Lewis Carroll and Chess by Bill Wall
Lewis Carroll was the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898). He was an English writer, mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon (Reverend), and photographer. He was born in Cheshire. He attended Oxford, graduated first in his class in Mathematics, and lectured mathematics at Christ Church for 26 years.
In 1856, he published his first piece of literary work under the name of Lewis Carroll, a play on words of his name Charles Lutwidge reversed. Lewis was the anglicized form of Ludovicus, which was the Latin for Lutwidge. Carroll was the English form of the Latin Carolus, which comes from the name Charles.
In 1862, Lewis Carroll wrote to his sister, Mary, that he had been playing chess with Lionel Tennyson, age 8, the son of Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892).
In 1865 he published Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In this story, Alice, age seven-and-a-half, encountered a kingdom of playing cards after falling down a rabbit hole. There was no chess mentioned.
There were several entries to Carroll’s diaries about chess. On August 10, 1866, he wrote that he spent a good deal of the day watching a chess tournament. On September 3, 1866, he wrote that he received 250 chess score sheets so that he could write chess games down. He said that he liked consultation-games better than the ordinary single game. On December 24, 1866, he wrote that he played chess with one of his traveling companions while waiting for the train for an hour. In July 1867, he wrote that he played chess with a fellow traveler while on his way to St. Petersburg. In August 1867, he wrote that he played chess with R.M. Hunt of New York while traveling from St. Petersburg to Warsaw.
In 1871, he published its sequel – Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. His Looking-Glass book was illustrated by Sir John Tenniel. His chess pieces illustrations were based on the St. George pattern, not the more accepted Staunton pattern. He dedicated the book to Alice Liddell (1852-1934), a young girl whose family lived near Lewis Carroll. It is possible that Lewis Carroll was teaching Alice Liddell how to play chess, and devised the stories to entertain young Alice while she was learning the game. Alice may have been the niece of a serious chess player and patron, Henry Thomas Liddell, Earl of Ravensworth. Alice was the daughter of Henry Liddell, Dean of Christ Church.
Lewis Carroll’s books are among the most widely read pieces of literature in the Western world. Many movies, television special, and plays have been made around Alice and Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.
In some early versions of Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll equated every character with a corresponding chess piece.
Through the Looking Glass has many chess references (none in Alice in Wonderland). In the story, the chess pieces have come to life. In a garden, Alice meets the Red Queen. The Red Queen reveals to Alice that the entire countryside id laid out in squares, like a gigantic chessboard. The Red Queen offers to make Alice a White Queen if she can move all the way from the second rank to the eighth rank in a chess game. Alice starts out in the second rank as one of the White Queen’s pawns. She then makes her journey across the chessboard. A train gets her from the second row past the third row to the fourth row. This is just like chess, with a pawn going from the 2nd rank to the 4th rank on its first move.
On the 4th rank, she meets Tweedledee and Tweedledum. They point out the sleeping Red King. Alice then meets the White Queen and they advance to the 5th rank by crossing over a brook together. She then crosses another brook into the 6th rank and runs into Humpty Dumpty. He falls and “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” come to help, and are accompanied by the White King.
Alice reaches the 7th rank by crossing another brook into the forested territory of the Red Knight. The Red Knight is trying to capture the white pawn, which is Alice. She is saved by the White Knight. The White Knight escorts Alice through the forest towards the final brook-crossing to the 8th rank, but he keeps falling off his horse.
Alice bids farewell to the White Knight and steps across the last brook to the 8th rank. She is then automatically crowned as queen, with the crown materializing abruptly on her head. She then finds herself in the company of the Red Queen and the other White queen. The other queens invite one another to a party that will be hosted by the newly crowned Alice, which Alice knows nothing about it.
Alice arrives at the party where there is chaos. Alice finally grabs the Red Queen and shakes her violently, thus “capturing” the Red Queen. Alice unknowingly puts the Red King into checkmate, and he finally wakes up.
Alice suddenly awakes in her armchair to find herself holding the black kitten. She deduces that the black kitten was the Red Queen all along, and the white kitten was the White Queen.
The central purpose of Carroll’s chess game was to demonstrated that significance of a mere pawn being able to ‘queen.’ The pawn is ‘queened’ when it reaches the opposite end of the board on the 8th rank. The pawn is exchanged for a queen, becoming the most powerful piece on the board.
In response to concerns and criticisms, Lewis Carroll included In the preface to the 1896 editions the following:
As the chess-problem, given on the previous page, has puzzled some of my readers, it may be well to explain that it is correctly worked out, so far as the moves are concerned. The alternation of Red and White is perhaps not so strictly observed as it might be, and the “castling” of the three Queens is merely a way of saying that they entered the palace; but the “check” of the White King at move 6, the capture of the Red Knight at move 7, and the final “checkmate” of the Red King, will be found, by any one who will take the trouble to set the pieces and play the moves as directed, to be strictly in accordance with the laws of the game.
