Night Out: John Wayne in Wonderland: William Hartston at the Lewis Carroll Society's annual meeting

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The Independent Culture
APART from the unexpected appearance of John Wayne, it was a fairly ordinary annual general meeting, as AGMs of the Lewis Carroll Society go. The chairman, having served three years on the committee, stood down and asked for nominees to succeed her. Alan White was proposed and seconded; someone asked 'Who is Alan White?'; and Mr White was duly elected. Which is when John Wayne appeared.

Producing, from beneath the table, a bust of John Wayne, the outgoing chairman, Anne Clark Amor, passed it to her successor with all the solemnity of a mayor handing over a chain of office. Some years ago, an American artist had sent them the bust as a sample of his work. The society was unable to afford his fee to commission a similar bust of Lewis Carroll, but he had indicated that John Wayne did not need to be returned.

Several people then mumbled variations on the same joke concerning how a chairman's gotta do what a chairman's gotta do, and they moved on to election of the committee. 'Her grandmother went to my wedding,' said a member in approval of one nominee, and no vote was necessary.

There followed a short talk on silk-screen printing by Alan Pugh, whose range of Jabberwock T-shirts has proved most popular, especially the caterpillar.

'I've had people buying Mad Hatters', he said, 'and telling me it's Ken Dodd and refusing to believe any different.'

This remark, however, prompted a ritual denunciation from the floor: 'I think we should take a stand here,' said a man from Luton, which he described as the centre of the hatting industry. 'Nowhere (in the Alice books) is he described as the 'Mad Hatter'.' The Hatter was, in fact, no madder than the others at the tea party. Murmurs of approval from others attending the meeting led to a brief discussion of madness caused by mercury poisoning, an occupational hazard of the felting process among hatters.

The founder and president of the society, Ellis Hillman, then gave a talk on the religious, numerical and philosophical implications of the number 42 in the works of Lewis Carroll. His thesis was firstly that Carroll had been preoccupied with 42 for religious reasons, and secondly that he did not realise it. There were the 42 original Articles of the Church of England, a 42- armed oriental god, the age of 42 at which male Buddhists visit a sacred shrine, and a wide assortment of references to 42 in Carroll's writings. Then we have the 31 2 days (42 months = 31 2 years) between crucifixion and resurrection, and, most astonishing of all, the fact that 42 times 31 2 equals 147, the maximum break in snooker, a game that had not even been invented when Alice went through the looking-glass.

The talk lasted exactly 34 minutes, but the eight-minute under- run was filled with various other 42s from the audience: the time in minutes a stone would take to fall through a hole in the earth; the number of Tenniel illustrations in Carroll's works; the number of eyes seen on the court cards of a full pack; the number of teeth a dog has . . .

The meeting was adjourned.

The Lewis Carroll Society has 285 members in 18 different countries (including 189 in the UK). It produces a newsletter, Bandersnatch, which has been described as 'better reading, line for line, than most academic journals; it also takes up less space', and a quarterly journal, Jabberwocky, in which are discussed such topics as 'A Continuity Error in Disney's Alice in Wonderland' (apparently the Mad Hatter asks 'It was?' before the White Rabbit says 'And it was an unbirthday present', when the question should clearly come after the Rabbit's remark) and 'An Investigation into the Neuro-psychological poisoning of the Hatter in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'.

They also have regular meeting and organise trips to places of Carrollian interest. For further information, contact the secretary, Sarah Stanfield, on 0233 623919.

(Photographs omitted)

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