We're All Mad Here

We're All Mad Here
This episode we meet Charles Dodgson and his method for creating the nonsensical. We help you start to create a blueprint to create your own Wonderland.

I've had a bit of an obsession with Lewis Carroll recently, specifically around his thoughts on logic and narrative construction. We thought we'd turn it into a Pathfinder story. This story actually spans two episodes so make sure you come back next week to learn how to integrate some of this logic into your own world-building.

In this episode:

  • A bit of history about the man known as Lewis Carroll
  • We breakdown opposites and distractions and how to use them in your stories
  • We attempt to make sense of nonsense.

This episode was written by Ollie Judge and edited by Rodger Morley. You can find more of their work at Adrift Entertainment.


Ollie: [00:00:00] Nonsense,  to literally make no sense, is that the core of most great stories, it has become synonymous with some of the most imaginative writers and creators. The art of finding the unknown in a world where we know so much can be a bit of a forgotten, so not, and something we're slowly pushed away from as children.

[00:00:20] The term don't be silly is ingrained in every English child's head as they're growing up without nonsense, though, we wouldn't have wacky chocolate factories, the Shire full of hobbits or a Hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy to be good with nonsense is to be a great storyteller. It allows people to escape somewhere that they've never been before and be fascinated with what they found, because it's like nothing they've ever seen before or more importantly could ever make sense of.

[00:00:48] So, how do we get a grip on the unreal? How do we apply logic to the puzzling? Is there a way of teaming, the infinite nest of peculiarity for our own stories, to answer all these questions and more, we'll be looking into the work journals and life of the mathematician. Charles Dodgson, we'll be giving you the tools to create your own nonsense through Dodson's logic, Dodson, who you might know better as Louis Carroll.

[00:01:16] Welcome to Pathfinder. And navigation system for Wonderland

[00:01:24] a few weeks ago, I stumbled back across Alison Wonderland. It's a story that borrows and creates as much as any story does, but what's been so interesting about it for me is it's different layers. The layers work in a bunch of different ways. The first, the most obvious is how the book operates both as a great distraction for young minds in the form of a fantastical children's story.

[00:01:45] The second as you begin to unpack, it is a character study on how as we go through our lives, the troubles we face begin to twist our personalities, to extremes a queen with anger issues, a neuropsych rabbit, and a workaholic capita or mirrors for where we end up as adults surrounding these characters though, is a fantasy world.

[00:02:03] Very different from others. It's content seems to radical. Yeah. When you begin to piece it together, it begins to make sense. But when you query your mind a second time, the rationality you thought has gone again. This is by design. There's a method to the madness here, and it's rarely seen today in storytelling.

[00:02:22] We're going to help you find a way to tap into your wacky. But first we're going to start with a history lesson. Charles. Dodgson had a bit of an odd route in life. When he was young, he was quite a timid boy. Who reckoned with a stammer, he was educated at home and then went on to rugby boarding school.

[00:02:41] This is where you'd probably expect me to tell you that Dodger was bullied for a stammer and boarding school was a terrible experience. You're right. He wasn't a fan of boarding school, but much like his later stories, he would go the other way to what you would expect. His nephew has since written about how some of his fellow classmates might remember him.

[00:02:59] Even though it's as hard for those who have only known him as the gentle and retiring Don to believe it. It is nevertheless true that long after he left school, his name is remembered as that of a boy who knew well, how to use his fists in defense of a righteous cause it was in school that Dustin took a liking to mathematics.

[00:03:19] He was naturally gifted and went on to cruise through all kinds of degrees at Oxford university. His attention though was split while he might've been very talented with numbers, he tended to lose himself with distraction, some of his own making and some from his family, this distraction would lead Dodgson to fail a scholarship.

[00:03:38] After many years at the university, due to him not being able to apply himself to study. This destruction may have been down to a lack of creative outlet. When the Dean of Christchurch college, Henry Little brought his young family to Oxford, they became an intricate part of Dodson's life. He became close friends with Liddell's wife and their daughters, Lorina, Edith, and Alice Dodgen would go on to deny that Alice was Alice Little.

[00:04:04] And that his Alyce was not based on any real child. This contrast though, of his very ordered life at the university versus the fascination and imagination of children would create a wavering personality for Dodgson. On one hand by day, he would write and teach complex mathematics beyond what even the most talented professors of today could get their head around.

[00:04:24] By night, he would create poems and stories for the little children.

[00:04:32] It was after encouragement of the children that Charles started to write down his stories. And while Alice had a couple of different adventures before ending up in Wonderland, it was the tales of the underground that would make it to print. But before they did, Charles would drop his given name and create his alter ego Lewis Carroll a face was never given to Carol.

[00:04:51] He was extremely successful. Queen Victoria demanded that his next book be dedicated to her. He amassed a big income and the name became somewhat of a celebrity, she at the time, but Dotchin stayed on it. His post at Christ church, he carried on with his work in mathematics and it's through this work that we're going to unpack how his logic can be applied to our own storytelling.

