Throughout April I’m taking part in the Blogging from A-Z Challenge. I’ll be posting every day (except Sundays) on my chosen theme of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll.
For the letter C, I’m focusing on two of the most iconic characters from Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar.
The Cheshire Cat
The Cheshire Cat is one of the most well-known and beloved Wonderland characters. He is a magical feline with an iconic, mischievous grin who frequently appears out of nowhere and then disappears, leaving his smile as the last thing visible. He confuses Alice with his philosophical conversation but does seem to want to help her.
`Cheshire Puss,’ [Alice] began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. `Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. `Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
`That depends a good deal on where you want toget to,’ said the Cat.
`I don’t much care where–‘ said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.
`–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.
`Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, `if you only walk long enough.’
‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked.
`Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat: `we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’
`How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.
`You must be,’ said the Cat, `or you wouldn’t have come here.’
Alice didn’t think that proved it at all; however, she went on `And how do you know that you’re mad?’
`To begin with,’ said the Cat, `a dog’s not mad. You grant that?’
`I suppose so,’ said Alice.
`Well, then,’ the Cat went on, `you see, a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.’”
In a general sense, The Cheshire Cat could represent things being not as they seem. He appears at first to be a regular cat, but he can talk and disappear. He seems to speak in strange riddles, but he actually offers Alice some good advice and is the only character who really listens to her. He teaches her about the rules of Wonderland, so he is a kind of mentor figure. In the above quote, he explains that the Wonderland creatures are only ‘mad‘ when compared to the status quo; because they are different from others they are presumed to be insane. Although he claims to be crazy, the Cheshire Cat actually makes some pretty deep philosophical points.
- The phrase “grinning like a Cheshire Cat” predates Carroll’s work. The origin is unclear, but one suggestion is that it arose because of the abundance of dairy farms in the county of Cheshire. At one time, Cheshire cheeses were even moulded in the shape of a grinning cat.
- David Day claims that The Cheshire Cat is based on Edward Bouverie Pusey, Caroll’s mentor, who was an Oxford professor of Hebrew.
- There are three grinning animals at the top of the Liddell’s family arms which might have inspired Carroll, but some historians believe that he was inspired by a carving in Croft Church.
- The character is used as a name for several different scientific phenomena, especially in the science of vision and quantum mechanics.
Alice encounters The Caterpillar in chapter 5 of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, in which he is sitting on a mushroom and smoking a hookah. He is an irritable, unfriendly creature who frequently corrects and contradicts Alice, but he does help her by suggesting that she eats the mushroom to grow taller or smaller.
`You!’ said the Caterpillar contemptuously. `Who are YOU?’
Which brought them back again to the beginning of the conversation. Alice felt a little irritated at the Caterpillar’s making such VERY short remarks, and she drew herself up and said, very gravely, `I think, you ought to tell me who YOU are, first.’
`Why?’ said the Caterpillar.
Here was another puzzling question; and as Alice could not think of any good reason, and as the Caterpillar seemed to be in a VERY unpleasant state of mind, she turned away.
`Come back!’ the Caterpillar called after her. `I’ve something important to say!’
This sounded promising, certainly: Alice turned and came back again.
`Keep your temper,’ said the Caterpillar.
Caterpillars are usually a symbol of metamorphosis, so perhaps he represents the changes that Alice is going through as she grows up. He teaches her to change size by eating the mushroom, so although he seems strict, he actually helps her to adapt to her environment, much like a parent or teacher. Because he is smoking a hookah and advises Alice to eat from a mushroom, many think that there may be a hidden message about drug use.
- In Tenniel’s drawing of The Caterpillar (above), what look like the nose and chin are actually two of his legs!
- Agamotto from Marvel’s Doctor Strange has appeared several times in a form resembling te Caterpillar.
- Alan Rickman played the character in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass films, the latter being his last appearance and is dedicated to his memory.
Before you go…
Are you fond of The Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar? What do you think they represent?