel Illustrations for Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, available here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/114/114-h/114-h.htm

Death as a Constant and Underlying Menace

Over and over again, Alice finds herself in dangerous situations that suggest that death is lurking just around the corner. Although death never manifests in the book, the reader senses it and so does Alice. At the end of the book she comes to realise that despite the ridiculous circumstances in Wonderland, death could be a very real outcome and that is when she wakes up and the reader comes to understand the entire book is a dream.

Relevant quotes:

“Well!” thought Alice to herself. “After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down-stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!” (Which was very likely true.)”

“The executioner’s argument was that you couldn’t cut of something’s head unless there was a trunk to sever it from. He’d never done anything like that in his time of life, and wasn’t going to start now.

The King’s argument was that anything that had a head, could be beheaded, and you weren’t to talk nonsense.

The Queen’s argument was that if something wasn’t done about it in less than no time, she’d have everyone beheaded all round.

It was this last argument that had everyone looking so nervous and uncomfortable.”


Alice meets a plethora of characters that have become well known. It is believed that many of these characters, including Alice herself, suffer from mental health disorders. This is a list of some of the most famous characters with a description from Spark Notes (https://www.sparknotes.com/lit/alice/characters/)

The White Rabbit – “The frantic, harried Wonderland creature that originally leads Alice to Wonderland. The White Rabbit is figure of some importance, but he is manic, timid, and occasionally aggressive.” The White Rabbit suffers from an anxiety disorder and is in a constant state of panic.

The Queen of Hearts – “The ruler of Wonderland. The Queen is severe and domineering, continually screaming for her subjects to be beheaded.” The Queen of Hearts is completely self absorbed and has a narcissistic personality disorder.

The Cheshire Cat – “A perpetually grinning cat who appears and disappears at will. The Cheshire Cat displays a detached, clearheaded logic and explains Wonderland’s madness to Alice.” The Cheshire Cat is schizophrenic.

The Caterpillar – “A Wonderland creature. The Caterpillar sits on a mushroom, smokes a hookah, and treats Alice with contempt. He directs Alice to the magic mushroom that allows her to shrink and grow.” The Caterpillar is a drug addict who smokes a hookah and gives Alice a mushroom with mind and body-altering capabilities.

Picture credit: Illustration of the caterpillar sitting on a mushroom smoking a hookah with Alice looking up at him with wide eyes from the original editions in 1865 (left) illustrated by John Tenniel

The Mad Hatter – “A small, impolite hatter who lives in perpetual tea-time. The Mad Hatter enjoys frustrating Alice.” The hatter is simply mad.

Have you read Alice in Wonderland? Did you spot these underlying themes and meanings?

73 Comments on “Dark Origins – The creepy true story behind Alice in Wonderland #DarkOrigins #AliceinWonderland”

  1. beth says:

    wow, so creepy and interesting – I really see it (and him) in a different light now

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Lots of fascinating insights here, Robbie. Thanks for sharing. I’d picked up on some but definitely not all. Hugs 🤗💕🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Carla says:

    This is really creepy, Robbie. It totally changes the way I look at him and this book.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My sister is a most dark, brooding person. This is one of her favorite stories.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Reblogged this on and commented:

    This month’s Dark Origins post discusses the real, and very creepy, story behind the book, Alice in Wonderland. Thanks for hosting, Kaye Lynne Booth.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Staci Troilo says:

    I have old editions from my grandfather’s collection (Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass). I treasure them both. But I didn’t realize the author had such an “interest” in young girls. I must confess, I enjoy these tales a little less now.

    Thanks for sharing all these details, Robbie.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I liked this book much better before I found out what he really meant. Good analysis!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Vera Day says:

    Whoa, I had no idea. Dodson sounds like he was a disturbed man.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. sjhigbee says:

    I hadn’t heard all the analysis in quite that much detail before – how interesting and thank you for taking the effort to write about it! But I do very clearly recall being given the book as a child to read and finding it both odd and disturbing.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Jan Sikes says:

    Those rae some disturbing revelations about C.S. Lewis, Robbie. He was obviously a pedophile. It will forever change the way I view his work. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

  11. willowdot21 says:

    Very interesting Robbie …how something so dark could be a children’s book but children take so much ar face value. He’s not alone I believe all fairytales and their authors a a tad suspect …
    Look at The brothers Grimm’s and Hans Christian Andersen….

