Book Review: The Imagination of Lewis Carroll by William Todd Seabrook
The tale of Lewis Carroll—well, a tale of Lewis Carroll, not necessarily constricted to actual history—unfolds compellingly via flash fiction and microfiction pieces in William Todd Seabrook’s chapbook, The Imagination of Lewis Carroll. In his introduction, Michael Martone praises Seabrook for “using the fracking apparatus of flash fiction to crack open the quarried quarry and mine the refined riches he finds elaborated within Lewis Carroll’s work,” thereby “[making] strange again the received strangeness of Carroll and his cohorts and records.” The strength of flash fiction in this case is that every entry in this chapbook achieves a laser-focus aim on Carroll and some aspect of his life and work. Every piece does something significant on its own, but when read as a whole, the chapbook becomes a vivid and unique, though highly subjective, biography of Carroll the Man versus Carroll the Imaginer. In the process, Seabrook may touch upon the “quarried quarry” of Carroll and how we typically think of him— an awkward genius with a spirited imagination and an unnerving attachment to young girls—but he leaves readers with a much more complex depiction in the end.
True to what readers might expect, this brief collection is often tinged with surrealism and fantasy of a highly nonsensical kind, á la Carroll’s works. The opener, “All in the Golden Afternoon,” acclimates the reader to the chapbook’s overall approach by showing Carroll in thrall to his imagination to the extent of losing sight of reality: “The far bank became a fuzzy haze, and even the faces of the Liddell sisters faded, until all he could see were their smiles.” When Carroll insists that he’s told enough of his story for the day and that he will continue next time, the girls insist that “It is next time!” The evocation of Alice in Wonderland, meanwhile, both in this entry and in others, through oblique means, pays tribute to the texts Carroll created while not being beholden to them, instead keeping a firm focus on Carroll himself.
These patterns—imagination versus reality, the “haunting” of Carroll by imagery from Alice— recur through the chapbook’s various pieces, alongside others: games without rules, logic without reason, and the elevation of a fake name over a real man, for instance. Duels are fought, apples are sliced in half with string, and riddles without answers are told. All of this, however, hinges on Carroll. Everything is so tightly focused through the lens of Carroll’s experience and thoughts that ultimately, this chapbook strongly testifies to a conflict that lay at the heart of the man who created Alice: his imagination was so powerful that it ultimately overwhelmed him and, to an extent, replaced his corporeality. In “An Agony in Eight Fits,” when Carroll dies, his mourners, in an attempt to memorialize him, all imagine altering his body by means suggested in his most famous books: “Some suggested that they make mock turtle soup out of Carroll and serve him to the Queen. It would be a mock mock turtle soup, they said. Carroll would have found that hilarious.” Nevertheless, the name on the gravestone is CHARLES LUTWIDGE DODGSON, the less remembered yet more literally real of Carroll’s names.
Adam Mills is a PhD student in creative writing at the University of Kansas. He has Masters Degrees from the Missouri State University and the Stonecoast Writing Program based out of the University of Southern Maine. Stories of his have appeared in Ideomancer and The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities. Adam also worked as Managing Editor for the webzine Weird Fiction Review Online from 2012 to 2014, during which time it was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. Adam is currently serving as Fiction Editor for Beecher’s Magazine, based out of KU’s graduate creative writing program.