I’ve often felt an affinity with Alice, that little girl who falls down a rabbit hole into a strange Wonderland where nothing works as expected. I’ve felt like that many times: when I moved from the US to England, then again when I moved to France (especially in France). What strange worlds I have tumbled into. At times everything seemed to be topsy-turvy and running backwards. But, to be fair, I rather like wondrous adventures and not knowing what will happen next.
So, feeling that Alice and I were kindred spirits, and finding out that the 4th of July (my birthday) was Alice’s day in Oxford, I was keen to go and see what it was all about. It just so happened that we were taking a road trip which was part business and part pleasure, so we decided to work Oxford into the itinerary.
But before visiting Oxford, our route led us to the seaside resort in North Wales called Llandudno. Don’t ask me how to pronounce it, but the first sound is kind of like a guttural ‘k’. The town was developed during the Victorian times and has lots of lovely small hotels lining the coast.
As we took a walk around to acquaint ourselves with the town, we were surprised to see a large wooden rabbit statue. He was wearing a little coat and carrying a watch, so there was no doubt about who he was: He was the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland – the one who Alice followed down the rabbit hole and who was always running very late.
The plaque on the base of the statue informed us that Llandudno had an Alice Trail. We could pick up a map at the tourist office and follow it around the town to find more of these carved wooden statues representing figures from Alice in Wonderland. It was serendipity since we were on our way to Alice’s Day in Oxford.
I guess people everywhere love Alice in Wonderland, but I was a bit surprised to find her in Llandudno. Why was this North Wales town celebrating Lewis Carroll’s fanciful story? As it turns out, young Alice Liddell (the real-life Alice in Wonderland) used to holiday here with her family.
The town leaders surmised that Lewis Carroll might have… could have… visited them here and drawn inspiration from their town. Or maybe… perhaps… Alice Liddell told him about the town or some of her experiences here. Anyway, they were convinced the town had a connection to the story and wanted to make the most of it.
So in 1933, Llandudno erected a statue celebrating its role in the Alice in Wonderland story. Even though there’s no evidence that Lewis Carroll ever visited this town, the plaque reads:
“On this very shore during happy rambles with little Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll was inspired to write that literary treasure Alice in Wonderland which has now charmed children for generations.”
It’s a bold claim, and we may never know whether the town inspired Lewis Carroll’s story… But I’m glad they think it did, because it was such a nice surprise to find Alice in North Wales.
Oxford and 4 July
After leaving Llandudno, we had a few other stops before going on to Oxford. Oxford, of course, has a verifiable link to the story. Young Alice Liddell lived with her family at Christ Church College in Oxford where her father was a dean. Charles Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, was a mathematics tutor and his study was next door to the Liddell’s home. He became a family friend.
On 4 July 1862, Lewis Carroll, along with the Reverend Duckworth, took three of the Liddell girls for a picnic and boat ride. There was Alice, age 10, Lorina 13 and Edith 8. Carroll told the girls a fantastical story about a little girl called Alice. Alice Liddell was delighted and begged him to write the story down for her. Carroll didn’t get in any hurry about putting pen to paper, and Alice kept pestering him about it. Finally in November 1864, Carroll presented her with the handwritten and illustrated manuscript, entitled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground.
The story Carroll wrote down for Alice was the beginning of the now famous Alice in Wonderland stories. So now, every July on the weekend closest to the 4th, Oxford celebrates Alice’s Day. This year the characters from Wonderland made appearances throughout the day on Broad Street.
I know the festivities were mainly aimed toward children, but I really enjoyed them. I loved seeing a big white rabbit walk down the street and the Red Queen ride out on her dodo. A 10-foot tall Alice walked among tall singing flowers… And, strangely, I felt right at home among all those mad characters.
“We’re all mad here,” said the Cat. “I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said
Alice (I mean Margo).
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
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