Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Chapters 11 and 12 Summary

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Menu
Chapter 11 – Who Stole the Tarts?

The Gryphon has brought Alice into a courtroom, where a trial is about to take place. The King and Queen of Hearts are presiding (and the King looks very silly, since he is wearing his crown on top of a judge’s wig). The Knave of Hearts — that is, the Jack — whom we saw briefly in Chapter 8, is standing in chains, apparently accused of some crime. The White Rabbit is acting as court herald, holding a scroll in one hand and a trumpet in the other, and in the jury box sit twelve little animals, acting as jurors. On a table stands a plate of tarts — delicious-looking fruit pastries — whose presence makes Alice very hungry.

Alice notices that the twelve jurors have slates and pencils (that is, little chalkboards and pieces of chalk, for taking notes). When she asks the Gryphon what they are writing before the trial has even begun, the Gryphon explains that they are writing down their own names, in case they forget them during the trial. Alice, startled by this idiocy, exclaims out loud, “Stupid things!”, and sees to her amazement that they are so suggestible that they write down whatever she says.

Irritated by the squeaking pencil of one of the jurors — it is Bill the Lizard, in fact (who came down the Rabbit’s chimney in Chapter 4) — Alice sneaks up and takes it away from him, so the confused Bill tries during the rest of the trial to write on his slate with his finger.

The King orders the White Rabbit to read the “accusation.” The Rabbit unrolls his scroll, and reads the beginning of the nursery rhyme that goes: “The Queen of Hearts, she made some tarts, all on a summer day; / The Knave of Hearts, he stole those tarts and took them quite away!” It seems that this is the accusation against the Knave of Hearts. The King asks the jury for its verdict, but the Rabbit reminds him that they have to hear the evidence first. So the Rabbit blows his trumpet to summon the first witness — who turns out to be the Mad Hatter.

The King interrogates the terrified Hatter, but the questioning is ridiculous and no real information comes of it. While this is going on, Alice suddenly finds that she has started to grow again, and is getting large every quickly. The Dormouse, who is sitting next to her, complains that he’s being squished and moves to another seat.

The interrogation continues, but the Hatter can’t remember anything he’s asked, and never gets to finish his sentences anyway. Members of the audience — namely, two guinea pigs — keep cheering, and are suppressed by the officers of the court. (Carroll explains that this is done by putting the guinea pigs into a large canvas bag, and sitting on them. This is not, of course, how people are “suppressed” in courtrooms anywhere outside of Wonderland.) Losing her temper, the Queen orders the Hatter beheaded, but the King allows him to leave.

The next witness is the Duchess’s cook (from Chapter 6), who refuses to answer any questions at all. When the King tries to cross-examine her by asking her what tarts are made of, she replies, “Pepper.” The Dormouse — which is talking in its sleep — suddenly says “Treacle” (it must be thinking of the story about the molasses-well which it told Alice in Chapter 7), and the Queen loses her temper completely. By the time the Dormouse has been tossed out of the court, the Cook has disappeared. The King tells the Queen she must cross-examine the next witness. Alice, very curious as to who will be called next in this ludicrous trial, is shocked to hear the Rabbit read off its scroll: “Alice!”

Chapter 12 – Alice’s Evidence

Hearing her name called as a witness, Alice calls out, “Here!”, and jumps up to go to the front of the courtroom. But she has forgotten that she’s been growing, and is now gigantic in comparison to everyone else. The edge of her skirt knocks over the jury box, and all the little animals tumble out. Since Alice remembers accidentally knocking over a bowl of goldfish last week, she has the confused idea that if she doesn’t put them all back in they’ll die, so she quickly tucks them back into the jury box again. (Bill the Lizard gets stuck in upside down, so Alice has to put him back right side up.)

The King calls the court to order, and asks Alice what she knows about the matter of the Knave and the tarts. Alice says she doesn’t know anything about it, and the King and jury try for a while to figure out whether this is important or unimportant. Then the King, who has been busily writing in his notebook, announces that the court’s Rule Number Forty-two says that all people more than a mile high must leave the court. Everyone stares at Alice, who protests that she’s not a mile high (though she is certainly now very big!), and that the King just made the rule up anyway. The King claims that it’s the oldest rule in the book. To this Alice cleverly replies that it if it’s the oldest rule in the book, it ought to be Number One; the King turns pale, shuts his notebook and changes the subject.

The White Rabbit announces that a new piece of evidence has arrived — a letter which must have been written by the Knave of Hearts and should be examined as evidence. The paper isn’t in the Knave’s handwriting, and has no name signed to it, but the King and Queen decide that this proves the Knave’s guilt and the Queen starts to condemn him to death. However, Alice, who is now so large in comparison with the others that she is not afraid of the King or Queen, interrupts them, saying that nothing at all has been proved and they don’t even know what the paper says. The King orders the White Rabbit to read it aloud.

The paper turns out to contain a nonsense poem, which the King tries to interpret in relation to the Knave. This is difficult, since the poem makes no sense, but the King finds meaning in it anyway: for instance, it mentions somebody who can’t swim, and the Knave of Hearts certainly can’t swim (since he is a playing card, and thus made of cardboard). It also mentions somebody having a fit, which the King things might refer to the Queen. At the suggestion that she has ever had a fit, the Queen grows enraged and throws a bottle of ink at Bill the Lizard.

The King, making a poorly-received pun on the word “fit,” gets annoyed when nobody laughs, and tells the jury to consider its verdict. The Queen demands, “Sentence first — verdict afterwards,” but Alice protests, “Stuff and nonsense! The idea of having the sentence first!” Enraged, the Queen orders Alice’s head to be cut off, but nobody moves to do it (since Alice is now huge). Alice, emboldened, shouts, “Who cares for you? You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”

When she yells this, suddenly the entire pack of cards rises up into the air and comes flying down onto her. Alice, who has by this time reached her full size again, screams and tries to beat them off — but opens her eyes to find herself lying on the river bank, where her sister is gently brushing away some dead leaves which have drifted down onto her face.

Alice is amazed to discover that she has been asleep for a very long time. She tells her sister all about her astonishing dream. When she is done, her sister kisses her and tells her to run in and have her tea. But as Alice trots off, still marvelling about her wonderful dream, her sister sits on the river bank, also thinking over everything Alice has told her.

Watching the setting sun, she falls into a daydream, and seems to see all Alice’s adventures for herself. But she knows that if she opens her eyes, she’ll find herself back in the real world again. And last of all, she thinks about how when Alice is a grown woman with children of her own, she will tell them this story, and watch their eyes grow bright with wonder; and she thinks about how Alice will remember the joys and griefs of her own childhood, and — as Carroll puts it in the final words — “these happy summer days.”