Alice in Wonderland (Carroll, 2009) is undoubtedly a masterpiece, perhaps the greatest work of nonsense literature in the English language. But not every masterpiece is necessarily a “great book.” Is Carroll (2009) one of those rare books that can shape the destiny of humanity? Coming back to Alice’s adventures as an adult, I approached this great work of English literature from this perspective, and asked myself whether it has its rightful place along with the handful of books that continue to shape humanity.
In order to answer this question, I had to make an incursion into the life and the psyche of the author, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll. My main angle of inquiry has been the relationship of Carroll to the Feminine, both within himself and outside. Specifically, Carroll’s overt passion for prepubescent girls can be a source of information for our understanding of Carroll’s most celebrated character, Alice, and the significance of her adventures for the contemporary audience.
From Alice to Carroll
When I was a child, the Disney animated version of Alice in Wonderland (1951) was one of my favorite cartoons. The long fall through the rabbit hole, the hookah-smoking caterpillar speaking to Alice as his words are illustrated by objects and shapes made of smoke1, and the overall whimsical atmosphere of the movie conquered my heart as that of thousands of children. Reading Carroll’s original novel (2009) today, as a grown-up, I enjoyed aspects of the story that were not visible in the cartoon, and that I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate as a child. I am referring here particularly to the mind-bending paradoxes, the exquisite wordplays, and the surreal humor of which both “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through The Looking Glass,” the two parts that compose Carroll (2009), are full.
At the same time, writing as I am in the context of a seminar titled “Great Books,” I felt compelled to ask myself some questions. Is this one of those rare books that we can call great? And what defines a great book? Quoting Jim Garrison from the first of the 2019 “Great Book” video seminars (Garrison, 2019), a great book has three main characteristics: it endures the passage of time, it speaks about fundamental human issues and not trivialities, and it changes lives. Can we say that Alice in Wonderland meets those criteria? Carroll (2009) has unquestionably endured the test of time. But does it also have something significant to say about the essential issues of human existence? And can it change lives?
To get some perspective on these crucial questions, I availed myself of the help of “The Annotated Alice” (Carroll, Gardner, Burstein, & Tenniel, 2015) by Martin Gardner, a philosopher and popularizer of mathematics widely recognized as one of the leading authorities on Lewis Carroll.
One of Gardner’s main insights on Carroll and nonsense literature in general is that we must be careful with the temptation to over-interpret it. Nonsense literature is “too rich in symbols, and the symbols have too many explanations” (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xv); we could start out with any assumption about the author and what he intended to communicate, and then build up a case for it (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xiv). Gardner’s caution seemed relevant to me as I was following Caroline Myss’s seminars on Alice and found some of the interpretations of Carroll’s character to be overambitious. In Myss’s analysis, for instance, the White Rabbit became a symbol of our distorted relationship with time, the Red Queen a representation of the false values of society, and the rabbit hole a metaphor for our loss of control when chaos takes over our lives (Myss, 2019a).
While I was not entirely convinced of the cosmic and existential implications of Alice’s adventures, I found Myss’ reflections on the healing power of nonsense inspiring. Drawing from her experience in facilitating healing seminars and sessions, Myss pointed out that the enormous potential of nonsense is to help us reshape reality (Myss, 2019a). Most of the time, we inhabit what Myss calls the “lower world,” a universe made of clear-cut concepts, where we adopt a rigid, self-defeating psychological attitude towards reality (“this is how things are, and there is no way to change them”). In the lower world, words are inflexible and confined to their literal meaning. Consider, for example, someone who receives a cancer diagnosis: the power of the word “cancer” is immense, and there is virtually no space to play with it or mold its meaning.2 Myss argues that it is challenging to find creative healing solutions when we are trapped in such a world of rigid labels and inflexible words.
