Spotlight on Wonderland: The Queen of Hearts


Do you have a hot temper? When it comes to overreacting, the Queen of Hearts is, well…the Queen. Whether its because she is losing at croquet, doesn’t like white roses, or simply doesn’t want the Cheshire Cat hanging around, the solution is all the same – off with their heads!

But how could a children’s book be so violent? Despite the Queen’s never-ending threats, the Gryphon assures Alice “they never executes nobody, you know.” Often, it is the King of Hearts who quietly pardons person while the Queen stomps away, the moderate voice in this royal pair. For the queen, it’s out of sight, out of mind. Even Alice is able to pull a fast one on the Queen and save the cards who dared to plant white roses in the royal garden:

`I see!’ said the Queen, who had meanwhile been examining the roses. `Off with their heads!’ and the procession moved on, three of the soldiers remaining behind to execute the unfortunate gardeners, who ran to Alice for protection.

`You shan’t be beheaded!’ said Alice, and she put them into a large flower-pot that stood near. The three soldiers wandered about for a minute or two, looking for them, and then quietly marched off after the others.

`Are their heads off?’ shouted the Queen.

`Their heads are gone, if it please your Majesty!’ the soldiers shouted in reply.

`That’s right!’ shouted the Queen.

Nursery1890tenniel_3The Queen appears to have no interest in confirming her orders are followed. And those around her are all too happy to mollify their easily provoked monarch before she turns her wrath in their direction. Just how capable can the government of Wonderland be if their days are spent pretending to execute people and playing croquet? Of course, the absurd trial of the Knave of Hearts isn’t the best example of effective governing on their part.

Typically portrayed as red-faced and wearing red, heart-covered clothing, it can be difficult to remember that there is a difference between the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland and the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass. The theme of many of the characters in Lewis Carroll’s  Alice in Wonderland is based on playing cards, where the characters in his sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, are chess-pieces.  Carroll wrote:

“I pictured to myself the Queen of Hearts as a sort of embodiment of ungovernable passion – a blind and aimless Fury. The Red Queen I pictured as a Fury, but of another type; her passion must be cold and calm – she must be formal and strict, yet not unkindly; pedantic to the 10th degree, the concentrated essence of all governesses!”

Although the Queen of Hearts is often portrayed as the villain of the story, Alice finds her nothing more than one of the many strange obstacles she encounters on her adventures. Finding herself a witness in the trial for the Knave of Hearts, Alice loudly dismisses the Queen’s sentence as “Stuff and Nonsense!” For Alice, reason and common sense see through the Queen’s empty threats and directionless anger.

What would you do if you came across this raging royal in Wonderland?

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.

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