Alice’s Adventure: 150 Years On

[Caz Ataman | Contributing Writer]

Wonderland, a truly incredible place where down is up and up is down but everything still, in its own special way, makes perfect sense. A realm created by the mind of a mad man, a land quite literally made of wonders where nothing is quite as it seems. Relying highly on the innocence of childhood imagination, Lewis Caroll’s timeless tale tells of a young girl’s journey through a rabbit hole, and all of the fun and fantastical characters she meets along the way.

Alice in Wonderland - The original book cover
Alice in Wonderland – The original book cover

Alice is in her own right the first and quite possibly the original ‘independent woman.’ Using only her wits and her understanding of common sense she battles many fearsome foes and overcomes situations others would simply ignore, labelling them simply as too preposterous for words. Whether it is a Queen of Hearts, a Mad Hatter, a grinning Cheshire Cat or even ridiculously rhyming twins, Alice refuses to let anything phase her.

Disney illustrations
Disney illustrations

It’s hard to believe that it has been 150 years since Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s nom de plume Lewis Caroll, first published the book known then as, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. On accomplishing the feat of still being in circulation for over 100 years, this simple children’s story can now be ranked amongst some of the other great classics such as Mary Poppins and The Railway Children.

To commemorate such an auspicious occasion as the ‘sesquicentennial’ of this much loved tale, the Post Office has commissioned a beautifully crafted set of stamps, each of which capture the perfect likeness of the many unforgettable characters and scenes of Caroll’s infamous story.

Post Office Stamps
Post Office Stamps

It is important to note that many modern interpretations have since been produced, some with more cynical or negative undertones. One such example being the colloquial use of the phrase ‘down the Rabbit hole’ to refer to a drug induced psychedelic bliss. I feel that the time has come, ‘as the walrus said’, to change tact and bring this fascinating story of adventure and imagination back to reality.

Well almost reality…The focus for the rest of this article is going to be less about the genius of Caroll’s work and more about one of the many souvenirs he left behind. The very rare, and often widely disputed, neurological disease known as Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AIWS).

Big Alice
Big Alice
Disney's Big Alice
Disney’s Big Alice

Also known as Todd Syndrome, it was first diagnosed in 1955 by the English psychiatrist John Todd (1914-1987). AIWS is, in short, a neurological disorder, that directly affects a person’s perception resulting in confusion when coupled with sensory distortion, as well as a loss of sense of space and time, leading to extremely vivid hallucinations. A key symptom of AIWS is often an ‘altered state of being’, where the sufferer believes that part, or all of their body, is disproportionate.

However, much like the well-known scene in Alice in Wonderland, this distortion is not exclusively linked to the size of the patient’s body, as the alteration of spacial awareness can also affect size perception of various inanimate objects and the world in general.

Although there is not much information available in relation to the causes of AIWS, it is believed that it is primarily due to a shift in blood flow inside the hemispheres of the brain, which leads to the necessary signals being interrupted as they travel to and from the optic nerve. Despite the ambiguity surrounding the causes of AIWS, it has often been linked to a number of different conditions including; brain tumors, frontal lobe epilepsy and psychoactive drugs. However, the most common ailment is migraines.

This discovery, as well as the lack of proven, effective AIWS treatment, has subsequently resulted in migraine medications such as antidepressants and beta-blockers being prescribed as a simple semi-effectual remedy. Moreover, it is believed that Lewis Caroll may not have just suffered from migraines, but that he himself may well have experienced some form of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.

As previously stated however, this diagnosis has received much opposition with many citing the fact that many of the case studies involve children – a clear sign that this condition is nothing more than a figment of childish imagination.

Other opponents even go as far as to use Caroll’s own work as proof of AIWS illegitimacy; stating that Caroll, a known logician, uses Alice to make a mockery out of games, riddles and even logic puzzles that appear to have simple solutions.

Charles Dodgson AKA Lewis Caroll
Charles Dodgson AKA Lewis Caroll

They go on to say that we cannot then, in good conscious, either name such a condition after Wonderland, or try to make sense of the nonsensical experiences, which are attributed to AIWS. Instead they believe that we should simply embrace them in the same way we embrace all of life’s other frustrated expectations and inexplicable occurrences.

Another argument against the existence of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome takes a more scientific route. Stating that the lack of time awareness associated to AIWS is just an extension of the truth because in reality, with or without this so-called condition, we cannot truly see time passing. As what we normally would consider as Past, Present and Future, is simply a construct of our Basal Ganglia. SO in truth, reality is a figment of our own imagination.

This thinking aside, I believe we can all agree that there is a lot we have and can still learn from Lewis Caroll’s little book. Whether it be about our brains, our beliefs, our imagination or even the world around us. Knowledge that would not be available, if a little girl had not got bored on a family boating trip and asked a friend to tell her a story.

To bring this article to a close I think it is important for me to make one thing clear. You may, as is your right to, believe what you wish about anything you want, but if you ever find yourself going mad, fear not because just as Alice said ‘All the best people are.’

One last thing, how is a RAVEN like a WRITING DESK?

HAPPY UN-BIRTHDAY TO YOU ALL!

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Alice’s Adventure: 150 Years On