The Story of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground

Did you know that Alice in Wonderland started off as a Christmas present for a young girl?

Once upon a time, there was a fellow named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

famour photograph of Lewis Carroll

That’s Lewis Carroll to you!

Charles lived and worked at an Oxford college called Christ Church. While there, he enjoyed hanging out with little kids, especially the Dean’s daughters. The jury is still out on how weird (or not) that was.

Alice Liddell and her sisters look serious

Who wouldn’t want to hang out with this barrel of monkeys?

One fateful summer’s day in 1862, Charles and his pal the Reverend Robinson Duckworth took Dean Liddell’s three daughters out for a boat ride and a picnic. As they rowed up the Thames, Charles, per usual, came up with a story to keep the kids entertained. He named his protagonist Alice because Alice, the middle Liddell daughter, was his favorite. Or maybe because “Lorina’s Adventures” and “Edith’s Adventures” lacked alliteration, who knows. The kids LOVED the story of Alice falling down the rabbit hole and asked Charles to write it down.

alice and the sheep on a boat

Actual photograph from July 1862 excursion.

Charles started working on Alice’s Adventures Under Ground almost immediately, but it wasn’t until November 1864 that he gave the written manuscript to little Alice. Not in person, of course, because he wasn’t allowed to see Alice any more, probably per her mother’s orders. I’m sure you want to know all about that, but this is supposed to be a nice Christmas story, so we will table that discussion for another time.

Alice's Adventures Under Ground cover page

See how nice???!! IT’S NICE.

How is Alice’s Adventures Under Ground Different From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

For starters, Charles illustrated Alice’s Adventures Under Ground himself. The drawings are cute, but not nearly as polished as the later classic John Tenniel illustrations.

Alice's Adventures Under Ground original illustration

See? So, um, cute.

It’s especially fun to see how Charles visualized scenes that Tenniel didn’t illustrate. Such as Little Bill being revived by helpful guinea pigs.

Alice's Adeventures Under Ground Little Bill illustration

I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more guinea pig!

Alice’s Adventures Under Ground only has four chapters, as opposed to the twelve in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Charles squished The Queen’s Croquet Ground, The Mock Turtle’s Story, The Lobster Quadrille and Who Stole the Tarts all into the final chapter, so Under Ground is not missing quite as much as you might think. What IS missing, however: Cheshire Cat and the entire cast of the Mad Tea-Party! Can you imagine? Charles added those iconic characters later on when he became convinced that Alice’s Adventures was good enough to be published. Which is of course when he changed his title to the slightly more lyrical Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

What Is Your Favorite Part of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground?

Why, thanks for asking! I love the very last page. Charles’ illustrations all depict a long-haired girl who does not resemble the real life Alice Liddell. Until the last page, that is! There, he pasted a photo of the real Alice. But dig this, underneath the photo of Alice is a drawing of Alice that Charles made! This drawing was discovered a century later, and is either very cool or very creepy, depending on your point of view.

side by side photo and drawing of alice liddell

He got the hair right, at least.

My other favorite part is the following illustration of Alice arguing with herself. The first time I saw it, I thought this funny little creature must be the Mouse. But Mouse is pictured a few pages later and looks nothing like this. Which begs the question, what the heck is this thing? Seriously, what is it??? I have come to the conclusion that it is Alice’s subconscious. Which apparently looks like a naked mole rat.

Alice's Adventures Under Ground mystery illustration

That’s how I’ve always pictured my subconscious, too.

Why Is “Under Ground” Two Words? Is That a Victorian Thing?

I have no idea.

Have you read Alice’s Adventures Under Ground? What did you think?

About Heather Haigha

Heather Haigha is your intrepid guide for all adventures under ground, through the looking glass, down the rabbit hole and sometimes even real life! Read her whimsical musings on the Alice Is Everywhere blog, and hear the melodious sound of her voice on the Alice is Everywhere podcast.