Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The Queen of Hearts

Whom among us has not heard this phrase as bellowed by the Queen of Hearts in the Disney animated version of Alice in Wonderland? Like her, Hate her, the story just would not be the same without her.

A little more about the Queen.

The Queen of Hearts is a character from the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by the writer and mathematician Lewis Carroll. She is a foul-tempered monarch, that Carroll himself pictured as "a blind fury", and who is quick to decree death sentences at the slightest offense. Her most famous line, one which she repeats often, is "Off with their heads!"

The Queen is referred to as a card from a pack of playing cards by Alice, yet somehow she is able to talk and is the ruler of the lands in the story, alongside the King of Hearts. She is often confused with theRed Queen from the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, although the two are very different.

Alice is recommended, by three gardening playing cards (who are painting roses so that they are the right color for the Queen), to drop down on the ground to avoid being confronted by her. She is confused, and having never met the Queen, ignores this advice. When the Queen arrives and asks Alice who is lying on the ground (since the backs of all playing cards look alike), Alice tells her that she does not know. The Queen then becomes frustrated and commands that her head be severed. She is deterred by her comparatively moderate husband by being reminded that Alice is only a child.

Generally, however, as we are told by Carroll:The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. 'Off with his head!' she said, without even looking round.

One of the Queen's hobbies - besides ordering executions - is croquet, however it is Wonderland croquet, where the balls are live hedgehogs and the mallets are flamingoes. This is presumably with the aim that the birds' blunt beaks should strike, but, as Alice observes, it is complicated by the fact that they keep looking back up at the players- as well as the hedgehogs' tendency to scuttle away without waiting to be hit. The Queen's soldiers act as the arches (or hoops) on the croquet grounds, but have to leave off being arches every time the Queen has an executioner drag away the victim, so that, by the end of the game in the story, the only players that remain are the Queen herself, the King, and Alice.

Despite the frequency of death sentences, it would appear few people are actually beheaded. The King of Hearts quietly pardons many of his subjects when the Queen is not looking (although this did not seem to be the case with The Duchess), and her soldiers humor her but do not carry out her orders. The Gryphon tells Alice that "It's all her fancy: she never executes nobody, you know." Nevertheless, all creatures in Wonderland fear the Queen. In the final chapters, the Queen sentences Alice again (for defending the Knave of Hearts) and she offers an interesting approach towards justice: sentence before verdict.

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