Panel 5.2 Mapping Carroll-esk Landscapes


Francesca Arnavas, University of York, UK, “The Fantastic Worlds of the Alice Books and the Imaginary Mind”

The imaginary spaces which appear in Lewis Carroll’s Alice books have such peculiar features to have inspired scholars and artists from almost every field of knowledge (logic, physics, visual art, psychoanalysis, maths..). What I’d like to explore in this paper is the connection between the Alice books’ fantastical settings and the cognitive dimension linked to their creation and reception.

Wonderland and the Looking-Glass world present quite different structures but they both have dreamy tissues, they both represent unusual possible worlds and they have both a distinctive relation with Carroll’s own memories, dreams, thoughts.

Thus, I will deal with three main topics showing how the visionary worlds of the Alice books have a revealing role concerning the mind functions.

Firstly, I will analyse how the dream dimension of Wonderland and of the Looking-Glass world elucidate the working of the dreaming mind and its construction of alternative realities, and the similarities and dissimilarities of these realities with the actual world.

Secondly, I will show how the peculiar substance of Alice’s unnatural worlds consists of a persistent presentation of inconceivable scenarios and ill-functioning minds, which obliges our mind to continuous efforts of shaping and re-shaping; as Dolezel puts it “in designing impossible worlds, it  (i.e., literature) poses a challenge to the imagination no less intriguing than squaring the circle” .

Lastly, I’ll consider Carroll’s own creative process, the link between his own private mental world (including his possible brain pathologies, epilepsy and migraines) and the construction of the complex reality of the Alice books, with their extraordinary elements and their singular coexistence of sentimentalism and nonsense (the “poignant love song beneath the invented nonsense words” ).


Bionote: My name is Francesca Arnavas, I am currently a 1st year PhD student at the University of York, in the Department of English and Related Literature. My supervisor is professor Richard Walsh. My project research is a cognitive narratology’s approach to the Alice books, that is an application of the new branch of narrative analysis connected to cognitive sciences at the study of Lewis Carroll’s narrative masterpieces.


Nina Lyon, Cardiff University, UK, “Mapless Maps and Speculative Spaces: Metaphysics and Satire in The Hunting of the Snark and Flatland

Lewis Carroll’s late fiction – The Hunting of the Snark and Sylvie and Bruno – is characterised by an antirealist quality that makes the Alice books look conventional. The Hunting of the Snark is a speculative fantasy, but it is also a satire on the speculative “metamathematics” that Carroll would have seen as fantastical so far as its ontological application was concerned.

Both the Snark and Sylvie and Bruno contain notable maps. The hunt for the Snark is guided by a completely blank map, and Sylvie and Bruno hear an account of a map to the scale of its territory. Both these maps are satirically vaunted, by the Snark’s crew and Sylvie and Bruno’s German Professor respectively, as avoiding the pitfalls of ordinary maps.

I will argue that the mapless maps map out Carroll’s relationship with realism, in both its literary and metaphysical form. Carroll’s fiction is contemporaneous to realist developments in nineteenth-century metaphysics advocated by the likes of Hermann von Helmholtz, developments to which his work on mathematics and symbolic logic indicates a ferocious opposition. In contrast, Edwin Abbott Abbott’s Flatland, held as a milestone in early science fiction, is largely read as a pedagogically motivated account promoting the new metamathematics and its scope for telling us more about other possible worlds.

Flatland’s various diagrams, while satirical in part, have a pedagogical quality too: they are intended to assist us in stretching our imagination towards speculative possibility. Carroll’s mapless maps do not wish us to speculate, or even map our own reality: their function is largely that of the Zen koan, a nonsense strategy for overcoming the assumption that any fixed reality is possible.


Bionote: Nina Lyon is a PhD student at Cardiff University and a non-fiction writer. Her PhD explores Lewis Carroll’s fiction and his interests in symbolic logic as assertions of metaphysical anti-realism in response to contemporary developments in the positivist applications of mathematics. She is currently under contract to Faber for a book about the Green Man myth.