Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Chapters 9 and 10 Summary

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll Menu
Chapter 9 – The Mock Turtle’s Story

The Duchess has been brought to the party by the executioner, but he seems to have lost track of her while looking for the Cheshire Cat’s missing head. She is very glad to see Alice, and walks around for a while with her arm in Alice’s. Alice is pleased the Duchess is in such a good mood — maybe it was only the pepper in her kitchen that made her so mean, she thinks — but is also a little uncomfortable with the Duchess’s extreme friendliness, and the way she finds morals in everything.

The Queen of Hearts finds them, and orders the Duchess to leave or be beheaded. The Duchess (naturally) quickly disappears. Alice follows the Queen back to the croquet party, but within half an hour, all the guests except Alice herself have been rounded up and sentenced to execution. The Queen suddenly decides that Alice must meet somebody called the Mock Turtle and hear his story, so she leads Alice off to find him. To her relief, Alice hears the King quietly pardoning all the prisoners as she and the Queen walk away.

The Queen leads her to a Gryphon, which is lying asleep in the sun. (A Gryphon — also spelled “griffin” — is a mythological animal with the head and wings of an eagle and the body and legs of a lion.) The Gryphon, watching the Queen leave, chuckles and assures Alice that no one ever really gets executed — the Queen only thinks they do. Then it leads Alice to the Mock Turtle, which is sitting sadly on a ledge of rock and sighing in despair. (The Mock Turtle is a strange, made-up animal, part turtle and part cow. For an explanation of how Lewis Carroll came up with it, you can look at the “Character Analyses” section of this study guide.)

The Mock Turtle tells Alice its story, which is all about how much it misses its childhood, when it was a real turtle and went to school in the ocean. (It seems the Gryphon also went to school with it — which seems a little strange for an eagle-lion! — but this is never fully explained.) Sighing and sobbing in a heartbroken way, the Mock Turtle tells Alice about the classes it used to go to. The whole story is full of puns: for instance, the Turtle’s math class used to study “Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision” (say them out loud and you’ll see what Carroll really means).

At the end of its story, the Turtle explains to Alice that it used to go to school for fewer and fewer hours every day — according to the Turtle, lessons are called “lessons” because they “lessen” every day — so it had classes for ten hours the first day, nine hours the second, and so on. Alice naturally asks what happened on the eleventh day, but the Gryphon interrupts her and instructs the Turtle to tell Alice about some of the games they used to play.

Chapter 10 – The Lobster Quadrille

Still weeping and sobbing periodically, the Mock Turtle — with the Gryphon’s help — describes a dance which, it seems, was very popular when they were at school. The dance is called a Lobster Quadrille, and it involves marine animals dancing with lobsters on the beach, then throwing them out into the ocean, swimming out after them, bringing them back in, and dancing some more. (“The quadrille” was the name of a very complicated, and very fashionable, dance of Lewis Carroll’s time; this is presumably a similar dance, only with lobsters.) The Gryphon and the Turtle demonstrate the dance for Alice, while the Turtle sings the song that goes with it. This song involves a whiting (a kind of fish) inviting a snail to join the quadrille; its repeated chorus asks “Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?”

After some more punning conversation about fish, shoes, and life above and below the ocean, the Gryphon and Mock-Turtle ask Alice to tell them about her own adventures. Alice starts to tell them about everything that has happened to her, but when she gets to the part about reciting the poem to the Caterpillar (this was back in Chapter 5), they are very interested, and ask her to recite another poem to see if this also comes out wrong.

Alice tries to recite a moralistic, anti-laziness poem which begins, “‘Tis the voice of the sluggard.” But when she tries to say it out loud, it comes out, “‘Tis the voice of the Lobster: I heard him declare / ‘You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair,'” and gets more nonsensical from there. The second stanza turns out to be an alarming story about an Owl and a Panther sharing a pie. Poor Alice gives up in despair, wondering if anything is ever going to happen normally again.

The Gryphon asks if Alice would rather see some more of the Lobster Quadrille, or hear the Mock Turtle sing another song. Alice eagerly requests a song (she wants no more of the Lobster Quadrille!) The Mock Turtle sings a very sad song about turtle soup, whose chorus goes, “Beautiful Soup! Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!” Just as the Mock Turtle is starting to sing it a second time, a voice is heard far in the distance, yelling, “The trial’s beginning!” The Gryphon grabs Alice’s hand, shouts “Come on!” and rushes off with her toward the voice, leaving the Mock Turtle singing disconsolately behind them.