47 pages 1 hour read

Lewis Carroll

Through The Looking Glass

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 1871

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Summary and Study Guide


Through the Looking-Glass is the sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a classic novel by Lewis Carroll. Through the Looking-Glass, written six years later, features the same topsy-turvy portal world known as Wonderland; the sequel is often included in a dual compendium with the first book. In this tale, Alice steps through a mirror into a surreal world where she encounters peculiar characters, navigates curious landscapes, and tries to make sense of nonsensical events. The landscape is a giant chess board in which the characters are chess pieces; Alice begins as a pawn and becomes a queen. The book also includes poetry and stories within the story. Among other accolades, Alice in Wonderland won the Notable Children’s Award.

This study guide refers to the 2008 Kindle e-book edition published by Doublethumb Press.

Plot Summary

Alice, a seven-and-a-half-year-old child, plays with her kittens in her living room on a winter day. She asks Kitty, the black kitten, to play pretend. As she is telling Kitty her ideas about the house on the other side of the looking-glass over the fireplace, she notices the looking-glass appears misty. She steps through it into a new world. Everything appears identical to her living room at first, but then Alice notices that the chess pieces on the looking-glass side are alive. The Red Queen and White Queen are crying for their child atop the table. They can’t see or hear Alice, so she picks them up to help, which scares the tiny chess people. After she reunites the family, Alice realizes the room is similar but backward, a reflection of her normal house.

Alice walks outside the house to find a vast, forested landscape. The forest is separated into sections by shrubbery and rivers to make it into multiple squares. Alice realizes the world is squared off like a chessboard. She follows a path toward a garden of living flowers, but the paths do not seem to lead anywhere but back to the house. She tries walking away from the garden and quickly finds herself in it, proving the reflective theory of looking-glass land. To her surprise, she discovers that the flowers can speak. The Tiger-Lily tree protects the flowers with its “bough-wough” barking and thrashing. Alice is amazed at the fantastical flowers, but they judge her as a strange, “ugly” flower. They mention she looks like another “ugly” flower with pointy petals, which Alice figures means a crown. Just then, the Red Queen appears on a nearby path. Alice races to catch up with her.

The Red Queen is kind and instructive. She teaches Alice how to get through the giant chessboard forest, listing the characters she will meet along the way and how to move from one square to the next. In the eighth square, Alice will be crowned queen, but for now, she is a pawn. After educating Alice, the Red Queen rushes away. Alice follows her advice to find a train first, but she does not know how to get a ticket. The conductor yells at her, so she identifies as “luggage” instead and gets to ride. The train is filled with strange creatures, including a talking horse, a beetle, and a gnat who keeps whispering in her ear. The train jumps over a large stream to get to another square, and the setting transforms. Alice finds herself sitting under an oak tree with the giant gnat. They talk about insects together, but the insects in the looking-glass world are different. There is a rocking-horse fly made of wood that eats sap and sawdust, for instance, rather than an ordinary horsefly. Alice then walks through the forest to where the gnat says language is forgotten. She cannot even remember the word for “tree” or her own name as she travels, but a sweet fawn shows her the way out, where they both gain their vocabulary back.

In the next square, Alice meets Tweedledee and Tweedledum. The two twin boys are very competitive, and, like many others she meets, they banter with wordplay and linguistic humor. They recite a poem called “The Walrus and the Carpenter” to her, but she cannot follow its logic. The Tweedles then put on pillows and other items to fight while Alice referees, but their fight is interrupted by a giant crow that swoops down, fluttering a scarf in the breeze. Alice grabs the scarf and comes across the White Queen in the woods. She returns the scarf to the White Queen and tidies her up. The disheveled queen tells her strange things, like how she has a backward memory. For instance, the White Queen knows what will happen next week, but not yesterday. When Alice says that is impossible, the queen says she should practice imagining harder.

Next, the woods turn into a shop, and the queen becomes the woolly sheep who owns the shop. The shop transforms into a rowboat on a river, and Alice rows them along and picks beautiful rushes from the water, but they vanish as she gathers them. The rowboat turns back into the shop, and Alice buys an egg. The egg keeps moving out of her grasp, changing into Humpty Dumpty sitting on a tree branch. In Humpty’s square, Alice talks with him, but he only wants to chat in riddles. She asks him how he balances on a narrow ledge, but he thinks the question is ridiculous. Since he is a poetry expert, he helps Alice decipher “The Jabberwocky,” a poem she knows by heart. Humpty describes the nonsensical language in the poem.

Alice continues through the looking-glass world square by square, encountering more strangeness and interesting characters at every turn. She helps the White King find the fighting Lion and Unicorn, who box each other daily to try to win his crown. The Unicorn and Lion call her a “Monster,” since they cannot believe she is real, but she feels the same way about the Unicorn. They agree to believe in each other. Afterward, she enters the White Knight’s square. He jousts with the Red Knight to save her, then accompanies her through the forest for his “move” in the game. The White Knight is an inventor, so they talk about his creations, like weird pudding and helmets. After saying goodbye to the chivalrous knight, she reaches the final square and finds a golden crown. The Red Queen and White Queen appear, asking her random questions to give her an “examination” before she can truly be a queen. She cannot answer their riddles correctly, but then the world transforms into a feast. All the characters and creatures drink to Queen Alice, though the food is living and cannot be eaten. Alice gets frustrated by this, and then the guests turn into utensils, and the queens squeeze her. The Red Queen gets smaller, down to a chess piece again, and Alice shakes her until she becomes Kitty, the black kitten. Alice awakens from her dream and swears Kitty became the Red Queen, Snowdrop the white kitten the White Queen, and Dinah, the mother cat, Humpty Dumpty.