Lewis Carroll

From Tolkien Gateway

Lewis Carroll (pen name used by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson; 27 January 1832 – 14 January 1898) was an English author and holder of a Mathematical Lectureship at Christ Church College, University of Oxford.

Tolkien on Carroll[edit | edit source]

The Hobbit jacket remarks[edit | edit source]

Carroll published two books now deemed as fantasy classics, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871). Sharing tenure at Oxford and authorship of fantasy, J.R.R. Tolkien was hastily compared with Carroll by some early reviewers of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.[1] The reviewers of The Hobbit comparing it to the Alice stories, appear to have "relied overmuch on the publisher's blurb",[2] which stated that:

The birth of The Hobbit recalls very strongly that of Alice in Wonderland. Here again a professor of an abstruse subject is at play.

Tolkien offered comments about the "abstruse subject" and the comparison with Alice in Wonderland in his Letter 15. Concerning the latter point, Tolkien wrote that The Hobbit "is more comparable to Dodgson's amateur photography, and his song of Hiawatha's failure[note 1] than to Alice". He did, however, concede that "the compliment to The Hobbit is rather high" and, if the comparison is to be maintained, that Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass "ought to be mentioned" as it "is much closer in every way".[3]

On Fairy-Stories[edit | edit source]

At the beginning of his essay On Fairy-Stories, Tolkien separates the "genuine fairy-story" from other forms of fantastical tales. Literary genres sometimes (but erroneously or carelessly, according to Tolkien) defined as fairy-stories include travellers' tales (e.g., Jonathan Swift's A Voyage to Lilliput), beast-fables, and dream-stories. Pertaining to the latter, Tolkien names Carroll's Alice stories, which he describes as "successful and amusing". However, the Alice stories are only an illusion found within the frame of a dream, and do thus not touch on the notion of Faërie — the primary and defining characteristic of the fairy-story.[4][5]

Other mentions and curiosa[edit | edit source]

Working for the Oxford English Dictionary, Tolkien suggested "for future addition ... at least a quotation from Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll, illustrating the word smirkle".[6]

Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond have noted that Tolkien:

...was amused by Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass (1872); later in his life he was also fond of Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno (1889) and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (1893), and occasionally recited verses from them.

Tolkien's friend Roger Lancelyn Green was founder of the Lewis Carroll Society, and edited and wrote an introduction for The Works of Lewis Carroll (1965).

John D. Rateliff has suggested that Tolkien's creation of the word ishness might have been inspired by a passage in chapter 7 of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: "did you ever see a thing as a drawing of a muchness!".[8]

External links[edit | edit source]


  1. The "song of Hiawatha's failure" can be found within Carroll's Rhyme? and Reason?, entitled "Hiawatha's Photographing".