Modern readers of Lewis Carroll's books (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass) will undoubtedly make some connections between radical changes in perspective following the ingestion of "special" foods and drinks and recreational drug use. These connections may be partially due to the use of imagery from the books by the "drug-culture" of the 1960s and 1970s but also due to a relative familiarity with recreational drug use in modern culture.

Would the original readers of the book (circa 1865) made similar connections?

NOTE: I am not asking if Lewis Carroll intended the books to be about drugs but whether a Victorian era reader would have considered this to be a valid interpretation.

  • This always seems to be an issue when looking at various historical events, works or documents through current social movements and norms. Whenever you start off asking from a modern perspective you have pretty much answered your own question IMHO.
    – MichaelF
    Mar 8, 2012 at 12:39

2 Answers 2


It seems unlikely that Victorian Era readers of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass would have thought of drugs when reading about the special foods and drinks.

This conclusion is based upon the fact that the First and Second Opium Wars started in 1839 and 1858. So you could argue that recreational drug use was not really on the radar of the average Victorian citizen until that point in time. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass were written in 1865 and 1871, so it is possible that people may have put two and two together.

The most direct reference to recreational drug use did not come about in Victorian England until the Sherlock Holmes stories and The Portrait of Dorian Grey which were both around the 1890s. So it seems that recreational drug use was not really sufficiently popularized until that point which would mean that people wouldn't likely make the connection your question asks.


First of all, while you specifically pointed out that you were not asking if Lewis Carroll intended the books to be about drugs, it is nonetheless important to note that he truly did not intend that. Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Dodgson, a rector and dean in the Church of England. Dodgson enjoyed making up stories for young children, and it was one of those stories that eventually evolved into the classic tales we all know. Given his occupation, I'd say it is highly unlikely that he had any experience with and perhaps little or no knowledge of the effects of opium or other drugs. Because of this, I would assume that there was nothing associated with drugs that ultimately influenced his story.

Having said all that, I would further suggest that it was highly unlikely that any Victorian era readers would have made any similar connections either. One reason I believe this is that the books from the very beginning were intended as children's stories. As a result, I believe people of that era would have been much more inclined to accept the book as a tale of fancy without attempting to look for any hidden meaning or connections. I am not familiar with anyone having documented any such correlations until the US drug culture of the 1960s, which would further suggest that readers from previous eras did not make these same connections.

For more information on Charles Dodgson, you can read his biography.

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