Alice through the looking glass... some chess visual imagination
compilation of Tenniel's drawings

Alice through the looking glass... some chess visual imagination


I used to be a comic eater. I've never actually read any of Alice's stories, written by Lewis Carroll [aka Charles Lutwidge Dodgson]. However I was around the main tale and got familiar with, through adapted movies based on them or comics. I had noticed many times some chess references or background in the various versions or adaptations I'd read or watched, but most of times were little [that could be even a checkered floor or pants and shirts], giving to me the impression that there was some initial chess reference in the original stories. So lately I decided to take a closer look at the original books and at the ones I had already read, finding out that their visualizations were an old story...

From Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot, Dark Horse, 2007, p. 125. Illustration by Talbot of a scene of Jabberwocky poem. Generally an interesting graphic novel, examining the facts by which Carroll was possibly inspired for his stories. I've started reading it so to track some clear chess reference, but the only thing I've managed to find is a mention of Mowbray Park in Sunderland where a big chessboard with pieces is set, honoring Lewis Carroll.


Alice by Lewis Carroll

Carroll in 1865 published his first novel with little Alice as heroine, under the title Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The story describes the imaginary journey of 7-year old Alice in Wonderland, starting with her entrance through a rabbit hole. There she dealt with bizarre situations and met strange figures, such as White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Duchess and of course Queen of Hearts, with her famous favorite phrase "Off with her head". But there wasn't any chess reference. Cards should be considered as main game theme.

Lewis Carroll wrote his novel during 1862-1864 and made some first sketches for it, that survive in the original manuscript. However he came in contact with John Tenniel, a prominent English illustrator and cartoonist, who finally enriched the first publication with his works [original Carroll's manuscript in the British Library & Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1866, with Tenniel's drawings in archiveorg].

Success was big enough so a sequel followed. In 1871 Carroll published his 2nd novel under the title Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. This time Carroll and Tenniel collaborated since the very beginning and seems that there was some interaction. To such degree that there were incidents where Tenniel asked for text changes or even chapter deletions, as weren't inspiring him enough to draw something [check alice-in-wonderland & wikipedia].

Lewis Carroll [1863]
John Tenniel circa 1860s
in wikicommons in myddoa


This time Alice passes through the looking glass in her house. The reversed world is again quite strange and funny and chess here is the main theme. Alice meets Red Queen, who after showing her a big valley marked as a huge chessboard, places Alice on a 2nd rank square [specifically on White Queen's pawn one, d2], and tells her that if she manages to reach the 8th rank she'll become a queen. The book describes this journey of Alice-pawn.

It's interesting that in the first page of the book, before the story starts, an allegory of the novel's contents is given as something like a chess problem. However as you can see there can't be a by the rules chess move sequence. It's more of a fantasy-allegory...

FEN: 6n1/8/2K5/5N2/4k3/8/3Pq3/2Q2R2 w - - 0 1 , if you want to play it in the analysis board. From Through the looking glass by Lewis Carroll, 1872

A clear and mostly illustrated chess scene of this book is a battle between two Knights, white and red, around Alice-pawn, who stands on the 7th rank, just before queening.

Generally none of the characters of the 1st novel appears, except possibly of Mad Hatter as Hatta and March Hare as Haigha. However a confusion between Queen of Hearts of the 1st novel and Red Queen of this 2nd one, has been noted. Confusion that doesn't exist in the first publications but occurred later, I think, through the adapted ones or the based on stories. The monster Jabberwock is also making here its first appearance, of which the Tenniel's illustration was to be on the front cover. Carroll changed his mind on this, as Jabberwock's drawing could be considered a little frightening for children.


Three Tenniel's illustrations

White Knight in Through the looking glass by Lewis Carroll, 1872, p. 0


The two Knights' battle in Through the looking glass by Lewis Carroll, 1872, p. 160
A later visualisation of the Chessmen that became alive in the looking glass house, as it was presented in Through the looking glass rewritten for children, 1910, although I'm not sure if this particular image is a Tenniel's work. It seems that follows the main Tenniel's drawing lines, but in color and in the frontpage of the book there's no 100% clear attribution I think

Some next illustrations of the story of the early years

The story inspired and other artists...

