Winter’s bitter cold is here, the skies are dark and gloomy, what could possibly be more miserable? Answer: the mock turtle. Our unusual friend has the monopoly on melancholy, or so it seems, as he is rarely ever seen not weeping bitterly and bemoaning his sad state. His distress is due to the fact that once upon a time, he was a real turtle. But unfortunately when Alice meets him, he is a rather unsightly mixture of a calf’s head, tail, and hooves, with the shell of a turtle.
Before Alice is introduced to him, the Queen of Hearts asks:
“Have you seen the mock turtle yet?”
“No,” said Alice. “I don’t even know what a mock turtle is.”
“It’s the thing Mock Turtle Soup is made from,” said the Queen.”
And what is mock turtle soup supposed to be? Mock turtle soup was a popular dish in the 18th and 19th century. It is an inexpensive imitation of green turtle soup. Recipes usually call for calf brains, head, organs, and/or hooves to replicate the texture of turtle meat. (Eww.) Though it may be the dead of winter and soup sounds quite warm and comforting, even I cannot stomach the idea of this particular dish.
The Mock Turtle is known for constantly weeping, sighing deeply, and pausing dramatically while telling the story of his early life as a real turtle. He frequently speaks in puns. Particularly amusing is his litany of courses he took while still in school. Some mentioned are “Reeling and writhing,” and “the different branches of arithmetic- Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.” An example of Lewis Carroll’s clever wordplay in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Did you Know:
- In Tenniel’s illustration, the Mock Turtle’s body is composed of the ingredients that go into a typical mock turtle soup recipe.
Visit the Maryland Room gallery in Hornbake Library from October 2105-July 2016 to explore the mock turtle and the rest of the Wonderland cast of characters in the exhibit Alice 150 Years and County…The Legacy of Lewis Carroll: Selections from the Collection of August and Clare Imholtz.