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The genius of Lewis Carroll and how autism impacts creativity

12th May 2021

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By Alex, Intern

Ever since I was a little girl ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll has been my favourite novel. Most people know the story, right? It begins with Alice on the river bank with her sister. Alice is bored as her sister reads aloud a book which has no pictures or conversations in it. Then she notices a white rabbit with a pocket watch. He is running and complaining of being late for an important date. Alice follows the white rabbit down the rabbit hole and she ends up in Wonderland. She comes across these eccentric characters whilst trying to find her way home.

Wonderland is a strange world and Alice doesn’t understand the characters she is there with. “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change” Alice says to herself. This is how many people with autism feel on a daily basis.

According to website TV Tropes, some of the characters in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ can be viewed as having some traits related to autism,

Many of the characters found in Wonderland can be seen as metaphors for the various traits of Autistic children. The White Rabbit represents the obsessive-compulsive nature many people in Autism have. Both the March Hare and Mad Hatter represent the classic ritualistic behaviors found in Autistic people. The Cheshire Cat represents the random quirks or unusual sense of humor. And, the Queen Of Hearts represents the over-emotional side autistic people sometimes express.”

Julie Brown says in her book, Writers on the Spectrum, how some writers with autism have problems with structuring their writing. Brown writes about the random structure of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’:

The protagonist herself does not drive the events forward. Rather, the events of Alice in Wonderland appear in a random, haphazard order. The reader could shuffle all of the chapters like a pack of cards and the book would not be altered much.”

The fact that the structure of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland‘ is random shows that it doesn’t have a negative effect on the story. It can still be read easily and enjoyed by its readers.

Stefano Calabrese and Maria Francesca Luziatelli write about Carroll’s writings and the fact he may possibly have had autism in their journal, Creativity and Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Hypothesis on Lewis Carroll. They mention Carroll’s personality and traits being similar to autistic traits,

First of all, we must remember that Reverend Dodgson taught mathematics and formal logic at the University of Oxford (Carroll Mathematical Recreations), and we know that many mathematicians suffer from Asperger syndrome or Autism. Furthermore, his brain had clear systemic abilities and problem-solving propensities. Indeed, everything in his two Alice novels (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, 1865; Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, 1871) is about identity crisis and malfunctions. We see Carroll’s absolute bystander status during the years in which he wrote Through the Looking Glass and Hunting of the Snark – a dark allegory about a ragtag army hunting a strange half-shark and half-snail creature – and his antivivisectionist passion perhaps almost as if to compensate for his substantial inability to establish emotional relationships or express emotions..”

Although I did not know that Carroll was an antivivisectionist, it does now make sense through this work. A lot of people who have autism have a love for animals. A lot of the characters in Wonderland are anthropomorphic animals (giving animals a voice). Some of the animal characters are afraid and or suspicious of humans such as Alice and the Queen of Hearts. This can be seen as humans being the enemy, born out of fear that some humans’ harm animals. Alice clearly has a love for cats. She has a pet cat called Dinah and she is very happy to meet the Cheshire cat. “Dinah’ll miss me very much to-night, I should think!” Alice says to herself.

I disagree with the statement made about Carroll not being able to express emotions. Some people with autism express emotions differently and may misinterpret their own or others’ emotions. Just because Carroll didn’t express his emotions in a neurotypical fashion doesn’t mean he didn’t express his emotions in other ways or forms or establish emotional bonds.

People who have autism are usually thought of as being great at maths or science. They aren’t usually thought of as being imaginative or creative. However, this theory has been debunked through research at the universities of East Anglia and Stirling. Research was carried out to study creativity and autistic traits in a large group of people, including autistic and non-autistic people. The tests involved scenarios where participants had to come up with as many different uses for common objects in one minute.

The authors found that individuals with higher levels of autistic traits made fewer suggestions than those with lower levels of autistic traits. Surprisingly, however, the suggestions from those with higher levels of traits had greater originality. It seems that being on the autistic spectrum is associated with being able to generate suggestions that were more creative.”

Carroll had both a creative and mathematical mind, it is entirely possible to have both. As the study shows, the people who took part who had higher levels of autistic traits had higher levels of originality. Their ideas were more creative even though they were fewer. The fact that Julie Brown has a whole book dedicated to beloved authors on the autism spectrum is proof that creativity is common in people with autism. The story of ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ has been studied in many academic fields such as, maths, science, psychology, sociology, and gender studies.

‘Alice’s Adventures in a Wonderland’ is a story that has spoken to both children and adults with autism over the last 154 years and enjoyed by millions. Its characters are easily identifiable to some children and adults with autism. Carroll’s love for animals shows that people with autism have empathy. I believe Carroll is one of the most creative writers the literary world has ever known. Therefore, his stories will be read and loved for generations to come.

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