Can someone explain the chess game played in the Lewis Carroll's book Through the Looking Glass?

The moves (those of them that are moves) are written in a different way than the one I'm used to.

  • 3
    I'm not familiar with the book, could you give an example?
    – Sam
    Commented Nov 18, 2012 at 14:01
  • 2
    Old question, but for everything you ever wanted to know about the Alice books (and then some) you should read The Annotated Alice (annotated by Martin Gardner), which also covers the chess game. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Annotated_Alice Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 11:08

4 Answers 4


As for the notation itself, it uses an older convention where the eight files are labelled not with the letters a to h, but according to the pieces in the starting position, namely

  • a => QR (queen's side rook)
  • b => QKt (queen's side knight)
  • c => QB (queen's side bishop)
  • d => Q (queen)
  • e => K (king)
  • f => KB (king's side bishop)
  • g => KKt (king's side knight)
  • h => KR (king's side rook)

Also, the ranks might be numbered differently depending on whose move it is, but I'm not sure whether that's used here.


From the Christmas 1896 Preface to the book:

As the chess problem.. . has puzzled some of my readers, it may be well to explain that it is very worked out, so far as the moves are concerned. The alternation of Red and White is perhaps not so strictly observed as it might be, and the 'castling' of the three Queens is merely a way of saying that they entered the palace; but the 'check' of the White King at move 6, the capture of the Red Knight at move 7, and the final 'checkmate' of the Red King, will be found, by any one who will take the trouble to set the pieces and play the moves as directed, to be strictly in accordance with the laws of the game.

The moves themselves are analyzed in detail in this work: "The Truth About Pawn Promotion: The Development of the Chess Motif in Victorian Fiction" by Glen Downey (available as free PDF download) - it's an article based on the author's Master's thesis. I won't go into great detail, except for two quotes. The first one is Downey's:

As will be discussed later in the chapter, not all of these moves represent physical movements across the chessboard that conform to the established rules of orthodox chess. For instance, Alice's first, third, ninth, and tenth moves are not chess moves at all, but represent moments where she either meets one of the two Queens, becomes a Queen herself (her movement to the Eighth Square and her transformation into a Queen are listed as two separate moves), or castles with the Queens prior to her coronation feast.

And the second one he quotes from Falconer Madan's "Handbook of the Literarure of the Rev. C. L. Dodgson (1931)": (formatting mine)

  • ... he [Dodgson] allows the White side to make nine consecutive moves (!)
  • he allows Alice (a White pawn) reaching the eighth square, and Alice becoming a Queen, to be two separamte moves;
  • he allows the White King to be checked without either side taking any notice of the fact;
  • he allows two Queens to castle (!);
  • he allows the White Queen to fly from the Red Knight, when she could take it. Hardy a move has a sane purpose, from the point of view of chess.

P.S. Some people have made theories that Carrol's game was not orthodox chess, but instead Fairy Chess. Downey presents a fairly convincing logic of why that would not be the case, but it's worth mentioning.

enter image description here

(image from http://www.chessvibes.com/columns/lewis-carrolls-chess-problem )

And, just for ... extra on-topicness..

enter image description here


Translated into modern notation would be something like this:

6n1/8/2K5/5N2/4k3/8/3Pq3/2Q2R2 b - - 0 1

1. ... Qh5
2. d4 Qc1c4 (illegally moving a white piece)
3. ... (talk, no move) Qc4c5 (illegally moving white)
4. d5 Qc5f8 (illegally moving white)
5. d6 Qf8c8 (illegally moving white)
6. d7 Ne7+
7. NxN Nf5 (illegally moving white)
8. d8=Q Qe8+ (this check is ignored)
9. (nothing happens)
10. ... (no move) Qc8a6 (illegally moving white)
11. Qxe8#

We could make it a legal game by adding in boring "waiting moves" for black in between the white-piece moves, and letting the white king get out of check:

1. ... Qh5
2. d4 Qg5 (added)
3. Qc4 Qh5 (added)
4. Qc5 Qg5 (added)
5. d5 Qh5 (added)
6. Qf8 Qg5 (added)
7. d6 Qh5 (added)
8. Qc8 Qg5 (added)
9. d7 Ne7+
10. NxN Qh5 (added)
11. Nf5 Qf7 (added)
12. d8=Q Qe8+
13. Kc5 (added) Ke5 (added)
14. Qa6 Ke4 (added)
15. Qxe8#

but that may have been harder to fit in the available space on the book's page.

Naturally, modern engines disagree with most of these moves: the white pieces could have checkmated three times if they weren't waiting for Alice to do it (see Lichess analysis). But even if black had started with Qa6+ instead of Qh5, white could still have won in at most 24 moves, albeit involving some cleverer moves from Alice as queen.

  • 1
    what's really funny is how resistant people were to algebraic notation -- i believe as late as the 1980s and maybe later some magazines still used english which at one time i being used to it preferred but nowadays i do not have the patience to read a game score that is english --- sometimes the number of characters for one move can literally be 4 times as many as for the same move in algebraic. and algebraic was invented 200 years ago...
    – releseabe
    Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 7:10
  • Patrick Moore, for example wrote in 2005 "One thing that beats me is this new algebraic notation which has widely replaced the old classic form. If I could meet the man who invented it, I would take sadistic pleasure in peeling him like a banana." Commented Oct 2, 2020 at 10:45

This is taken from Alice Through the Looking Glass by James Reaney (Stage Adaptation), published in 1994 by The Porcupine Quill, Inc.. They also refer to The British Chess Magazine, May 1910, Vol. 30, p. 181.

Page of interest is Photo 3 below, and I'm working on coversion to modern notation.


1-Explanatory notes 2-Explanatory notes (Cont'd), plus initial references "The Game" in descriptive notation Completed references

  • 2
    I look forward to when you've transcribed these pages so that the data is more accessible.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Feb 24, 2021 at 16:46

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