Alice in Dataland – an original story for Education Guardian by Michael Rosen

Alice in Dataland pursued by the ‘Fonix’. Illustration: Steve Fricker

An exciting discovery at Christ Church, Oxford University, has revealed hitherto unseen pages from what appears to be a draft for a third Alice novel following Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass. Underneath the floorboards in the room once occupied by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), several sheets of paper in Dodgson’s own handwriting were found a few weeks ago. Michael Rosen has deciphered these and in an exclusive, presents them for Education Guardian.

‘Strong and stable! Strong and stable!” the Blue Queen called out.

“She’s strong and stable,” echoed the Blue Men standing next to her, in a soothing singsong way.

“Is she strong and stable?” said Alice.

“No,” said one of the Blue Men.

“Then why are you saying it?” said Alice.

“So that everyone will think that she’s strong and stable,” said the Blue Man.

“But I can see her wobbling,” said Alice.

“What you say you see is not the same as you see what you say,” said the Blue Man.

“I agree,” said Alice, “I can’t see what you say I can see.”

The Blue Man clicked his fingers and the Gibberwock, his eyes flashing, his cheeks covered in exclamation marks, his jumper covered in fronted adverbials, appeared in a puff of smoke .

“Can you read?” said the Gibberwock with a stern look on its face.

“Of course I can read,” said Alice.

“You can’t read if you can’t decode,” the Gibberwock snapped back.

“Can you decode?”

“I don’t know,” Alice said, “I don’t think we did decoding when my parents taught me to read.”

“Aha!” said the Gibberwock, “then you haven’t learned to read properly.”

“Oh, I have,” said Alice.

“You haven’t,” said the Gibberwock. He beckoned towards some small but perfectly formed creatures.

“Fonix!” the Gibberwock called out to them, “take her away to do some decoding.”

The Fonix called out in chorus: “First, fast and only! First, fast and only!” and Alice felt herself being rushed out of the room, along a corridor, into a room, where there were tables and chairs. On the chairs were large pieces of cardboard, cut and folded into the shapes of children. Just as Alice walked in, the teacher was greeting them:

“Good morning, Data.”

“Good morning, Mr Sats, good morning everyone,” said the cutouts.

“This morning,” said Mr Sats, “I’m going to find out if you’ve all learned Gibberwocky.”

The Gibberwocky alias Nick Gibb
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One of the Data stood up and recited:

Gibberwocky

“Twas brillig, and the Tory trove

Did jibe and bumble in the gate.

Old Miredock loved the hollow Gove,

and the John Son, his mate.

‘Beloved Gibberwock, John Son,

This Gove I like, the way he struts,

Goodly Davies Dog, and come

the frumious Hammond-cuts!’

They took their austere swords in hand;

Long time the budgets low they sought —

So rested they by the Glumglum tree

And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in iffy thought he stood,

The Gibberwock, with eyes of flame,

Came whiffling through the tulgey wood, and burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! School budgets through,

His austere sword went snicker-snack!

He left them slashed, and with no cash

And went galumphing back.

‘Didst thou cut the budgets, my Gibberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’

said Miredock in his joy.

Twas brillig, and the Tory trove

Did jibe and bumble in the gate.

Old Miredock loved the hollow Gove,

and the John Son his mate.”

At the end of the poem, all the Data applauded. And Mr Sats smiled and nodded. The Gibberwock, who had followed the Fonix and Alice, stood up and made an announcement.

“There are no cuts,” he said.

Alice was confused. “But in the Gibberwocky poem it said that the budgets were cut,” she said, “I heard it.”

“What you say you hear is not the same as you hear what you say,” said the Gibberwocky, “anyway, no time for this. Mr Sats, it’s time for prayers.”

Mr Sats made a sign to the class and everyone chanted:

“Thank you, Gove, for what we’re about to receive, may the Hirsch make us truly thankful.”

Alice put her hand up.

“Yes?” said Mr Sats.

“What are we about to receive?”

“Tell her,” Mr Sats said to the Data.

“The college-rich curriculum,” they chanted, ‘the college-rich curriculum.”

“Then what?” said Alice.

“We have the Test,” said the Data.

“Then what?” said Alice.

“We’re all cleverer,” said the Data.

“Even the ones who didn’t do well in the Test?” asked Alice.

Just then the Blue Queen burst in, looked around the room and said, “Are you a Grammar?”

Tweedledum and Tweedledee and the Mock Turtle
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 Illustration: Steve Fricker

Before Mr Sats could answer, she said, “If you’re a Grammar, you can have an Annexe.”

Mr Sats whispered to the Blue Queen: “We already have an Annexe.”

“Have another one,” said the Blue Queen and rushed out again.

“Where were we?” said Alice. “Oh yes, I remember, what happens to the ones who don’t do well in the Test?”

“They don’t get an Annexe, do they?” said the Gibberwock in a sneery way.

“Oh dear,” said Alice, “that seems a shame. It really does seem as if some are going to be better off than others.”

“Yes, yes, yes,” said the Gibberwock crossly, ‘that’s why it’s called the college-rich curriculum. Well this one is.”

“What?” said Alice.

“Rich,” said the Gibberwock.

Alice started to feel her head spinning. Things seemed familiar and yet nothing seemed to make sense. Just then, a very loud bell started ringing. The Gibberwock clicked his fingers and Mr Sats walked out.

This is not at all like my school, Alice thought. In our school, when the bell rings, we go out – not the teacher.

But then, just as she was thinking this, something else strange happened. In front of each cutout, a small screen popped up and sang in chorus:

“We are the Tablets:

don’t think we’re fearsome, we teach you everything according to Pearsome.”

“I love this bit,” the Gibberwock said, smiling for the first time today, ‘personalised leaning’.”

“Don’t you mean ‘learning’?” said Alice.

“No, of course not. What is happening to the tower in Pisa?”

“It’s leaning,” said Alice.

“We do what Pisa does,” said the Gibberwock. “If Pisa says, ‘lean!’, we lean.”

Sure enough, the cutouts started to lean to one side.

“That’s the leaning objective,” the Gibberwock said.

“Is that because they object to leaning?” said Alice.

“No, no, no!” said the Gibberwock. “No one objects to leaning in China, so why should anyone object to leaning here? Now you should be able to do some decoding on your screen,” said the Gibberwock to Alice, “or French. Or maths. Or geography. Or history. Anything really. Look!”

The Gibberwock pressed a key on the tablet and a deep male voice said, “Cheese!” A moment later another deep, male voice said, “Fromage!”

“You see?” the Gibberwock said. “That’s French.”

“Is it?” said Alice. “I mean, I don’t suppose there are many places in France where I could walk in and just say, ‘Fromage!’ Won’t I need to say, ‘please can I have some cheese?’”

There wasn’t time for the Gibberwock to answer that because the tablet had moved on:

“Dragonfly!” “Libellule!”

Alice found herself thinking about a dragonfly flying round the room and slowly landing on some cheese but she was interrupted by a disturbance going on outside the door. It seemed as if Mr Sats was trying to get back into the room. Alice was sure that she could hear him saying, “I’m going to take this up with the Onion. I’m in the Onion. You can’t just replace me with a machine.”

The Gibberwock turned to Alice, laughing, “Hah! All the other jobs are being replaced by a machine, why shouldn’t he be replaced by one?”

“Is this sort of thing happening in all the schools?”

The Gibberwock looked shocked, “Oh no! If it’s really college-rich, they have hundreds of teachers. They deserve it.”

“Why’s that?” said Alice.

“Because they’re rich! Don’t you understand anything?”…

Here the manuscript is torn and the fragment comes to an end.

[“Source-theguardian”]