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I love your review of the classics, Robbie.! ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Daniel Kemp says:

    I seem to recall reading something along these lines before, but where that was I have no idea and nor do I think it could have been such a compelling read as your own, Robbie. This is indeed an informative article and I also will view this C S Lewis differently. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. I had read of Dodgson and find him to be creepy at best. I read Alice in Wonderland ages ago and never loved it, even way back then when it was just a story it was a little too strange and creepy for my taste. But the memorable characters have been alluded to by so many of us, even incorporated into our writings. Alice In Wonderland is indeed a classic.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. The Mad Hatter frustrated me too, and I remember being frustrated with several of the characters when I read the book as a child. I also felt vaguely dissatisfied when the whole thing turned out to be a dream. That would be a big no-no when writing a story now.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Darlene says:

    I always thought it was a drug-induced dream that the author related. He did seem to have paedophile tendencies. The book obviously is not as innocent as it appears to be on the surface. It is still a good story. But my daughter questioned it when we read it together.

    Liked by 2 people

  17. BERNADETTE says:

    Robbie, the allegories are very disturbing and I had read about the pedophilia angle. I also read the same rumors about Peter Pan.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. scr4pl80 says:

    I just got this book to re-read as part of the PopSugar challenge this year. Thanks for the insights behind the story. I will read it differently now.

    Liked by 2 people

  19. I remember not liking Alice in Wonderland when I was a kid. Reading the excerpts now, I can see why. I had no patience for a bunch of creatures talking circular nonsense. (I still don’t.)

    The back story to the book is creepy. The direct quotes from Dodgson sounded like Humbert Humbert in Lolita. I certainly hope he didn’t molest any of the girls. Photographing them nude came very close.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Mae Clair says:

    I’m probably one of the few people who never read Alice in Wonderland, and I only remember snippets of seeing televised.versions. It always amazes me how much detail you’re able to dig up on these old tales, Robbie.

    Carroll’s interest in young girls is truly disturbing. As for the underlying themes of the books, I found those interesting. I can also imagine a lot of people sitting around in the late 60s, debating them while listening to Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, Mae, you are right about how people analyse books and poems after the author has passed. I can’t say I picked up on all this stuff when I read this book as a young girl. I did wonder about drugs when I got older. Lots of children’s book authors I admire, have unpleasant stuff in their histories including Enid Blyton and Ronald Dahl.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. I love Alice in Wonderland. Fascination origins and deeper meaning Robbie. Really enjoyed reading this. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Norah says:

    Thanks for your assessment, Robbie. I was interested to read it. It affirmed my childhood opinion. I never did like Alice in Wonderland. My mother gave me a copy of the book, which included ‘And Through the Looking Glass’ for my 10th birthday. I think I’d already read Wonderland. When she asked me if I liked it (I loved books and reading – I was obsessed), I said that I didn’t. My older sister chastised me severely and said that we shouldn’t ever say we didn’t like a gift. We’d also been told to not lie. What was I to do? It’s difficult to escape Alice and all the ‘mentally ill’ characters. They seem to pop up everywhere. I’ve never read Wonderland again and don’t believe I ever did finish reading the Looking Glass. It was just all too weird for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. memadtwo says:

    I have read about the author’s obsession with girls before. It’s all of a piece with the present debate about being able to consider art without also taking into consideration the character and life of the artist.

    I read the book on a surface level–I don’t like overanalyzing things. I think it’s a good story, full of magical images (as the many wonderful different illustrated versions prove), and needs no explanation beyond that. Different people will identify with different aspects of Alice’s journey. Which just shows how rich a book it is. (K)

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Well that’s one rabbit hole I do not want to go back down again, but thank you for the tour Robbie!
    Many of these older stories had deeper dark meanings to them. The Brothers Grimm were famous for that in the story’s meanings!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Hi Wayne, you are quite right about the Brothers Grimm and also Hans Christian Anderson. I never expected the stories behind Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, two of my favourite childhood books, to be as dark as they are but life is full of surprises.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Was there anybody that wrote pleasant children’s stories?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Haha, yes, my children’s books are pleasant and I can think of many that don’t have these dark undertones. I suppose unpleasant happenings and situations are part of living so most books with touch on something horrible. In The Secret Garden, Mary’s parents die of cholera in India and Colin’s mother died when she feel out of swing. Anne from Green Gables is abused as a girl by Mrs Hammond and David from I am David grew up in a concentration camp. Although there are lighter books like Winnie the Witch, the ones that become famous usually do deal with overcoming some sort of trauma, don’t they?

          Liked by 2 people

  25. I read it in college for a seminar on Victorian Monster archetypes (it was read in correspondence with the Horrorscape). It was also this book that introduced me to the spelling of gryphon as opposed to griffin.

    Liked by 1 person

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