Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly,
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Going “down the rabbit hole” has become a common metaphor in popular culture, symbolizing everything from exploring a new world, taking drugs, or delving into the unknown. (Think The Matrix, where “following the white rabbit” and later choosing the “red pill” starts Neo off on a journey of philosophical realization with no return.) In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the rabbit hole is the place where it all begins. It’s Alice’s unthinking decision to follow the White Rabbit that leads to all her adventures. The pop culture version of this symbol perhaps doesn’t consider the “unthinking” nature of this choice quite enough. After all, Alice’s decision is foolhardy; if this weren’t a magical fantasyland, she’d probably be killed by the fall, she has no idea where she’s going, what she’s facing, or how to get home. Going down the rabbit hole is a one-way trip – the entry, but not the exit, to the fantasy world.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 novel written by English author Charles Ludwig Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. The tale plays with logic and it is considered one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre. Its narrative course, structure, characters, and imagery have been enormously influential in both popular culture and literature. Written by a mathematician who had a lively interest in logic, semantics and philosophy, the story of Alice’s fall down the rabbit-hole is packed with intriguing problems.
In 1862, Dodgson – along with one of his colleagues – took three girls, Lorina, Edith and Alice, out on a picnic and rowing trip along the Thames. To keep the young girls entertained, Carroll started telling them a story which would eventually become Alice in Wonderland. Remembering that day, Dodgson wrote in his diary: “In a desperate attempt to strike out some new line of fairy-lore, I had sent my heroine straight down a rabbit-hole, to begin with, without the least idea what was to happen afterwards”. After spending a few years refining and editing the story, he published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, before writing the sequel Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.
Alice and the rest of Wonderland continue to inspire or influence many other works of art to this day, sometimes indirectly via the 1951 Disney movie. In The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner provides background information for the characters. Martin Gardner and other scholars have shown the book to be filled with many parodies of Victorian popular culture.
While the book has remained in print and continually inspires new adaptations, the cultural material from which it draws has become a classic, something everybody references, but none reads. Today’s interpretations reflect current fascination with postmodernism and psychology, rather than delving into an historically informed interpretation,” We don’t necessarily realize we’re missing anything in understanding the original product, because we’re usually never dealing with the original product.”
In the current use of “rabbit hole,” we are no longer necessarily bound for a wonderland. We’re just in a long attentional free fall during Internet browsing, with no clear destination and all manner of strange things flashing past.
What does rabbit hole mean? Used especially in the phrase going down the rabbit hole or falling down the rabbit hole, a rabbit hole is a metaphor for something that transports someone into a intriguingly surreal state or situation. On the internet, a rabbit hole frequently refers to an extremely engrossing and time-consuming topic.
DONNELLY, K. (2017, June 4). The haunting true story behind Alice in Wonderland. Retrieved from MamaMia: https://www.mamamia.com.au/alice-in-wonderland/
Gardner, M. (2000). The Annotated Alice: the definitive edition. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company. https://amzn.to/2LTgQ3T
Schulz, K. (2015, June 4). The Rabbit-hole rabbit hole. Retrieved from The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-rabbit-hole-rabbit-hole
Wikipedia. (2019, July 28). Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice%27s_Adventures_in_Wonderland