It was wintertime, but a cozy fire was warming a room in a respectable English home. In the room, Alice was trying to wind up a ball of yarn. An old cat named Dinah and her two kittens were also in the room. Dinah was licking her white kitten clean, while her black kitten was hindering Alice’s efforts to roll up the yarn.
Alice conversed with the black kitten in an amusing fashion. Among other things, she commented on her recent chess game, which she would have won if a nasty knight had not snaked its way across the board.
There was a looking-glass (mirror) in the room. Alice noticed that the room she saw in the looking-glass was very similar to her room. Even the books were similar, though the letters ran backwards. She wondered how it would be if she could go through the looking glass and visit the room that she saw therein.
Somehow her wish came true. She found herself on the chimney piece facing the looking-glass. As soon as she jumped down into the looking-glass room, she noticed that it had a cozy fireplace, just like the room that she had left behind.
To her surprise, the chess pieces in the looking-glass room were alive. They could not see or hear her, but she could hear them talk.
One of the white pawns on the table began to howl; and the white queen, who was by the fireplace, ran to comfort her baby. In her haste, she bumped into the white king, so that he fell into the ashes. To help the white queen, Alice lifted her up and set her on the table. Then she dusted the ashes off the white king and set him on the table. The two were utterly amazed. Since they could not see Alice, the white queen thought that a volcano had blown them from the floor up to the table.
Alice decided to explore the looking-glass world. Instead of walking, she floated down the stairs and into the garden. She became a little giddy, so she grabbed hold of the door-post as she left the house. She was glad when she began to walk on the ground again.
The looking-glass world proved to be different from the world in which Alice was accustomed to live. Everything seemed to be backwards. When she tried to approach a hill, she inevitably found herself walking back to her house. Finally she encountered some talking flowers. Like the flowers in Disney’s movie Alice in Wonderland, they spoke rudely to her. However, unlike the movie, they did not conclude that she was a weed.
After her conversation with the flowers, Alice encountered another chess piece: the red queen. In contrast to her previous experiences with the white queen, the red queen could see and hear Alice.
Living pieces were playing chess on a huge board, and Alice wanted to play. She said that she would not mind being a pawn, but she would rather be a queen. The friendly queen granted both of her wishes. She made Alice the white queen’s pawn, and told her that she could become queen when she reached the eighth square.
Like all pawns, Alice started on the second square. She had to move two squares on her first move, so she rode over the third square in the carriage of the train.
The railroad carriage was crowded. Among her fellow passengers were a goat, a beetle, a horse, and a gentleman in white. Alice was embarrassed when the guard asked for her ticket because she did not have any.
Her ride came to an end when the train reached a brook. The train leaped into the air and jumped over it. Alice was startled and grabbed the goat’s beard. At this point, the train disappeared, and Alice found herself sitting under a tree with a gnat, who had been one of her fellow passengers.
The gnat introduced her to some unusual insects, such as a rocking-horse-fly, a snap-dragon-fly, and a bread-and-butterfly.
After further adventures, Alice met Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They danced with her and recited a long poem about a walrus and a carpenter who lured some little clams out of their cozy beds and ate them. Alice thought that the walrus and the carpenter were mean.
Tweedledee had broken Tweedledum’s brand new rattle, and they decided to fight a battle. However, when a huge crow approached, they forgot about their quarrel. They became frightened and ran away. (Like much of the action in this novel, the battle between Tweedledum and Tweedledee reproduced the plot of a brief children’s poem.)
As Alice was attempting to hide from the crow, she found the white queen’s shawl and returned it to its owner. Since the white queen had trouble pinning it on properly, Alice helped her.
The white queen could remember future happenings, and events in the looking-glass world even occurred backwards. For example, a criminal stood trial before he committed his crime. Accordingly, the white queen first put plaster on her finger, then she started screaming because of the pain, and then she pricked herself with a pin.
The scene swiftly changed. Instead of a forest, Alice found herself in a store. The storekeeper was a sheep.
Alice had trouble figuring out what to buy because the merchandise kept moving away from her. Then the store suddenly disappeared, and she and the sheep were in a boat.
This proved to be temporary. After Alice rowed for a while, the boat disappeared and they were back in the store.
Alice wanted to buy an egg. After taking her money, the sheep put the egg on a shelf and told Alice to get it herself.
While Alice attempted to obey this injunction, the scene changed again. The furniture turned into trees, and the egg grew in size and developed facial features. Alice recognized that the egg was Humpty Dumpty. He was sitting on a high wall in the open air. The wall was so narrow that Alice wondered how he could keep his balance.
Humpty Dumpty proved to be a proud character. He told Alice that if he fell off the wall, the white king would send all his horses and all his men to put him back together.
After conversing with Alice in an insulting fashion, he curtly dismissed her. As Alice walked away in disgust, she heard a tremendous crash.
Alice then saw a multitude of soldiers approaching, followed by a multitude of horses. The white king had sent them to help Humpty Dumpty. He explained to her that he had sent all his soldiers and all but two of his horses. Two were needed for the chess game. (Humpty Dumpty’s experiences reproduced the plot of a brief poem well-known to children in England and the United States.)
A messenger arrived and announced that the lion and the unicorn were fighting again. They both wanted the crown of the white king. The king ran to investigate, and Alice followed.
The drama that was unfolding followed the words of a children’s rhyme in which the lion beat the unicorn all around the town. Some people then gave them white bread, while others gave them brown. Still others gave them plum-cake and drummed them out of town.
The unicorn did not want to cooperate with the poem. He claimed that he had beaten the lion. In contrast, the lion believed that he had won the battle.
There was also a problem with the plum-cake. Alice had to cut it up, but every time she cut a slice, it joined itself to the rest of the cake again.
Finally, the unicorn told Alice to hand the cake around first and cut it afterwards. As she passed it around, the cake conveniently divided itself into slices. However, Alice did not know how she could subsequently divide the cake into slices, since the plate was empty after she had passed it around.
The unicorn complained that the lion had received a bigger share than he had. At that point, drums began to sound. They were so loud that Alice had to hold her hands over her ears.
When the noise subsided, Alice was alone, but not for long. A red knight came to make her his prisoner, but a white knight rescued her. He told Alice that she would become queen as soon as she crossed a nearby brook.
The white knight was very inventive, and he felt that he should be prepared for any problems that might occur. For example, he had a mousetrap in case mice should happen to infest his horse’s back. Moreover, he put anklets on his horse to prevent sharks from biting his steed. However, he was not a very good rider. He kept falling off his horse.
The knight sang a long song and accompanied Alice as far as his move permitted. Then he rode away.
When Alice crossed the brook, a heavy gold crown suddenly appeared on her head. She saw the red queen and the white queen sitting side by side. In the ensuing conversation, the two queens asked Alice some ridiculous questions and criticized her when she could not answer them.
The red queen and the white queen invited each other to Alice’s dinner party later in the afternoon. Alice thought that she should be the one to invite people to her party.
Eventually the white queen and the red queen became drowsy. Each of them put her head on one of Alice’s shoulders and fell asleep.
Then the queens disappeared, and Alice found herself standing before an arched doorway. Even though the words “QUEEN ALICE” were written above this doorway, she had trouble gaining admittance.
When she finally entered, fifty guests were sitting at a long table. The red queen and the white queen were sitting at the head of the table, and there was an empty chair between them for Alice.
Strange things happened at this meal. The pudding objected when Alice took a slice out of it, and the dishes moved about. The bottles even used a pair of plates as wings and a pair of forks as legs.
Alice finally lost patience. She grabbed the tablecloth and gave it a good pull. Everything fell on the floor, including the guests.
She then grabbed the red queen, who had shrunk to the size of a doll. She said that she was going to turn the red queen into a kitten.
Alice then woke up and found that she did indeed have the black kitten in her hands. It was all a dream
Alice speculated that the black kitten must have been the red queen in her dream. Similarly, she identified the white kitten with the white queen. She thought that Dinah might have been Humpty Dumpty.
Alice considered the possibility that her experiences in the looking-glass may not have been her own dream, but the dream of the red king, who had been sound asleep during her visit to the looking-glass world. She asked the kitten to tell her whose dream it was, but the kitten pretended not to hear Alice’s question. It merely licked its paws.
Throughout the work, Carroll introduces clever puns. In American Mensa, they would be called feghoots. Some of them I have reproduced above, such as the rocking-horse-fly and the snapdragon-fly.
Besides a multitude of such puns, other types of childish humor occur in the story. For example, when the unicorn sees Alice, he considers her a fabulous monster. When Alice replies that she thought unicorns were fabulous monsters, the unicorns suggests that he will believe in her existence if she will believe in his.
The foregoing notes are based on a version of Through the Looking Glass presented online by Classical Authors.