Carroll’s Wonderland is precisely the opposite of that structured, hard, and tedious lower world. In Wonderland, words and ideas can be bent, stretched, inverted, and made fun of. Carroll doesn’t hold back and twists and turns our mind with incessant humor. If only we were as playful as Carroll with the words and concepts that populate our lives, argues Myss (2019b), we would be able to receive messages and solutions that we can’t access with our ordinary, limited mindset. Ultimately, bending reality in this way allows miraculous healing to happen (Myss, 2019b).
I do agree with Myss that it is on this plane of nonsense, bending logic, and reshaping reality where Carroll (2009) gives its best. If we allow ourselves to be captured by Alice’s adventures, reading through Carroll (2009) becomes nothing short of a psychedelic journey. Our mind gets tossed, turned, bent, and morphed in a hundred different ways, and, as the story goes on, all sorts of impossible things happen—like the Cheshire cat disappearing tail first and grin last (Carroll, 2009, p. 47). But the events and characters in Carroll (2009) are so extraordinary and dream-like that linking them to our everyday problems and tribulations is not always easy. After all, we rarely change dramatically in size as Alice does twelve times in the book (Carroll et al., 2015, p. 19), or partake in mad tea parties where it’s always six o’clock (Carroll, 2009, p. 52).
Amidst all the wondrous strangeness of Wonderland and its inhabitants, Alice is the one character we can relate to, the main point of contact with our human feelings and issues. Thus, motivated by the question of Carroll (2009)’s potential to change real, human lives, I directed my gaze towards Alice. Who is she? What can she teach us? And can we count on her, to quote Jim Garrison again, to move our soul and take us to the heart of the human predicament (Garrison, 2019)?
It is no secret that Alice was modeled upon Alice Liddell, a real little girl from Oxford. Alice Liddell was just one of the many child-friends that Carroll had throughout his life, probably the one he loved the most (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xviii). But although based on a real child, Alice is a fictional character, the product of Carroll’s imagination. Furthermore, passages throughout the book hint at the fact that Carroll loathed the complications of adulthood and idealized the simplicity and innocence of childhood. In one of such revealing episodes, just as Alice, at the end of her first venture into Wonderland, wakes up and runs off to play, her older sister goes on a reverie of her own (Carroll, 2009, p. 94). This dream ends with Alice’s sister imagining an adult Alice that would keep, as a grown-up woman, “the simple and loving heart of her childhood.” Gardner is likely not far off the mark when he surmises that the character of the White Knight in Carroll (2009) is a caricature of the author himself (Carroll et al., 2015, p. 277). The Knight’s melancholic farewell to Alice, just as she is about to become a queen, likely echoes Carroll’s sad feelings about Alice Liddell growing up and becoming a woman, thus abandoning him (Carroll et al., 2015, p. 278).
All in all, we get the impression that Carroll did not want Alice to grow up, nor was he too pleased with the idea of Alice Liddell, the child-friend he loved the most, becoming an adult. Carroll wanted both Alices to stay in eternal childhood, forever keeping their innocence and purity. Does it then really make sense to take Carroll (2009) as anything but a beautiful piece of nonsense literature for children? In two letters to his audience, reproduced in Carroll et al., 2015, pp. xli-xliv, Carroll addresses his readers as “child-readers” and refers to his book as a “book of nonsense.” This suggests that he knew clearly to whom his creation was directed, and that he never intended Alice’s adventures to become the object of serious, scholarly speculation.
But not all authors of children’s literature have minds as sharp as that of Lewis Carroll, and today, it is thanks to literate adult readers that Carroll’s masterpiece has become part of our collective culture (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xiv). I was confronted with the irony of a book originally written for children but now read mostly by adults. Did Carroll even imagine that his novel would be the object of profound existential musings? Did he intend to change anybody’s life—besides bringing an hour of “innocent amusement” to many English children, as he wrote in a letter dedicated to his “child-readers” (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xli)?
As I was pondering these questions, a different image started taking shape behind Alice’s character, the image of a “fussy, prim, fastidious, cranky, kind, gentle bachelor” (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xvi) whose mind was often engrossed in mathematical problems and whose heart was magnetized by charming little girls: Lewis Carroll. I realized that I had to risk venturing into the author’s psyche if I wanted to consider the value of Carroll (2009) as a great book for children and adults alike.
