A couple weeks ago, we met the Mad Hatter from Alice in Wonderland as an example of what could happen to hatters who used mercury nitrate in the production of fur hats. Such a colorful character is worthy of his own entry, especially near October 6, a date which corresponds nicely to the price of his hat. To wit: 10/6 or ten shillings, 6 pence. That would be . . . Let me see . . . It took twelve pence to make a shilling and twenty shillings to make a pound. And in the 19th century a pound was worth $11.00. Which could make the 10/6 equivalent to perhaps $6.00. Pretty pricey for the time. I say that because one pound then might by $100 today, which would make the hat unavailable to anyone who didn’t have $50.00 to spare — which would include our Mad Hatter.
But to return to the Mad Hatter himself. Alice met the peripatetic hatter and his friends Dormouse and the March Hare at a rather strange tea party. Author Lewis Carroll knew his characters well. Alice, of course, was based on a normal girl. Dormice were known for their annual hibernations, and hares generally seemed mad in the month of March when their mating season began.
Alice can hardly be blamed for her frustration as events unfolded. Just for fun, I’ll put three excerpts from Carroll’s original Tea Party text followed by clips from Disney’s 1951 animated movie and the 2010 movie starring Johnny Depp – an appropriate choice to play a Mad Hatter.
“There was a table set out under a tree in front of the house, and the March Hare and the Hatter are having tea at it; a Dormouse was sitting between them, fast asleep, and the other two were using it as a cushion, resting their elbows on it, and talking over its head.”
The Hatter was the first to break the silence. ‘What day of the month is it?’ he said, turning to Alice. He had taken his watch out of his pocket, and was looking at it uneasily, shaking it every now and then, and holding it to his ear.
Alice considered a little, and said, ‘the Fourth.’
‘Two days wrong,’ sighed the Hatter. ‘I told you butter wouldn’t suit the works!’ he added, looking angrily at the March Hare.
‘It was the best butter”’the March Hare meekly replied.
‘Yes, but some crumbs must have got in as well,’ the Hatter grumbled, ‘you shouldn’t have put it in with the bread knife.’
The March Hare took the watch and looked at it gloomily; then he dipped it into his cup of tea, and looked at it again; but he could think of nothing better to say than his first remark.”
“I want a clean cup,’ interrupted the Hatter; ‘let’s all move one place on.’
He moved as he spoke, and the Dormouse followed him; the March Hare moved into the Dormouse’s place, and Alice rather unwillingly took the place of the March Hare. The Hatter was the only one who got any advantage from the change; and Alice was a good deal worse off than before, as the March Hare had just upset the milk jug into his plate.”
Disney’s take on the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party
Disney’s 1951 animated film is the Alice of my childhood and closely allied to Carroll’s creation. It turns out that Disney developed Alice in Wonderland at the same time Cinderella was on the drawing board. And the best animators were drawing Cinderella, and putting Alice on the page as a sort of side job.
Tim Burton’s 2010 version records Alice’s second trip to Wonderland. Things have not gone well since her last visit. Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter is as bizarre as ever, but this time with a more sinister twist.
There is, of course, an official Mad Hatters Day on October 6. The day began in Boulder CO, because an unnamed group of computer nerds thought it would be a cool commemoration. The holiday became official in 1988 when it received its first press coverage. Of course, such a day would have to be celebrated on 10 June in the United Kingdom to accommodate their way of dating.
All illustrations drawn by John Tenniel. Public Domain. Wikimedia Commons.
Information on the value of 10/6 taken from Grade Saver. It may or may not be accurate.
Mad Hatter Day. #FactSite
Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. Gross & Dunlap, Publishers. 1946.
Roger Ebert. Alice in Wonderland. Reviews. March 3, 2010
Mari Ness. “An Intriguing Failure: Disney’s Alice in Wonderland.” Tor.Com. June 11, 2015.
Sandra Wagner-Wright is the author of Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama's Labyrinth. Both books are available in digital and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo. Rama’s Labyrinth and Two Coins are available as audiobooks.
Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.