Sep 1, 2022
In Looking-glass world, there’s plenty of there and then, but not a whiff of here and now.
You remember Alice – the girl who chased a white rabbit down a hole and almost got her head chopped off by the Queen of Hearts! But did you know that later, when she was a bit older, Alice had another, entirely different adventure?
Whenever Alice was bored, and she was often very bored – remember, in her day there was no TV, no smartphones and no video games – she would spend hours staring into the big mirror that hung on her living room wall.
(I wonder if her parents limited her ‘screen’ time.)
As she gazed into that looking glass, she could see a room on the other side. It looked just like her own living room…well, almost just like it. It looked just like it except that on the other side of the looking glass, everything was reversed!
That’s right, reversed!
If Alice stuck out her right hand to shake hands with the girl in the mirror, the girl in the mirror would stick out her left hand. If Alice wrote a note (from left to right, of course), the girl on the other side of the glass would write the very same note…but from right to left.
Otherwise, everything looked exactly the same. But Alice wondered, “was it really the same?” After all, if right and left were reversed, maybe other things were reversed too. But how could she find out?
“How nice it would be if we could only get into Looking-glass house,” she thought. And then, a moment later, there she was…on the other side of the glass!
As expected, whatever Alice had been able to see in the mirror was just the same in Looking-glass house as it was in her own home. But what about everything she couldn’t see from her side?
That turned out to be as different as different could be! Alice had been right to be suspicious of the mirror, after all. The mirror did not ‘reveal’ a world; it hid one.
Alice immediately headed out of Looking-glass house and into its garden. She was not at all surprised to find flowers…but she was VERY surprised to learn that these flowers could talk!
“…Can all the flowers talk?” Alice asked. “As well as you can,” said the Tiger-lily. “And a great deal louder.”
Alice noticed a high hill in the distance. “I should see the garden far better,” said Alice to herself. “If I could get to the top of that hill: and here’s a path that leads straight to it…”
Only it didn’t! No matter how hard Alice tried, no matter what turns she made, she always ended up right back where she started.
But Alice was a very clever girl, so she decided to try a new plan. Instead of walking toward the hill and always missing it, she decided to walk in the opposite direction, away from the hill, to see where that would take her.
Her plan succeeded beautifully. She hadn’t been walking more than a minute when she found herself at the base of the hill.
So, it’s not just right and left that are reversed in Looking-glass world; it’s also to and from, forwards and backwards.
At the base of the hill, Alice met the Red Queen. After some polite conversation, Alice and the queen suddenly started running. They ran hand-in-hand, as fast as they possibly could, for as long as they possibly could.
But while she was running, Alice noticed something strange: the trees and the other things around them never changed; they seemed to move right along with them. Finally, the queen stopped, and Alice flopped to the ground breathless beside her.
Then she noticed, “…We’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!”
Alice complained to the queen, “…In our country, you’d generally get to somewhere else – if you ran very fast for a long time as we’ve been doing.”
But the queen replied, “Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do just to stay in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
Next, Alice encountered the White Queen and her majesty looked quite the mess. Alice did her best to help the queen tidy up, and then she suggested that the queen might like to hire a maid to help her stay neat and clean in the future.
The queen offered the job to Alice, “Two pence a week and jam every other day.” Imagine getting by on an allowance of two pennies a week! I guess pennies could buy a lot more in Alice’s time.
But Alice didn’t object to the low wage; instead, she protested that she didn’t like jam, “Well, I don’t want any to-day at any rate.”
“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the queen said. “The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today…”
Alice objected, “It must come sometimes to jam today.”
“No, it can’t,” said the queen. “It’s jam every other day; today isn’t any other day, you know.”
“I don’t understand you,” said Alice, obviously puzzled.
“That’s the effect of living backwards,” the queen explained. “It always makes one a little giddy at first.” Then the queen decided to tell Alice more about what it’s like to live on her side of the glass. “Memory works both ways,” she said.
“I’m sure mine only works one way,” interrupted Alice. “I can’t remember things before they happen…What sorts of things do you remember best?”
“Oh, things that happened the week after next,” the queen replied.
The queen pointed to the King’s Messenger, “He’s in prison now, being punished, and the trial doesn’t even begin till next Wednesday, and of course, the crime comes last of all.”
Before Alice could object to this unfair treatment, the queen began screaming. Alice rushed to comfort her, “What is the matter? Have you pricked your finger?”
“I haven’t pricked it yet,” the queen said. “But I soon shall.” And sure enough, a moment later, she did just that!
But let’s get back to the matter of the jam. Alice explained to the queen that she did not like jam, “Well, I don’t want any to-day at any rate.”
Remember what the queen said? “’You couldn’t have it if you did want it…the rule is, jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today.”
So, in Looking-glass world there is a past (yesterday) and a future (tomorrow), but never a present (jam today).
Later, Alice found herself in a shop where every shelf seemed to be overflowing with interesting things to buy. But whenever she walked up to any particular shelf, that shelf was always completely empty.
The shelves that are there are always full, but the shelf that is here is always empty!
In Looking-glass world, it seems you can have all the jam you want…just not now; and you can buy anything you want…just not here. The stores are always brimming with merchandise, but always out of whatever it is you want.
In Looking-glass world, there’s plenty of there and then, but not a whiff of here and now.
Later, while visiting Tweedledum and Tweedledee, Alice sees the Red King. He is asleep. “He’s dreaming now,” said Tweedledee. “And what do you think he’s dreaming about?”
“Nobody can guess that!” Alice replied. Alice is depending on the difference between inside and outside to keep her thoughts, and the king’s, private.
But Tweedledee knows better. The way Looking-glass world works, inner and outer could be reversed; or the distinction could be wiped away entirely.
Either way, Tweedledee knows that in Looking-glass world, anyone can see what you’re thinking just by looking at you.
“Why about you!” Tweedledee continued, returning to the content of the Red King’s dream. “And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?”
“Where I am now, of course,” said Alice.
“’You’d be nowhere,” replied Tweedledee. “Why you’re only a sort of thing in his dream!’” (It seems that Shakespeare listened to Tweedledee’s podcasts because in one of his most famous plays, The Tempest, he wrote, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.”)
“If the King were to wake,” added Tweedledum. “You’d go out – bang! – just like a candle!’”
Toward the end of her stay in Looking-glass world, Alice met the famous Humpty-Dumpty. Like any good girl of her day, Alice knew her nursery rhymes backwards and forwards, so when she met Humpty, she was immediately worried about his safety. “Don’t you think you’d be safer down on the ground? That wall is so very narrow!”
In response, Humpty Dumpty growled. “Of course, I don’t think so. Why, if I ever did fall off – which there’s no chance of – but if I did…the King has promised me – with his very own mouth…”
Here Alice interrupted, “To send all his horses and all his men…”
Moments later, a crash shook the forest from end to end and soldiers came running, first two or three, then ten or twenty, finally thousands. So many that they seemed to fill the whole forest!
The king had kept his promise. But would his horses and his men be able to put Humpty together again? Maybe not on our side of the looking glass, but on the other side…who knows?
At the end of her adventure, when Alice was once again safely back on her own side of the mirror, she thought about her experience and said to her pussycat, “’Now, Kitty, let’s consider, who it was that dreamed it all…it must have been either me or the Red King. He was part of my dream, of course – but then I was part of his dream too!’”
David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.