The Innocent Pedophile
It is certainly not always necessary to dive into an author’s biography to understand and appreciate their work. Yet, in the case of Carroll and Alice, reality and fiction are so intertwined that completely glossing over Carroll’s biography and personality means losing some of the most useful keys to understanding Alice. With this in mind, I turned again to the annotated version of Alice in Wonderland (Carroll et al., 2015) to get some insights on Lewis Carroll’s life and the exceptional relevance that little girls had in his world.3
Perhaps surprisingly, Carroll made no secret of his love for little girls. He candidly wrote, “I am fond of children (except boys)” (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xvii). He spent significant amounts of time trying to meet little girls in public beaches and railway carriages, to which purpose he carried a black bag full of toys to attract their attention (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xviii). Carroll was not embarrassed to dedicate his work to the child-friends he loved the most. In fact, Carroll (2009) is based on a manuscript, “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground,” that Carroll gifted to Alice Liddell along with a picture of her that he took when she was seven—precisely the age of Alice in the book (Carroll et al., 2015, p. 149). The touching poem that concludes Carroll (2009) is an acrostic; the initials of each verse read “Alice Pleasance Liddell” (p. 196). Also, an acrostic is the prefatory poem in Sylvie and Bruno, Carroll’s last novel published in 1889; the first letters of each line spell “Isa Bowman,” the name of another of Carroll’s child-friends (Carroll et al., 2015, p. 319).
Recent studies on Carroll’s life suggest that he may even have expressed marital intentions to Alice Liddell’s parents (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xxvii). Alice was eleven-years-old at the time; Carroll thirty-one. Eventually, Mrs. Liddell, Alice’s mother, took practical steps to dissuade Carroll from his attentions towards her daughter, and finally burned all his early letters to Alice (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xxvi). The more I tuned into Carroll’s character and considered his attitude towards Alice and other child-friends, the more I felt compelled to conclude that he was in love with some of those children. Was Carroll also sexually attracted to them? We know that he considered the naked body of little girls to be extremely beautiful, unlike that of little boys (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xvii), and that he would at times sketch or photograph their nude bodies, with the permission of their parents (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xvii).
Summing up, Carroll loved little girls, did all he could to spend time with them, and found their body hauntingly beautiful. Can we escape the conclusion that erotic attraction was a significant component of his love? Carroll’s sexual preferences may never be proven. Still, common-sense suggests that he was romantically and erotically attracted to at least some of those little girls, although in all likelihood, he would have never thought of inappropriately touching them. In fact, there is no reason to believe that Carroll ever intended to harm or inappropriately touch the little girls to whom he was passionately and somewhat innocently attracted. And yet, the word “pedophile” always seems to loom over us whenever we read about Carroll’s passion for little girls. So let’s ask the uncomfortable question: was Carroll a pedophile, albeit a harmless one?
It is understandably challenging for many of us to be genuinely curious about the psyche of a man who feels romantically and erotically attracted to children. The social and psychological taboo against such preferences is too strong for us to maintain an equanimous mind in such matters. When faced with the reality that some adults are erotically attracted to children, we either ignore the issue altogether and bury our head under the sand or go into outright judgment and moral sanction. We don’t have a word, perhaps even a concept, for innocent pedophilia. And yet, “harmless pedophilia” seems to me to be an accurate way to describe Carroll’s erotic and romantic preferences.4
Moreover, although most would be quick to declare pedophile any ordinary man of Carroll’s age who engaged in similar behaviors, making such a charged remark about someone we rightfully admire may bring up all sorts of unconscious resistances. It may erroneously seem as if honestly looking at Carroll’s pedophilia would force us to ostracize him morally and prevent us from appreciating him as the genius he was. Even Caroline Myss, after mentioning that Carroll had a shadow side and an “unusual attraction to children,” informed us that we would not go down that particular rabbit hole (Myss, 2019a).
