Contrary to what Grace Slick would have us believe, Alice in Wonderland isn’t about drugs.
Although Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novella stars a hookah-smoking Caterpillar, a variety of perception-altering substances, and a cast of nightmarish characters you would only expect to meet on the third day of a very high fever, most scholars agree that there’s no evidence that Lewis Carroll wrote under the influence of opium or laudanum or anything other than his own outlandish imagination -- and a possible neurological condition.
Carroll’s journals and medical history suggest he may have suffered from Todd’s Syndrome (dubbed Alice in Wonderland Syndrome in the 1950s), a condition which causes a slew of disorienting symptoms, including hallucinations that leave the victim feeling smaller or larger than they are, distorted time perception, and a general feeling of detachment.
One anonymous sufferer wrote:
I would have these "episodes" when the world around me would instantly become a mirror image of what I was used to. It happened once when we were returning home and we were riding down the one-way street we lived on. All of a sudden, it felt as if we were now going east instead of west, all of the traffic was going in the wrong direction, and our house was now on the opposite side of the street, and at the other end of the block. Once in the house it was difficult to find my way around. Then all of a sudden things were back to normal.
The Lewis Carroll Society of North America has a third theory for how the author came up with the fantastical images in his writing:
Our explanation for how the Alice books... and all Carroll’s other writings came to be is simple: the man was extremely talented.
Regardless of how Carroll conceived of Alice and her bizarre acquaintances in Wonderland, the images in his writing have left a lasting impression on our collective imagination, inspiring everything from Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 “White Rabbit” to Tim Burton’s exceedingly Burtonesque 2010 film adaptation to the mushroom-heavy blacklight posters that exist in every 19-year-old stoner’s dorm room to the fresh interpretations our own talented singer/songwriters will perform at May 14th’s Alice-themed Wild Bob’s Musical Book Club (be there!).
Here are some depictions of Alice through the years to get you in that Wonderland State of Mind: