On this date in 1832, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson - the author and curator of literary nonsense - was born. A writer, logician, mathematician and photographer, you’d know him by his better (pen) name - Lewis Carroll.
His notable works are known around the globe: from the poems ‘Jabberwocky' and 'The Hunting of the Snark' to his most proud achievements of literary fantasy - ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and the sequel ‘Through the Looking-Glass’.
"Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."
Although most are familiar with the illustrated diversity of Carroll’s works (Maria Popova shines light on one: Ralph Steadman’s 1973 masterpiece, over at brainpickings), the most referenced works of Carroll’s have been brought to life through Disney’s 1951 animated classic ‘Alice in Wonderland’, the 2010 re-imagining by Tim Burton, and (if you can remember back this far) their 1991-1995 television series ‘Adventures in Wonderland’.
However many others I could add to the list of films and animations (like the 'Alice in Wonderland' silent film from 1903), I thought I’d shed my own light onto two which have accompanied me alongside my routine tea parties….ABC’s television series ‘Once Upon A Time In Wonderland’, and the above book from which the pictures were taken: ‘Alice and The Space Telescope’, by British Physicist, Professor Malcom S. Longair.
However uncertain the fate (second season) of ABC’s television series may be, it launches you back into the magical realm we’re all so familiar with, but with more twists, turns, schemes and realism than you could attempt to imagine. Very well done in my opinion, as it had me hooked from the first minutes of viewing. Keep your eyes on this to see where it goes and be sure to dive back into Wonderland for yourselves and experience it from a more mysterious perspective.
Although this book was published in 1989 before the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope, that’s what makes it so fantastic to read, especially while taken on a journey through NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute (at Johns Hopkins University - now home to operations for the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope and the Kepler Data Management Center) with Alice and all of the quixotic characters which accompanied her throughout her time spent in Wonderland.
"If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there."
Except…the world of Wonderland isn’t so “mad” or “strange” when discussed in parallel with reality. In the book, Alice is tasked with composing a lecture to describe the scientific knowledge projected to be acquired through the 1984 launch and use of the HST, extending our knowledge of the cosmos while advancing the fields of astrophysics and cosmology throughout the spacecraft’s 15-year projected lifespan in the process.
Through the looking
Along the way, Alice is guided along on her journey by the Cheshire Cat, where she’s educated on the interstellar medium (the space between the stars) where, just like the Cheshire Cat himself, nothing really stays in one place for very long. During her intervention of a planetary “caucus-race”, Alice meets large to small characters whom focus individually on, well….large to small bodies in the solar system, of course. When Alice encounters a tea party with the Mad Hatter, she poses to him riddles which still baffle astronomers/astrophysicists and cosmologists today, namely, dark matter and dark energy.
‘Alice and The Space Telescope’ is a brilliant book which mounts the paradoxical physics of the (large) cosmological to the (small) quantum, revealing the not-so-distant relationship between our Wonderland (reality) and Lewis Carroll’s. Make sure you look for this one in your local bookstore, it’s a gem I’m proud to own.
"There are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents, and only one for birthday presents, you know."
So yes, here’s to you, Lewis Carroll, for inspiring the minds and imaginations of naturally-born scientists young to old, encouraging us all to stay "curiouser and curiouser…"