A Geographic Wonderland

I’ve always liked maps of imaginary lands. They satisfy both my love of maps in general and my fondness for verisimilitude in fantasy. So it’s kind of a shame that two of my favorite books that don’t have “Oz” in the title, namely Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, take place in an ever-changing dreamscape that really can’t be satisfactorily mapped. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland begins with Alice falling down the rabbit hole and landing in a hall surrounded by doors, but when she cries a pool of tears and falls into it, everything changes. She washes up on the shore of the mostly wooded area where she has the majority of her adventures. After her chat with the Mad Hatter and March Hare, she finds a door in a tree, which leads back to the hall with the doors. Did she walk around in a circle? That’s what James Cook seemed to assume when drawing his map for The Dictionary of Imaginary Places, which really isn’t a bad attempt.

Really, we don’t even know that the place is called Wonderland. That’s just in the title because it’s A wonderland. And no, I’m not going to take the fact that the Tim Burton film called it “Underland” into account, because that movie sucked. Perhaps it’s actually the Kingdom of Hearts, since it appears to be the King and Queen of Hearts (mostly the Queen, of course) who rule it. Actually, that brings to mind another question, because the other royals in the deck are present at the croquet game, identified as “the guests, mostly Kings and Queens.”

We’re also told that the Spades are gardeners, the Clubs soldiers, the Diamonds courtiers, and the Hearts royal children. If the Hearts are children of the King and Queen of Hearts, however, wouldn’t it make sense for the other suits to be the children of their own kings and queens? If so, why are they all working for the Hearts? And is the Knave of Hearts also a relative of the King and/or Queen? Maybe I answered my own question with that “wouldn’t it make sense” comment, though, because Wonderland DOESN’T make sense.

The setting of Through the Looking-Glass, which I’ve sometimes seen called “Looking-Glass Land,” might seem at first to be easier to map, seeing as how it’s laid out like a chessboard.

And in a way it is, but we also have to remember that there are even more abrupt shifts in scenery in this volume. It doesn’t appear that most of the inhabitants take the chess game all that seriously, but they’re still beholden to its rules. Carroll’s preface to the 1897 edition maps out the moves and, while the red and white sides don’t properly alternate moves, it still basically works.

Interestingly, Humpty Dumpty refers to the White King as THE King, despite the fact that he’s closer to the red side of the board. Then again, a sleeping king wouldn’t very well be able to send all his horses and all his men, would he? Speaking of which, while both kings remain on the same spaces throughout the story, they’re both nowhere near their starting spaces. I have to wonder what happened earlier on in the game to bring them so far afield. Since it would have taken at least four moves for the Red King to get to where Alice sees him, it’s no wonder he’s exhausted!

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