A Monday Morning Memo from The Wizard of Ads
Excruciatingly shy, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson lived a lonely childhood. Bullied and tormented by the older children because of his severe stammering, Charlie turned ten on January 27, 1842, and he remained ten years old until the day he died in 1898. Though he lived to be nearly 67, Charlie never overcame his stuttering problem, except, curiously, in the presence of little girls younger than eleven. He was to them a brilliant entertainer and friend, a knight in shining armor.
Fascinated with inversions, Charlie’s favorite game was to change one letter of a word to make an entirely new word, and to continue doing so until he had created a word which was related to the original; such as changing Wheat to Bread, and then Bread to Toast:
WHEAT -> CHEAT -> CHEAP -> CHEEP -> CREEP -> CREED -> BREED -> BREAD -> BREAK -> BLEAK -> BLEAT -> BLEST -> BLAST -> BOAST -> TOAST
(Sound easy? Then why not try a simple one, like changing Head to Foot, Sleep to Dream, or Linen to Sheet? Charlie accomplished each of these and hundreds of others as well! *)
Though painfully shy, Charlie was highly organized, keeping a register of every letter he ever wrote. Upon his death, Charlie’s register filled 24 volumes and listed 98,721 letters.
Perhaps the loneliest man who ever lived, Charlie had insomnia, ate only one meal a day and never married. His only joy was playing games with little kids.
Henry Liddell, dean of Christ Church College, employed Charlie as a logician and a professor of mathematics, posts he held at the college until the end of his life. On July 4, 1862, Henry Liddell asked Charlie if he would row his three daughters up the Thames River from Oxford to Godstow for a picnic and then row them back home before dark. Delighted, Charlie spent the entire day telling the girls a fantastic story in which Liddell’s 9-year-old daughter was the heroine. Upon returning home, the little girl begged Charlie to “please write the story down.” A few days later, Charlie presented her mother with a lengthy, hand-written account and assumed he had heard the last of it.
Not long after, novelist Henry Kingsley visited the deanery and happened to pick up the story from the drawing room table. Reading it, he urged Mrs. Liddell to persuade the author to publish it. The daughter’s name, by the way, was Alice, and Charlie’s story was about her adventures in a place of inverted reality called “Wonderland.” True to his love for inversions, the book was published only after Charlie inverted his Christian name to Lutwidge Charles, then translated it to the Latin, Ludovicius Carolus, from which he then anglicized it to Lewis Carroll. Though he, himself, could never speak clearly, the names and sayings of his characters, the March Hare, the Mad Hatter, the Cheshire Cat and the White Knight, have become part of our everyday speech. Only the Bible and Shakespeare are quoted more often.
Have a Fascinating Week,
Roy H. Williams
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* For the solutions to the doublets.