As for the chess problem:
White: Kc6, Qc1, Rf1, Nf5, Pd2
Black: Ke4, Qe2, Ng8
This is Lewis Carol’s solution. Black to move and White to mate in 11 moves:
1…Qh5 (Alice meets the Red Queen. The Red Queen then moves)
2. d4 (Alice moves to d4 by railway)
3.Qc4 (Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the White Queen moves)
4.Qc5 (Alice meets the White Queen)
5.d5 (Alice crosses the brook)
6.Qf8 (White Queen moves)
7.d6 (Alice crosses the brook after meeting Humpty Dumpty)
8.Qc8 (the White Queen moves)
9.d7 Ne7 (Alice moves through the forest and crosses the brook; attacked by Red Knight)
10.Nxe7 (the White Knight takes the Black Knight)
11.Nf5 (the White Knight moves)
9.d8=Q Qe8 (Alice becomes Queen and meets the Red Queen)
10.Qa6 (the other White Queen moves away)
11.Qxe8 mate (Alice captures the Red Queen and checkmates the Red King)
Another solution to the problem is:
1.d3+ Kxd3 2.Qa3+ Kd2 3.Qb2+ Kd3 4.Qd4+ Kc2 5.Ne3+ Qxe3 6.Qxe3 Ne7+ 7.Kb5 Nd5 8.Rf2+ Kd1 9.Qd2 mate.
Lewis Carroll’s diaries mention chess on several occasions. In one, he wrote that he beat Tennyson’s sons several times.
Carroll mentioned that he played chess during his trip to Russia.
No games of Carroll have ever appeared and he never played in any chess tournaments.
Mike Fox and Richard James (1987) claim that Lewis Carroll solved chess problems as a cure for insomnia, but this might be a mistake.
The book was not based on a real chess game. In 1910, Donald Liddell constructed a genuine chess game that followed the story. It was published in the British Chess Magazine, volume 30, pages 181-184.
When Lewis Carroll died, his library was auctioned off. It included several chess books including Walker on Chess, Staunton’s Chess Players’ Companion, Staunton’s Chess Tournament, Strutt’s Sports and Pastimes (some chess), Chess Strategy by John Brown, and Chess – Knight’s Tour by H. Eschwege.
Lewis Carroll had a few photographs in his photograph album that featured chess. One photo shows four Smith sisters playing chess in a garden in the summer of 1859. One photo shows his two aunts playing chess in the summer of 1859. One photo show Dante Gabriel Rossetti playing chess in a garden in October 1863. One photo shows 30 chess players and guest at the Redcar chess congress that Lewis Carroll attended on August 10, 1866.
In 1878, Lewis Carroll invented a game called Lanrick. The game was played on a chessboard, each player having 5 men. The game was played with dice and the pieces moved like chess queens that had to rendezvous with each other. He also invented something like scrabble, with letters moving on a chessboard until they formed words.
Although Lewis Carroll never invented any chess variant, there are two variants of chess associated with his name and his books. Alice chess is a chess game played on two boards. After every move, the piece played is transferred to the other board. Cheshire Cat chess is a variant where every time a square is vacated, it disappears, although pieces may subsequently pass over it to move.
In 1879, Lewis Carroll published Euclid and his Modern Rivals.
On January 14, 1898, Lewis Carroll died in Guildford, England.
Here are some of the movies based on Lewis Carroll’s Alice character.
In 1915, a silent film was made called Alice in Wonderland. There was no chess in the movie.
In 1923, another silent movie, Alice’s Wonderland, was made. There was no chess in the movie.
In 1928, another silent movie, Alice Through a Looking Glass, was made. It had some references to chess.
In 1933, Alice in Wonderland was made that featured Alice (Charlotte Henry) talking to the White Queen as Alice knocks over the White King.
In 1954, the Kraft Television Theatre produced Alice in Wonderland. Ernest Traux was the White Knight and Arnold Moss was the Red Knight.
In 1966, a TV movie was made called Alice Through the Looking Glass. It starts out with a Staunton chess set in the living room. Nanette Fabray played the White queen, Ricardo Montalban as the White King, and Agnes Moorehead as the Red Queen.
In 1976, Alice in Wonderland: An Adult Musical Comedy was made, starring Kristine DeBell. It had some adult chess scene themes.
In 1983, in the Great Performances TV series, Alice in Wonderland was made. Richard Burton was the White Knight. The Red Queen (Colleen Dewhurst) talked to Alice (Kate Burton). There were several chess references.
In 1984, a video game called Alice or Through the Looking Glass was made. Chess players are part of the game.
In 1984, a two-part TV movie, Alice in Wonderland; Alice Through the Looking Glass was made. It featured the White Queen (Carol Channing) and Red Queen (Ann Jillian). Alice (Natalie Gregory) dances with the White King (Harvey Korman).
In 1990, the movie Alice was made. A wooden chessboard and men could be seen on a coffee table.
In 1998, a British TV movie, Alice Through the Looking Glass, was made. It started out with an animated chess board and chess pieces. A wooden chess board on the other side of the mirror with chess pieces knocked on the ground was picked up by an adult Alice (Kate Beckinsale).
In 1999, a TV movie called Alice in Wonderland was made. An early scene shows two old men playing chess with red and white pieces.
In 2004, a movie called Alice in Storageland was made. Chess guy 1 (Charlie Paine) plays chess guy 2 (Charles Francis Xavier).