William Todd Seabrook. Rose Metal Press, $12 chapbook (44p) ISBN 978-0-9887645-7-6
A few of the beloved characters in Wonderland make cameos in The Imagination of Lewis Carroll, but William Todd Seabrook focuses the chapbook on Carroll’s life outside his writings. As the collected shorts reveal, however, this separation is not entirely possible. We see Carroll split between two lives, that of logician and deacon Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and that of the household name and pseudonym Lewis Carroll. We quickly see that he feels his true identity is as Carroll.
Seabrook is not writing biography. The shorts break into the fantastic and the satirical, creating what might be described as biography-fueled imagination. We see Carroll as prankster, chess player, game inventor, dueler, opium user, photographer, and control freak. We see his inappropriate attachment to Alice Liddell. We see him run from the Jabberwocky and recoil from the Dodo, as the Red King lurks in the corners. Appropriately, the book often dwells in nonsense, strange logic, and dark humor. Carroll’s watches include one the runs fast, one that runs backwards, one stuck at 8:34 that he checks twice a day, and one made of paper gifted to him by Alice. When he mistakes a public execution for a public performance, he bursts into applause thinking, “What great minds we have…to come up with such delight.” He gives a three-day sermon that ends in a two-minute amen. When a Bishop tells him his jokes alone won’t get him into heaven, he replies, “That is if you assume that this life is not already a joke, Your Excellency.” And one short is written entirely backwards, the title mirroring the previous page.
But as the shorts develop, we see that beyond the play and the Wonderland-ian turns, Carroll is a disconnected man. When reflecting on a trick he performs with an apple that leaves tiny holes in the skin, he thinks: “But children didn’t often see those imperfections, unlike the harsh, penetrating eyes of an adult.” In one of the most poignant and complicated shorts, “The Solutions of Lewis Carroll,” he develops a nude photo of Alice Liddell – “He did not wear gloves, as he had no need to in the presence of Alice” – and discusses eternal life. Alice wants Carroll to take a picture of himself as well so he can also live on forever. When she says, “At some point you’ll be the only one who doesn’t know what it’s like to die,” Carroll replies, “Better to be dead than to be lonely.”
This mix of the dark with the ridiculous sets the perfect tone for the project. The Imagination of Lewis Carroll is a quick and interesting read, and another beautifully made chapbook with the solid and well-crafted fiction that Rose Metal Press is known for. (August 2014)
Purchase The Imagination of Lewis Carroll HERE.