Wonderland Awards Go “Snark Raving Mad” For Whimsical Legal Argument

Wonderland Award

A law student in USC Gould won first prize at USC Libraries’ Wonderland Award reception on Tuesday, April 23, hosted in Doheny Memorial Library. Elijah Granet’s submission, Snark Raving Mad: Legal Nonsense and Reality in “The Barrister’s Fit,” consisted of a line-by-line analysis of a section of Lewis Carroll’s long nonsense poem “The Hunting of the Snark” through the prism of the early modern English legal system. His work, “both one of scholarship and of aesthetics” as he describes it, includes a rigorous evaluation of absurd medieval laws surrounding the keeping of pigs, and exquisite period typography. His summation describes how “Carroll’s brilliance shines in the fact that the reader comes out of the paradoxical mix of fantasy and reality, unsure which is which, and perhaps spurred . . . to think more critically on the silliness of the actual justice system.”

Second prize went to Murder! in Wonderland, an enormous nine-hole croquet game/murder mystery/theatrical production that had been temporarily set up near the School of Cinematic Arts. It was created by a group of fourteen students inspired by a pop-up book adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the library’s collections. In true Carrollian (whimsical) fashion, players of the game were occasionally forced to use their mallets as pool cues or steering rods. In addition, live actors playing Tweedledee and Tweedledum regularly intercepted players’ croquet balls, holding them ransom until a nonsensical question could be answered to their often-changing satisfaction.

A third award, called the Bellman’s Prize, recognizes creative risk-taking in a student work. It is funded by the Dean of the USC Libraries and named after one of the characters in Carroll’s poem “The Hunting of the Snark.” This year, USC School of Dramatic Arts senior Will Domke earned the prize for his film Queen to A8: What She Found There, which takes the second Alice book Through the Looking-Glass as a point of departure. In the story, the characters’ movements correspond to those made on a chess board. Similarly, the actors in Domke’s film move through the gridded streets surrounding the USC campus while livestreaming their journey. As he explained in his artist statement “the characters get lost, lose their phone signals, and interact with others in their environment. These irregular movements and actions betray the senseless nature of the rules and regulations in the chess problem, and implicitly in society at large.”

Several judges in addition to award sponsor Linda Cassady assessed the Wonderland Award submissions: USC Libraries Carrollian Fellow Franziska Kohlt; poet and USC professor of English, Molly Bendall; USC professor of Architecture Amy Murphy; 2023 Wonderland winner Willow Edge; and Lewis Carroll Society of North America vice president Heather Simmons.

The Wonderland Award is an annual competition, established in 2005 by USC Libraries Board of Councilors member Linda Cassady, showcasing the interpretive talents of students from USC and other Southern California institutions as they transform the life and works of Lewis Carroll into new creative and scholarly works. The student submissions will all eventually become part of the USC Digital Library.