In a New York publication of 1902, Peter Newell, an American illustrator, made some beautiful drawings.

from Through the looking glass by Louis Carroll, drawings by Peter Newell, 1902, after p. 11


from Through the looking glass by Louis Carroll, drawings by Peter Newell, 1902, after p. 34


In a later NY publication of 1909, an other American artist, Bessie Pease Gutmann, gave few illustrations in color.

from Through the looking glass by Louis Carroll, drawings by Bessie Gutmann, 1909, after p. 132


Also Fanny Young Cory gave her own perspective in a 1917 publication.

from Through the looking glass by Louis Carroll, drawings by Fanny Young Cory, 1917, p. 124


Some recent approaches of the original story

My first touch with the original story didn't come with the aforementioned books. But when I've read The Complete Alice in Wonderland, a 4-issue mini comic series pubished in 2009-2010 by Dynamite Entertainment. The first two issues are an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland while the following two of the Looking Glass story. It was written by Leah Moore & John Reppion while art was made by Erica Awano and coloring by PC Siqueira. A beautiful work! [in comicvine / in comixology / in dynamite]

from 3rd issue of The Complete Alice in Wonderland, 2010


Few years earlier in 1998 a TV-movie under the title Alice Through the Looking Glass was released [in imdb]. Directed by John Henderson with Kate Beckinsale as Alice. Beckinsale mostly known as Selene, the leading female character of the later Underworld movie-series. Just loved the following screenshot. Red Queen showing Alice the huge chessboard - valley...


The core of the story in some other tales

The stories of Alice inspired the writing of other new ones that were based on the original, borrowing characters, parts of it or just elements.

Hatter M

My first read that contained parts of the Alice's story, even before the most famous movies of 2010 & 2016, was through the spin-off comic series under the title Hatter M, of which the first volume was drawn by a favorite artist, Ben Templesmith. But some detais must be given...

In 2004 Frank Beddor published in UK the first volume of the trilogy The Looking Glass Wars, bearing the same title. There Alyss was a 7 year old princess of Wonderland, who was forced to abandon home and escape to our world, as Redd Heart, Alyss' aunt, attacked to the palace and killed her younger sister & Alyss' mother, Queen Genevieve. This was in 1859 of our time. Here she was adopted by the Liddell family and actually met Dodgson, who was inspired by her story and wrote the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. When Alyss left Wonderland, she was accompanied by Hatter Madigan, bodyguard of the Queen, but were lost during this interdimensional journey. Hatter M was searching for Alyss for 13 years until he found her at the age of 20. They managed to return to Wonderland and reclaim the throne.

In this story there are the Chessmen, probably part of the Wonderland royal army.

An other chess reference is around the Redd's exile. Before all these, the two sisters, Redd and Genevieve, had fought again for the crown. And after Genevieve prevailed, she exiled Redd in the Chessboard Desert, "acres of icy snow alternating with acres of tar and black rock, forming what looked from the air like a giant chessboard". Redd Heart can be considered a fusion of Carroll's Queen of Hearts & Red Queen. Anyway...

The aforementioned book gave birth to a spin-off comic series under the title Hatter M, starting being published in 2005 by Automatic Pictures & Desperado. It was describing the 13 years that Hatter was searching for Alyss in our world. The story was written by Frank Beddor with Liz Cavalier. I haven't read the original book, but I've really liked the scripts of the first two volumes of this spin-off Hatter M. The art of the first four issues, that constitute vol #1, was made by Ben Templesmith, which was the reason that I actually bought this comic [the graphic novel can be borrowed in archiveorg]. I've firstly met him through his work in Hellspawn. Maybe his art style isn't so familiar on one's eyes but loved him, especially for how he plays with light. Even if you aren't fond of comics, maybe you know him through 30 days of night; a known horror vampire movie based on one of his graphic novels.