[00:05:13] Something that's important to note is that we know most of this history and what will come next from Dustin's job. There's a buck head though. There's a bit of a mystery surrounding some of these documents while most of it is still intact and makes for some very interesting reading. There are some missing pages and sections most notably around the time of creation of Wonderland and during periods where Dunkin was seen to go a little bit wayward.

[00:05:39] If you were chasing down advanced mathematics, I'd recommend you go and read the terms of written under his given name for the storytellers amongst us. We're going to go on a bit of a dive into the journals to learn how to find our imaginations again, but we're going to start with a lesson in logic.

[00:05:54] That's going to be quite tricky to get, get your head around in nonsense. The right way is the wrong way. Production in order to create as world and the creatures from his poems, like the Jabberwocky, he created an opposite logic by taking how you apply logic in real life and applying pressure to the differences to warp your sense of understanding.

[00:06:16] There's a basic non fantastical example. If I asked you about the opposite of a dog is you'd probably say a cat it's instinctual. Your mind creates that connection, but if you think about it properly, a cat, isn't actually the opposite of a dog. There's no connection there. No contrast. And I told him likely that actually quite similar, it's not the same as black and white, where one is the absence of light and the other one is the presence

[00:06:41] of

[00:06:41] Ollie: [00:06:41] it.

[00:06:42] So by applying pressure on where you understand to be true, you start to question your understanding of the connections in your mind and what does actually make sense. This is the key to all nonsense. What actually does make sense. You have to create a way for your reader to make their own structures out of your created ones, because without your connection, your world would fall apart.

[00:07:03] So what's the best way to lay the groundwork for your web of nonsense disorientation or as we learn from Dodgson earlier distraction, in some ways it's very similar to what a magician does with slight of hand. If you have your reader's mind working on something else, it will be more open to accept the more abstract versions of things.

[00:07:23] So when Alice drinks from the fateful bottle to shrink down and then eats the cake to grow to the size of a house, Carol has disorientated you, you don't know. Well, the correct size is in this world that she's followed the white rabbit

[00:07:34] down

[00:07:35] Ollie: [00:07:35] into, which is then further confused by how her tears caused her to shrink, but maintain their size to create a flowing body of water.

[00:07:42] Opposites are the easiest form of nonsense logic to play with. We understand that the concepts are big and small, but when they are applied in an

[00:07:49] environment

[00:07:50] Ollie: [00:07:50] that you don't understand, they become Nick.

[00:07:53] Music: [00:07:53] What happened? We're all the size of bloggers.

[00:07:57] Ollie: [00:07:57] This is why stories like honey, I shrunk the kids work so well.

[00:08:00] Your sense of scale is thrown into question, leaving you to create a new reality. The idea here is that you fall for the magic trick of trying to rationalize a concept. You understand, in assessing that doesn't have an answer, which leads us onto the foundations of where every good imaginative world comes from on answered questions.

[00:08:22] Mystery is a hard thing to apply a framework to an unanswered question. May leave you curious, but is it a mystery? Probably not. A mystery tends to be something that you want to find the answer for. You want to go on a journey to find out what happens in the gaps, much like what happens in the gaps between opposites.

[00:08:40] So when we meet our Hatter, a hair and a mouse who were trapped in an eternal tea party, apparently created by the notion of time itself, we need a pretty hefty destruction. If we're going to try it and make sense of the scene we're being presented with. Wow. If a ribbon like a writing desk, this question is how to his famous riddle.

[00:09:00] And it didn't actually have an answer. It's a tool of nonsense logic. So while Carol is illustrating a bizarre tea party, your subconscious is actually working on the riddle silencing any form of rationality that you might be trying to apply to the world. Rationality is the enemy of escapism in storytelling.

[00:09:20] We've all known that person. That's spoiled stories with that can never happen or trying to prove something out of existence. So by providing them with a challenge, one that seems grounded in some kind of sanity, even when it's not gives you an opportunity to slide in something truly irrational, nonsense logic by its nature is basically on logic.

[00:09:42] It's the opposite of itself. Understanding opposites and distractions is the bedrock of getting to grips with the more complex upside down narrative structures in digging into Dodson's work. I wanted to tell you a bit about the man himself more often than not. It can seem like rationality may be the enemy of a storyteller.

[00:10:01] How could a mathematician be a great storyteller? Well it's because like every great rule breaker, you need to understand the rules to break while Wonderland. Isn't a few numbers schooled on a chalk board. What it is is a tightly knit equation of variables that equal great story with interesting characters, settings, and plot.

[00:10:20] So now, you know the basics and you can start to play with the opposites in your mind. Think about the logic. You understand the boring bits it's from here. You can start to find wonder when applied in a different direction.

[00:10:38] Next episode, on Pathfinder. We're going to be taking this wonder and applying Carol's logic on a bigger scale, not just in small settings, but to an entire world to characters and to your understanding of narrative structure, join us next week to find out how you can not sent your way to a disembodied cat.

[00:10:55] Has he been beheaded or has he simply lost?