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Travel

Finding Alice

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves, Did gyre and gamble in the wabe: All mimsy were the borogoves, And the mome raths outgrabe.

When I began planning my trip to Oxford, I made certain to carve out some time for something very near and dear to my heart: Alice.  This is not the first time I wrote about Alice, but this is perhaps the most near to my heart.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a time known as the 'Disney renaissance'.  There was basically a new disney hit coming out every year: The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, you get the idea.  Basically I had an uber Disney childhood.  And like most little girls, I looked to the princesses constantly.  In my young mind I was most like Belle; a brunette, only child, who liked to read.  And she was my go-to until I discovered Alice in Wonderland.  On the outside we didn't appear to have much in common, but the girl lost in a world of her imagination became my soul sister.

A few years after the seeing the movie, I progressed to the novels by Lewis Carrol.  At first I loved the quirky wonderland; but as I grew older, I started to love the layers that Lewis Carrol brought in.  Lewis Carrol, also known as Charles Dodgeson, came from a long line of Oxford educated men who took Holy Orders - many of whom also bore the name Charles Dodgeson.  He, himself, was a brilliant mathematician and logician.  Charles grew up with a voracious appetite for literature and an extensive home library.  His book is far more than the literary nonsense you find on the surface.  Alice in Wonderland employs tons of the logic the Dodgeson was so fond of, and Through the Looking Glass draws heavily on chess.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgeson was an alumna and mathematics lecturer at Christ Church College of Oxford University.  He lived just off of the famous quad and ate inside Christ Church's 'great hall'.  While living there, he spent time with Dean Henry Liddell and his family - mainly Alice Liddell, who would become the inspiration for his novels.  Walking around Christ Church you can find a lot of Dodgeson's inspiration.  One famous doorway (now to a gift shop), became aptly named 'Queen Alice's Doorway' because of the strong resemblance it bears to Tenniel's illustration in Through the Looking Glass.

The 'Great Hall' is lined with stained glass windows and portraits.  Look carefully and you'll find a portrait of Alice's Father - Dean of Christ Church College Henry George Liddell.  But what's truly special is the stained glass window that holds the images of some of the most recognizable characters from the books.  Keep walking through the college and you'll come across many of the small gardens that Alice and her sisters would have played in that would have also inspired Dodgeson. 

 

Right down the road from Christ Church College is special little shop.  In a tiny 15th century building, that was a candy shop in the Victorian Era, is Alice's Shop.  Completely stocked floor to ceiling, this tiny haven carries all things Alice.  At first walking in, it was completely overwhelming.  There were books, art, jewelry, ornaments, Alice themed napkins, and bedding; pretty much anything you can think of.  It took me a minute to adjust, not just from the sheer volume of merchandise, but also from the weather.  I had to strip off my gloves, scarf, and hat when I walked in or I probably would have melted in the tiny shop.  But after a moment to collect myself, I had a field day weeding through all of the stores offerings.

The truth about Oxford, is that they truly embrace the heritage Lewis Carrol left behind with Alice in Wonderland.  It's pretty much everywhere you turn; from murals in shopping malls, restaurant menus, museum exhibitions, and every single gift shop.  Even seeing reminders of Alice constantly, I felt her the most just sitting on a bench by the river.  Plus (as you can tell) it had me sketching her for the rest of the trip.

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