Untangling Alice

Gillian Beer in Nature:

AliceLewis Carroll's lucid dreams draw in endless fresh contexts for interpretation as they continue to delight and disturb. How did Charles Dodgson — Carroll's real name — do it? The story used to be that this 'mediocre' English mathematician, isolated at Christ Church College, Oxford, somehow miraculously produced Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871). The unlikely tale persisted, perhaps because so little evidence seemed to have survived of Dodgson's reading; at his death, most of his books were hastily sold off.

…Carroll's taste for games and play was shared by many of his contemporaries, and understood as essential intellectual stimulus. For instance, Sylvester's 1869 address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science emphasized the need to quicken the mind of students “with the doctrine of the imaginary and the inconceivable”. The logician Augustus de Morgan wrote in 1859 “All that is thinkable is possible; all that is impossible is unthinkable: that is, so far as our knowledge can go.” Carroll, who knew both men, put it this way in an encounter between Alice and the White Queen in Looking-Glass:

 Alice laughed. “There's no use trying,” she said: “one can't believe impossible things.”

 “I daresay you haven't had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always
  did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible
  things before breakfast.”

The idea of rigorous training in believing the impossible nicely tilts at Victorian learning rituals in the style of Gradgrind, Charles Dickens's rigid pedagogue in Hard Times (1854). Nonsense was also valued by the physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who appreciated both the Alice books. His 1873 poem 'Molecular evolution' declared:

 What combination of ideas,
 Nonsense alone can wisely form!
 What sage has half the power that she has,
 To take the towers of truth by storm?

Carroll put several systems in motion at once in his scenes, to produce new absurdities and insights.

More here.