Alice in Wonderland at Larnach Castle Gardens

Alice in Wonderland

What's the Connection with Alice in Wonderland?

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a book written in 1865 by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.  It is considered a classic example of the genre and of English literature in general and tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit-hole into a fantastic realm populated by peculiar and anthropomorphic creatures.
The tale is filled with allusions to Dodgson's friends (and enemies), and to the lessons that British schoolchildren were expected to memorize.  The tale plays with logic in ways that have made the story of lasting popularity with adults as well as children.  It is considered to be one of the most characteristic examples of the genre of 'literary nonsense', and its narrative, course, and structure have been enormously influential, mainly in the fantasy genre. 
The book is commonly referred to by the abbreviated title Alice in Wonderland, an alternative title popularized by the numerous stage, film and television adaptations of the story produced over the years.

The New Zealand Connection

"I wonder if I shall fall right through the earth!  How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downwards!  The antipathies I think…  but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know.  Please Ma’am, is this New Zealand?"

Quote from ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Lewis Carroll.

Why Larnach Castle?

Although the book was very much in fashion as the Larnach children were growing up, and William and Eliza had decided to call their third daughter Alice, we could only speculate as to whether there was any connection.  To our knowledge there is no reference to the story amongst the family archives.

However, since the 1930s (under the ownership of Mr Jackson Purdie) the Larnach Castle garden has featured statues of the Duchess and Knave of Hearts from the original Tenniel Drawings.

"When we came here we found the figures of the Duchess and Knave" says Margaret Barker.  "I have always loved the story of Alice in Wonderland ever since I was a child and it was wonderful to discover these statues amidst the overgrown garden."
The Alice in Wonderland theme has been an amusing element to carry through in the garden with various new items being added to the gardens over the years.

Visitors to the Castle may also search for the Cheshire Cat, an Oamaru stone carving which grins cheekily down from a fine vantage point.  "It's pretty easy to find, but we have had overseas visitors, including memorably a girl from Cheshire in the UK, beg us to tell them where it is, frantically rushing around trying to find it before their coaches leave - and laughing, as it is obvious where it should be."

Another addition to this quirky subtext and providing a wonderful focal point in the rainforest is the Queen of Hearts throne.  Bright pink of course and also visible from the Castle tower, looking fanciful set amongst the lush green background.  "No sooner had the throne been installed in its commanding position than four little party princesses appeared, clambered on and had their photo taken by a doting dad. There are sure to be many romantic photos taken there, especially for our brides and grooms married at the Castle."

Margaret designed the throne herself, armed with her treasured Alice in Wonderland book with the original Tenniel drawings.  The talented Stu Robbie (a local Dunedin craftsman), who has been responsible for executing many creative projects around the Castle, transformed the drawings into a seat fit for a Queen.

A "Curious Door" has recently appeared in a tree trunk in the new South Seas garden. Margaret Barker explains. "After the Mad Hatters tea party Alice discovers a door in a tree. We thought it would be fun to include this idea in our garden. The door is actually the original from the Tower that we discovered when we bought the Castle in 1967. It has tremendous character and really looks the part of the ‘curious door’ of Wonderland". Unlike Alice’s door this one does not open and lead into the long hall, but silently sits there, perhaps waiting for some magic words or a spell to lead the visitor into a different world.
On the 11th of November 2007, the then Mayor of Dunedin, Peter Chin, unveiled a bronze sculpture of 'Alice'.  To commemorate the 40 years of the Barker family's guardianship of the Castle,  Margaret Barker commissioned Christchurch sculptor Stephen Gleeson to undertake this work.
The sculpture of 'Alice' has been done in true Victorian fashion, complete with golden hair.
The sculpture has become a focal point for various children's events involving the Alice in Wonderland theme,  with our staff acting out some of the characters.

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