My husband calls Lewis Carroll’s Alice books my “bible.” Not that one can live according to its precepts or glean wisdom from it’s paradoxes (that would be mad). They’re just the books I keep going back to. As such, I can be a huge pain in the ass about them if I want. Did you know, for example, that Carroll never referred to him as the “mad hatter?” Most people don’t know that. And I’ll tell you another thing…
Just kidding! I’m not here to scold anyone for conflating Carroll’s world with Tim Burton’s. Both are enchanting. So, in honor of this week’s release of Burton’s Through the Looking Glass in cinemas worldwide, I reread Carroll’s classic.
And I realized that, before having kids, I hadn’t fully appreciated the extent to which the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass is such a damn three-year-old. And so is the White Queen, although she’s slightly better-behaved. (These two should not be confused with the Queen of Hearts in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, who is, to be sure, also a toddler and in fact an ornery little nipper who clearly skipped her nap, and hasn’t learned not to hit, or behead, and now wants ALL THE THINGS NOW! But as I don’t have the energy to deal with her, let’s focus on:)
8 Reasons Through the Looking Glass queens are toddlers
1. “I don’t know what you mean by your way. All the ways around here belong to me.” -Red Queen
So responds the Red Queen when Alice says she’d “lost her way.” This follows sound toddler logic, in which the tot in question defends her sovereign claim on all things, items, objects, and concepts. Because, you see: “MINE!”
2. “You may call it nonsense if you like. But I’ve heard nonsense compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary!” -Red Queen
No matter what they do or say, no matter how contradictory their simultaneous desires, you, adult caregiver, YOU are the one who isn’t making the sense. For giving them the thing that they just asked for! And for snatching it away upon realizing they were about to hurl it back in your face! (Good reflexes, btw.) And especially for not letting them wear your underwear on their heads! They’re not ridiculous. Uh-uuuh.
No, YOU are!
3. “Here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” -Red Queen
Here the Red Queen explains the rules of her famous race with Alice, who can’t understand why her best efforts remain utterly ineffectual.
This passage is apt on so many levels. For example, I defy you to progress three feet in a steady, forward-moving velocity with my very fast, very distracted two-year-old. In the real (adult) world, of course, “you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you run very fast for a long time…” But here, “you must run at least twice as fast as that.”
(On a related note, both the Red Queen and toddlers evade when you advance purposefully toward them, but the instant you try to remove yourself from their presence, BOOM! There they are.)
4. “Every single thing’s crooked.” -Alice, on the state of the White Queen’s attire
The White Queen has always held a special place in my heart because she’s such a hot mess. She shows up by suddenly racing toward Alice with her arms out as if she’s flying. Then she just stands there muttering something like, “bread-and-butter, bread-and-butter, bread-and-butter,” while Alice pins her shawl back on for her.
She can’t keep her clothes tidy, her brush is stuck in her hair, and she’s lost her comb. While this character still reminds me of me, she now has my daughter written all over her. Especially when she screams “so exactly like the whistle of a steam-engine” over a finger pinprick, only to later affirm, triumphantly: “Now you shall see me pin it on again, all by myself.”
5. “Jam t0-morrow and jam yesterday — but never jam to-day.” -White Queen
“Jam every other day” and twopence a week are the wages the White Queen offers for the position of lady’s maid, a gig Alice refuses, in part because she doesn’t want any jam “to-day.”
“You couldn’t have it if you did want it,” the Queen replies… “It’s jam every other day: to-day isn’t any other day, you know.”
Here’s a delightful bit of hyper-logical nonsense, which can also be applied to the protean shifts in taste experienced by humans beings aged two to four. The food they begged you to buy yesterday, they will promptly HATE today (and beg you for once more tomorrow after you’ve thrown it out).
6. “Why I’ve believed as many as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” -White Queen
I mean, she’s just charming sometimes.
7. “What’s French for “fiddle-dee-dee?” -Red Queen
We’re an English-speaking household currently living in a non-English-speaking country, so this is precisely the sort of question my daughter asks. She’s also prone to such boastful “secrets” as the White Queen’s “I can read words of one letter! Isn’t that grand!”
In fact, Carroll’s entire 9th-chapter “coronation” scene is pure toddler/preschooler gold, complete with rapid-fire questions/ outrageous claims “exactly like a riddle with no answer.” Then both queens suddenly asleep on top of Alice.
8. “…the cause of all the mischief.” -Alice
While they both have toddlerly ways, in the final scene, Alice (rightly) deems the Red Queen “the cause of all the mischief.”
The key difference between the Red Queen and a small child here is that if you violently shake a child, she will not morph into a pet kitten, nor will you win a single nonsensical, literary chess game thereby.
This final point underscores that Carroll’s Alice books were not designed to serve as my or any momma’s guiding scripture.
Enjoy Burton’s loosely based cinematic thriller (or just skip it and open the book)! Either way, watch out for child-tyrants this weekend…