However in this volume chess appears only as a Hatter's memory, when Redd entered the palace in Wonderland to kill her sister and a battle followed...

Detail of page 91 of the volume


Detail of page 92 of the volume


And just an illustration I've liked. Detail of page 76 of the volume


The 2nd volume was illustrated by Sami Makkonen. Beautiful work! However I think that the following images, that are included in the end of the volume, aren't his. Possibly are made by one of the Institute Artists that are mentioned on the front page credits [the graphic novel can be borrowed in archiveorg].


Wonderland series by Zenescope

In 2007 a comic series started being published by Zenescope Entertainment under a general title Wonderland. It is actually a horror fantasy comic universe, that include many mini series [of 4-6 issues], trilogies, one shots and a long one. Main writer is Raven Gregory. And most of the artwork is signed by Rich Bonk or Dan Leister with Blond or Nei Ruffino in coloring.

There Wonderland is a parallel universe, a place of insanity and horror, where the eternal monster Jabberwocky rules and wants to capture more and more people so to create strong links and come to our world. Alice was a sacrifice like these, offered by Dodgson in exchange of an eternal life. But came back.

Main character of the first issues is Alice's daughter, Calie. Many of the figures of the original books appear. The characters of Wonderland are many times actual persons that passed into the fantasy realm and took the role, sometimes replacing a previous one. Mad Hatter is an insane killer. Chesshire Cat evil. Queen of hearts and Red Queen have their parts. It was an amusing read then, with some intense script moments and a beautiful artwork. Anyway...

Chess appears in some scenes, but also as a some kind background story theme. Like capture and recapture... "It's like chess. With each move, with each piece it captures, a link to this world is formed." ~ from Beyond Wonderland, #5, 2009.

In illustrations I've tracked it mainly [but not only] around Jabberwocky's birthplace in Wonderland...

Alice building her chess army. Detail from Alice in Wonderland, #5, 2012. Writer: Raven Gregory. The following are mentioned for this issue: Pencilers: Daniel Leister, Martin Montiel Luna, Robert Gill, Sheldon Goh, Vic Drujiniu. Colorists: Jason Embury, Jeremy Colwell, Michael Garcia, Ramon Ignacio Bunge, Tamra Bonvillain


...and Red Queen, as it would be expected. Red Queen, being in real life the mother of the one who became the weak figure of the King of Hearts, she used to play chess with her son.

Red Queen giving life to a Knight chess piece. Detail from Red Queen:Tales from Wonderland, vol2, 2009. Writer: Raven Gregory. Penciler: Richard Bonk. Colorist: Blond


The films of 2010 & 2016

In 2010 a beautiful movie was released, Alice in Wonderland directed by Tim Burton. Had a strong cast: Mia Wasikowska [Alice], Johnny Depp [Mad Hatter], Helena Bonham Carter [Iracebeth / Red Queen], Anne Hathaway [Mirana / White Queen] and others. Carter's character seems to share elements from both Queen of Hearts and Red Queen. And generally the story borrows from both books. A clear chess reference can be seen towards the end of the movie, where chessmen soldiers of White Queen are fighting against card soldiers of Red Queen, on a plain like an infinite chessboard. Chess vs Cards had been seen already as a theme in the two aforementioned comic series. Here just two screenshots...

final battle


White Queen's chess army


Few year later, in 2016, the sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass by James Bobin was released, with the same cast. Despite the title, the movie borrows again elements but presents a new story. Time is personalized [an idea maybe taken from the first original book's tea party] and has a time machine, Chronosphere, that Alice stole so to save Hatter's parents. Chess can be seen in the first scenes, when Alice passes through the looking glass, and meets the live chessmen. Something written in the original book, but here an opposing meaning is implied visually. Dark Knight takes down the White one.

Dark Knight preparing to take down the White one.


These were some of the most interesting or beautiful I had found. Thanx for reading...