I did not feel satisfied with not exploring such a relevant aspect of Carroll’s psyche, which seems to have been a significant part of his creative impulse. And, once I allowed myself to look at Carroll’s fondness for little girls with curiosity rather than judgment or denial, what impacted me the most was realizing how little did Carroll know about adult women. There is no clear evidence of Carroll having had any romantic or sexual relationship with an adult woman (or man) throughout his entire life.5 Gardner concludes that Carroll lived a sexless life (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xvi), and he hypothesizes that Carroll may have found little girls so charming precisely because he felt sexually secure with them—any kind of sexual interaction automatically being ruled out by age difference and social conventions (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xxvii).
Be it as may, the figure that emerges from Carroll’s books is that of a man who had little or no idea about the mature, adult Feminine or capacity to relate to it. At the risk of oversimplifying, I am tempted to surmise that Carroll’s feminine side may have had the level of maturity of a child about the age of Alice and the other child-friends whose company he was so actively looking for. If that is plausible, Carroll’s capacity to appreciate the fullness of human experience may have been affected by his lack of contact with the mature Feminine. As a result, Carroll (2009) may not be the most appropriate book to look to for guidance on the essential human problems.
Soul Or Anima?
In “The Feminine in Fairy Tales,” Marie-Louise Von Franz, one of the closest collaborators of C.G. Jung, wrote that feminine figures in fairy tales, especially when the last person to write the story was a male, often represent what Jung called “anima,” the psychological feminine construct that lives in the psyche of men, mostly buried in the unconscious (Von Franz, 2017, p. 4).6 Anima-figures generally give rise to magnetic, yet psychologically incomplete female characters in fairy tales and novels alike.7 Is it too far of a stretch to venture that Alice is a representation of Carroll’s anima, his incomplete and immature feminine side?
Von Franz (2017, p. 2) observes that men, particularly if very invested in mental activities, tend to be less developed in their “eros side”—their capacity to express feelings and emotions. Lewis Carroll, who lived the life of a bachelor, engrossed in mathematical problems and abstractions, fond of nonsense, seems to fit perfectly the type of man that Von Franz is referring to. Did Carroll find an outlet for his eros in little girls, because they represented a version of the Feminine that he could relate to? It seems that Carroll perceived adult women as being too fiery and dangerously passionate, like the character of the Red Queen, of whom Carroll wrote that he had pictured her “as an embodiment of ungovernable passion (Carroll et al., 2015, p. 98).” Alice, on the other hand, even in the short vision we get of her as a grown-up, remains forever innocent and child-like. She won’t be tempered by the fire of passions and by the waters of sexuality, but will remain forever in our collective consciousness as an “intelligent, polite, considerate little girl” (Carroll et al., 2015, p. 334)”.
We are venturing into uncertain territory here, and I do not intend to present an objective analysis of Carroll’s personality. Yet, even a tentative and imperfect incursion into Lewis Carroll’s psyche seems necessary if we are tempted to turn Carroll (2009) from a masterpiece of nonsense literature for children into a significant work with a rightful place amongst the great books that shape the evolution of the human soul. And all considered, I believe we are better off resisting such temptation, and content ourselves with finding Carroll’s greatness elsewhere.
Carroll’s writing exudes irreverence and freedom on the mental level. His genius transpires in his humor, his irreverence, and his child-like capacity to play with words and concepts. Alice and her journeys in Wonderland remind us how important it is to marvel at the world and break free, even if for a moment, from the structure and cage of our logic, and to think of six impossible things before breakfast (Carroll, 2009, p. 139). To those of us who feel constricted by our ideas and concepts, or who find life dull and static, Carroll (2009) can transmit the child-like capacity of “enchantment,” as Caroline Myss eloquently put it (Myss, 2019a).
