John Was The Beatle Most Inspired By Lewis Carroll’s Works
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
-Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, Lennon/McCartney
Here at Alice Is Everywhere, we’ve explored George Harrison’s mysterious connection to Cheshire Cat. We’ve exposed Ringo Starr’s dramatic turn as The Mock Turtle. But we haven’t investigated the Beatle with the most powerful connection to Alice In Wonderland. Not until now!
John Lennon was a huge fan of Lewis Carroll and our girl Alice. This assertion has been widely reported. If you’d like cold, hard proof of his Wonderland and Looking-Glass leanings, you need only listen to two of his grooviest compositions, Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and I Am The Walrus.
Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
Most Beatle fans are familiar with the story of John’s son Julian coming home with some nursery school artwork, thus inspiring his pa to write Lucy. John confirmed the tale in an interview with Playboy published soon after his death:
PLAYBOY: “Where did ‘Lucy in the Sky’ come from?”
LENNON: “My son Julian came in one day with a picture he painted about a school friend of his named Lucy. He had sketched in some stars in the sky and called it ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ Simple.”
Even diehard John Lennon fans may be surprised at what comes next:
PLAYBOY: “The other images in the song weren’t drug-inspired?”
LENNON: “The images were from ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg and it turns into Humpty Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep and the next minute they are rowing in a rowing boat somewhere and I was visualizing that. There was also the image of the female who would someday come save me… a ‘girl with kaleidoscope eyes’ who would come out of the sky. It turned out to be Yoko, though I hadn’t met Yoko yet. So maybe it should be ‘Yoko in the Sky with Diamonds.'”
I have to disagree with John… I know it’s his song and all, but I don’t think “Yoko in the Sky with Diamonds” has quite the same ring to it. But I digress. Once you know that Lucy was inspired by Alice In Wonderland (or really, Through The Looking-Glass. But who’s keeping score?), it’s fun to pick apart the other lyrics to try to find Alice connections. Were “rocking horse people” inspired by rocking horse flies? Are the “flowers that grow so incredibly high” the scented rushes Alice and The Sheep floated by? “Looking-glass ties” certainly isn’t much of a stretch. Nor is “picture yourself on a train in a station” since that is where Alice found herself a mere two chapters earlier than her encounter with The Sheep.
It’s tempting to link “cellophane flowers” to Chapter 2 of Through The Looking-Glass, The Garden Of Live Flowers. Alas, Paul McCartney tells us in The Beatles Anthology that was one of his lyrical contributions to Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds. There’s not a ton of evidence to suggest that Paul was a particular fan of Alice In Wonderland. But you can bet I’ll find a way to connect them in a future blog post!
I Am The Walrus
I Am The Walrus features a plethora of Lewis Carroll-like language. Also, it’s about a Walrus. John explains the I Am The Walrus/Looking-Glass connection (that he once again attributes to Wonderland. Did the guy even read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?!) in the same Playboy interview.
LENNON: “It’s from ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter.’ ‘Alice in Wonderland.’ To me, it was a beautiful poem. It never dawned on me that Lewis Carroll was commenting on the capitalist and social system. I never went into that bit about what he really meant, like people are doing with the Beatles’ work. Later, I went back and looked at it and realized that the walrus was the bad guy in the story and the carpenter was the good guy. I thought, Oh, shit, I picked the wrong guy.** I should have said, ‘I am the carpenter.’ But that wouldn’t have been the same, would it? (singing) ‘I am the carpenter….'”
Once again, I have to disagree with The Smart One. I don’t at all think The Carpenter is the good guy. Much like Alice who remarks, “Well! They were BOTH unpleasant characters!” I believe The Walrus and The Carpenter to be equally big jerkfaces. I’m also not sure where that capitalist/social system interpretation came from, but heaven knows, John Lennon has a much more creative mind that I ever will.
You’re probably expecting to hear that Humpty Dumpty was the Eggman next. Contrariwise, there simply isn’t any evidence straight from the Beatle’s mouth suggesting that. It’s natural for us to assume there is a connection between Humpty Dumpty and The Eggman, as we know John loved Looking-Glass. But there simply isn’t any corroboration to support that notion. What IS there are plenty of instances of Eric Burdon from The Animals claiming that HE is the Eggman. Why? I’m not telling. I run a G-rated blog (usually), and Burden’s explanation is downright X-rated. Feel free to use your googling skills if your interest is piqued.
There are still other John Lennon/Alice In Wonderland connections. Philip Norman tells us in John Lennon The Life that young John was a particular fan of Jabberwocky. Norman also states that “marmalade skies” was inspired by Alice grabbing a marmalade jar on her way down the rabbit-hole and that the working lyrics for Love Me Do were “Alice, stop daydreaming, do!” One has to assume there are other links to Alice hidden in John’s songs. I’d love to hear YOUR John Lennon/Alice In Wonderland theories in the comments below!
Care to hear more about John Lennon and Lewis Carroll? Give a listen to Alice In Wonderland And The Beatles Podcast Part 1 for more quotes, commentary and most important, Beatles music!
** Apologies for the first profanity on Alice Is Everywhere!