Writing and Death

Here’s something interesting that pertains to more than just  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

How does someone come up with an idea for a children’s story?

How did Carroll come up with such a quirky story that is now referenced by not only children and adults, but high school students?

I say high school students last because most high school students would not read this story, unless they were required to do so. Adults read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because they are required, by some supernatural force (as parents), to read the story to their kids. It’s interesting that not even a novelist, but a mathematician, has the imagination to create a story now worth millions.

My question to you:

If you were to write a children’s story, what would it be about?

With that in mind, I’m wondering:

Why are there death jokes mentioned in the story?

You may not understand what I’m talking if you don’t have The Annotated Alice. On page thirteen the third annotation, it says that this is the first death joke in the story. For those of you who do not have The Annotated Alice it is on page thirteen, the end of the second paragraph:

“Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!”

I honestly did not think of this phrase as a death joke. But, my question is why?

Why would you include a death joke, or should I say many, when because the annotation continues saying that there are many more to come?

Maybe Mr. Long was right that this book was written for adults. This starts to remind me of Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” in an indirect way. In “The Veldt,” the kids kill their parents.

Here Carroll is suggesting death to kids. This brings up a few questions:

  • Are children’s stories not supposed to be happy and fun?
  • Maybe this is where Carroll’s weakness as a writer comes into play since he is a mathematician.
  • Do you think that it was appropriate for Carroll to include a multitude of death jokes in a children’s story?
Published in: on November 3, 2009 at 19:50  Comments (7)  

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  1. I, like Bob Sprankle above, also thought about your questions and was reminded of many of the old nursery rhymes and stories that included some morbid thoughts. Something as seemingly simple as Rock-A-Bye Baby has a pretty tragic ending, if you really think about it.

    In some of my literary courses, I learned that nursery rhymes and children’s stories from the past were often used to scare children into behaving. This website is a good start for some examples with historical notes about nursery rhymes: http://www.rhymes.org.uk/

    Good questions in this post.

  2. “Are children’s stories not supposed to be happy and fun?

    This makes me think about a lot of what has been given to children that may not be happy or fun. Grimms comes to mind. As well as rhymes like “Ring Around the Rosie” (a fun little ditty about the Black Plague for children to skip to).

    Do we still insist on scaring the little one’s with their entertainment? Seems like every movie, for instance, has something in it to keep them awake at night.

  3. Maybe Carroll never intended for there to be death jokes in the story, maybe he just wrote a story for children, and the death jokes, and more adult puns that the target audience, young children, would not understand. For example, what young child would understand any of the Duchess’s morals? Even Alice herself says she does not understand one of the morals.

    On the contrary, maybe Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was actually intended to be a mature story, with an innocent front. It does seem unlikely that Carroll would accidentally put death jokes and puns that are way over the heads of the target audience. In fact, many Disney movies and childrens’ cartoons have jokes that only a mature individual would actually “get”.

    I think it is very unlikely, although it is a possibility, that Carroll accidently put mature puns, humor, and commentary into what seems like a children’s story on the surface, but you realize is much deeper when you look more carefully.

  4. I’d first like to say, I enjoyed reading this post, and I love that there are many questions for me to answer.

    If I was to write a children’s story, I honestly don’t think I would work as hard as Carroll and try to weave political slams, drugs, and death jokes into each chapter. I think I would take a more superficial approach and just try to please the children with a warm hearted innocent story with a few morals that may help out their parents in the long run.

    I believe Carroll felt a need to include death jokes because he was trying to please more than one audience. Initially Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written for a child, but Carroll must have felt the need to go beyond a young audience. He realized more children would get to hear the story if their parents enjoyed it, so added material that would intrigue more age groups.

  5. First off, you ask a lot of questions in this post. I’m happy to answer them.

    If I were to right a children’s story, I would of course write something fluffy and cute for little ones to enjoy. I would probably do something like “Shrek” where I incorporate all the fairy tale creatures together to have one big party between them, that would keep toddlers and little kids ages 10 and down entertained.

    Second of all, I don’t think that (at first) the death jokes were intentionally put in to the story. I believe that he unconsciously put the “fall off the house” joke in there and as the story went on, it (italics)needed(end italics) the death jokes for the story to make any sense or flow. Although it seems this doesn’t really matter after what I’ve read so far, there is no “flow” or “sense”.

  6. I have no idea what I would write about for a children’s story, which is what I like about the question you pose because it makes me wonder how Carroll had such success with this book. The only way I’d have any idea is that if i took one of my journals I kept (and there were many) when I was a child myself. It’s hard to say what children like when your not a child.

    Could the reason for Carroll’s success be his interest in and involvement with children, such as the photography of Alice Liddell, that helped him understand them better and get a sense of what they enjoy? Or could it be that Carroll was merely a child himself filled with math riddles and just needing an outlet to share them? Maybe if Carroll had children had kids himself, this could be a plausible explanation, but I’m not sure of that fact after a bit of research on him.

    I like the fact Carroll was not just a writer but a different persona all together. This shift in identity from Charles Dodgson, similar to patterns seen in Lord of the Flies and the Stanford Prison Experiment, gives him freedom to be someone other than himself and allows him to press the limits more. This may be where the death jokes come into play, but as a reader I take these death jokes the same as when i hear a 3 year old say “I wish you were dead!”. It’s morbid in connotation but when you look at the speaker and their ability to even understand the concept of death it totally nullifies its so called “dark meaning” to these jokes, for me.

  7. Note: Here is an interesting analysis of Bradbury’s “The Veldt,” for anyone interested:


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