And yet, I suspect that Carrol had more to say about the anima inhabiting his unconscious than about the soul of men. His relationship with the erotic side of life, and ultimately with his own Feminine, was too embryonic, too centered on the “light” aspects, to allow him to connect to the core of the human drama. I cannot, in all honesty, concur that Carroll wanted or was able to touch the fundamental issues of our human existence significantly, and I hesitate to call Carroll (2009) a “great book.”
We live in times of profound transition. As we gather all the wisdom we need to move into the next phase of our civilization, will Carroll (2009) be part of its foundation? As we heal and renew the relationship between Masculine and Feminine on an individual and collective level, will Carroll (2009) contribute to this challenging yet fundamental process? I have my doubts. That reading Carroll (2009) may be a life-changing experience is testified by Caroline Myss, who affirmed that Alice in Wonderland was one of the greatest assets to her own life and career (Myss, 2019a). But I doubt that Carroll (2009) will ever transform lives on a significant scale as most of the “Great Books” did.
Reflecting on Carroll’s brilliance and personality gives us another example of how many men of genius lack any basic understanding and connection with their feminine side. The world’s hall of fame is full of men (scientists, artists, politicians) who were almost completely disconnected from their emotional and erotic side—in short, from their Feminine. But in the new age that is coming, it is essential that each one of us, man or woman, works towards a process of integration of Masculine and Feminine, of Logos and Eros, of light and dark.
As much as we love and cherish Alice, the little girl in us needs to grow, as Alice Liddell did, and become an adult woman.
 This detail, one of the most striking visual effects of the animated movie,is not present in the book.
 Eventually, however, there will likely be a new scientific discovery that redefines what “cancer” means, how we relate to it, and how we treat it.
 Carroll used to write in his diary, “I mark this day with a white stone” when something memorable had happened on that day. Almost always, those were occasions where he had either spent time with a little girl he already knew or made the acquaintance of a new one (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xvii).
 The association “Virtuous Pedophiles” is founded and integrated by men that are romantically and sexually attracted to children, although they have never molested a child and never will. Ethan Edwards, one of the founders, speaks about his attraction to little girls in words that are strikingly reminiscent of some of Carroll’s statements. “I always had an especially soft spot in my heart for young girls. … I told myself that it was just an especially strong dose of the natural adult affection for children. I told myself that my lack of similar affection for boys was because they’re usually loud, competitive, and not ‘relational” (https://www.virped.org/who-we-are.html)
 This point has spurred its share of heated discussions. The “Association of New Lewis Carroll Studies” of which Karoline Leach is the leading voice, challenges the idea that Carroll had no interest in adult women and instead presents him as a quite sexually active heterosexual who used his child-friendships as “the cleanser of his grubby soul” (Carroll et al., 2015, p. xxxii).
 While Carroll (2009) is not a folk fairy tale born from the collective creation of many but the work of one author, Von Franz’s considerations still apply here.
 Of course, there is a masculine equivalent to the anima: the “animus,” the partial male psychic construct that resides in the subconscious psyche of most women. Literary examples of animus can be found in the romanticized male characters that of romantic novels, usually written by female authors.
Carroll, L. (2009). Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Neeland Media LLC. [Kindle Edition]
Carroll, L., Gardner, M., Burstein, M. & Tenniel, J. (2015). The annotated Alice : Alice’s adventures in Wonderland & Through the looking-glass. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Garrison, J. [Ubiquity University]. (2019, January 25). Great Books Webinar: Jim Garrison on Naomi Klein’s “No is Not Enough,” Part 2. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DKK9Z9EpMdk
Myss, C. [Ubiquity University]. (2019a, November 13). Great Books Webinar: Caroline Myss on “Alice In Wonderland,” Part 1. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bWtt8U7a28
Myss, C. [Ubiquity University]. (2019b, December 16). Great Books Webinar: Caroline Myss on “Alice In Wonderland,” Part 2. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= q_UNZKCwztk
Von Franz, M.-L. (2017). The Feminine in fairy tales : revised edition. Boston, Mass: Shambhala. [Kindle Edition]