The enduring mystery of the puppy from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Today is National Dog Day. What better time to discuss an Alice in Wonderland character that has flummoxed readers for ages: the puppy that acts like a puppy.
The Alice in Wonderland puppy shows up in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Chapter 4, entitled The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill. The puppy barks, chases a stick, gets tired out and takes a nap. In short, he behaves exactly as you’d expect a puppy to behave. So what’s the problem? Well! Let’s review who Alice has met by the time Chapter 4 rolls around:
Chapter 1 – Talking, waistcoat-wearing White Rabbit
Chapter 2 – Bilingual Mouse
Chapter 3 – Entire menagerie of quarrelsome critters
Chapter 4 – Cockney Lizard, concerned guinea pigs, etc etc
Every Wonderland animal Alice has come across until this point possesses the gift of speech. Many are jauntily attired. A select few exhibit evidence of higher education. All in all, they are a pretty remarkable lot. So what business does this puppy have, showing up and acting like a puppy??? Needless to say, there have been many hypotheses over the years. Some believe that Alice’s growing big and small symbolizes her being caught between the worlds of childhood and adulthood, and that her inability to enjoy the puppy as a normal child would is evidence of that. Others think this chapter is kind of phoned in and the puppy-like puppy is Lewis Carroll being downright lazy! Some theorize that the puppy doesn’t get to act like all the other Wonderland animals because Lewis Carroll hated dogs. I don’t think that last one can be true because Charles Dodgson (you know, Lewis Carroll) was an esteemed photographer and sometimes took pictures of… dogs! Why, here is his brother’s dog Dido now.
What do I think of the Alice in Wonderland puppy?
Ya’ll ready for this? Because I think I am onto something here. Recall the lovely ending to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, when Alice’s sister shoos Alice into the house and then daydreams about Wonderland herself:
“…and still as she listened, or seemed to listen, the whole place around her became alive with the strange creatures of her little sister’s dream.
The long grass rustled at her feet as the White Rabbit hurried by—the frightened Mouse splashed his way through the neighbouring pool—she could hear the rattle of the teacups as the March Hare and his friends shared their never-ending meal, and the shrill voice of the Queen ordering off her unfortunate guests to execution—once more the pig-baby was sneezing on the Duchess’s knee, while plates and dishes crashed around it—once more the shriek of the Gryphon, the squeaking of the Lizard’s slate-pencil, and the choking of the suppressed guinea-pigs, filled the air, mixed up with the distant sobs of the miserable Mock Turtle.
So she sat on, with closed eyes, and half believed herself in Wonderland, though she knew she had but to open them again, and all would change to dull reality—the grass would be only rustling in the wind, and the pool rippling to the waving of the reeds—the rattling teacups would change to tinkling sheep-bells, and the Queen’s shrill cries to the voice of the shepherd boy—and the sneeze of the baby, the shriek of the Gryphon, and all the other queer noises, would change (she knew) to the confused clamour of the busy farm-yard—while the lowing of the cattle in the distance would take the place of the Mock Turtle’s heavy sobs.”
First off, allow me to apologize. I should have started with SPOILER ALERT in case some of you didn’t know that Wonderland was a dream (though I’m not 100% convinced of that, myself). Secondly, I think this is one of the most beautifully written passages in the English language, and it always makes me cry. Thirdly, here’s what I think the dealio is with the puppy. Since all of Alice’s actual Adventures in Wonderland occur while she is dreaming in the yard on her sister’s lap, I believe the puppy, and everything else in Wonderland, is the result of external stimuli sneaking into her dream. Her sister all but explains it to us in the passage above. Alice is dozing and hears cows mooing, and her imaginative brain turns that into the Mock Turtle sobbing. Alice’s subconscious transforms the real-life tinkling sheep bells into the March Hare, Hatter and Dormouse’s rattling teacups. Dead leaves falling on her face mutate into an attacking pack of playing cards. A dog suddenly barks in the distance in the real world and voila! A puppy randomly appears in Alice’s dream, apropos of nothing, as she leaves the White Rabbit’s house.
What do you think? Have I cracked the code of the Alice in Wonderland puppy? Or the entire book, for that matter? Are all other Alice in Wonderland commentaries now rendered obsolete?