”From a young age (the earliest recorded is twelve), Lewis Carroll liked to play with words, using anagrams and different languages. He even made his pseudonym, Lewis Carroll, by translating his first two names, Charles Lutwidge, into Latin, Carolus Lodovicus, then anglicizing and reversing there order.”
Carroll was no doubt a brilliant man; a mad hatter of sorts who pulled anagrams, magic, white rabbits, numerology, logic and illogic with equal ease out of a top hat; and a magic wand that made reality out of fantasy and vice versa. His influence and involvement in the nascent spiritualist and esoteric movement in England only adds to the mysterious aura about this seemingly pleasant and affable chap. The origins of the leitmotif of alternate reality is a fairly recent phenomenon, at least in its popular manifestations. Humanism replaced medieval duty to God and the King and Renaissance men, such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Marsilio Ficino of the Platonic Academy in Florence, revived the artistic styles and metaphysical values of classical antiquity, notably in Italy. However, freedom from religious conscription produced a form of culture shock. Under the veneer of the revival of arts and refinement of culture, interest in the occult, magic and astrology flourished as a substitute for religious faith.Later, the Romantic search for significance found fulfillment in occult mysticism and artists turned to the mysterious East with its Tradition of Oriental wisdom.
Carroll’s Cambridge was the beginning of the occult revival in England. In 1851, The Ghost Society was formed which concerned itself with the phenomenon of the supernatural. This spawned other societies such as the Hermes Club and the Order of the Golden Dawn.
”As detrimental as Darwin’s theory of natural selection, were other pernicious elements corrupting the younger generation of England and future clergy of the Anglican Church. The German scholar, Schleiermacher, was by this time molding the theology of Oxford and Cambridge in the Gnostic tradition. And the High Romantic poets of pantheism, William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, were assiduously read and highly revered among the university intelligentsia. Coleridge, who ultimately died of an opium addiction, ”…had been to Germany and returned as a fervent devotee of its theology and textual criticism. At Cambridge University he became the star around which grouped a constellation of leaders in thought, Thirwall, (F.J.A.) Hort, Moulton and Milligan, who were all later members of the English Revision Committee.” Another corruptive catalyst was the empiricist philosophy of John Stuart Mill, whose works attained enormous prestige at Cambridge and throughout England. The dominant theme of Mill’s Logic, (1843) was that the only legitimate source of information man has about the world is the physical senses; conversely, “faith” is not a valid foundation for belief.” ( Barbara Aho )
The Society of Psychical Research was founded in 1882, and of which Lewis Carroll was associated with it. Interestingly, Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud were corresponding members, and their occult proclivities, and emphasis on the unconscious and dream world of interpretation may have been influenced by the new models of the unconscious mind that emerged from the researches of the S.P.R., in particular the concept of the ”subliminal self”, articulated by Frederick Myers.
Alice in Wonderland is so rich in archetypal imagery and situations that it’s open to a multitude of interpretations, in a sense mirroring the teachings of the occult sciences to which he frequented. At once, there is the force of attraction and repulsion of alternate realities and the horror they may hold; a devolution of the Other World, from something initially perceived as bright and wondrous into something dark and scary. Henry Selick brilliantly mined this in ”Coraline” and ”Nightmare Before Christmas” Here, the creepy, dark and life threatening possibilities highlight the danger of retreating completely from a shared, almost consensual reality into a private reality.
Mirror Mask from Dave McKean is another version of ”Alice”. Here, the girl, Helena, crosses over into a rich and strange dream world. Mirror is based on a screenplay by Neil Gaiman, who wrote a book on which “Coraline” was based. McKean is credited with co-writing the story, direction and the film’s production design. The imagery is part Hieronymous Bosch and an equal dose of modern Surrealism, which makes the film artistic and difficult to grasp since it defies convention and expectation. Its disorienting break from predecessors and its heavily stylized images of reality resulted in this film being virtually ignored, the images being eons away from the Disney template that has conformed popular taste within narrow parameters.