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The astonishing teatime from Alice in Wonderland

If we had to pick one teatime everyone has heard about, it would be the peculiar party in Alice in Wonderland. This joyous, absurd scene was a natural choice for launching our series of legendary teatimes in literature and cinema, and offers a number of often-forgotten secrets…

 

Impossible to have a cup of tea!

The Mad Hatter and the March Hare are having a tea party, leaning comfortably against the Dormouse in the shadow of a tree. Alice tries to sit down with them, when they cry “No room! No room!” Anyone can see the table is strewn with piles of dirty cups, but there is no lack of chairs! Ignoring their objections, Alice sits down uninvited. But her hopes of sipping a delicious cup of tea while enjoying a pleasant conversation are quickly dashed. The March Hare offers her some wine, despite the fact there is no wine to serve; the Mad Hatter asks her a riddle to which even he does not know the answer (“Why is a raven like a writing desk”), and the Dormouse tells her a story dull enough to make anyone fall asleep! All three assail the young girl with so many flights of fancy and digressions that she is unable to drink even a drop of tea. Not the teatime she was expecting!

An eternal tea party

Bored of the hare-brained conversations and of the guests, Alice ends up leaving the table. The Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse don’t even notice her absence, and continue drinking tea together. It turns out the terrible trio has been stuck there since the month of March at 6 p.m., forced to continue their tea party for all eternity. As time is standing still, the guests instead mimic the passing minutes by changing places at the table in an endless, impossible search for a clean cup. Alice’s tea party is infinite, repetitive, and governed by complex rules. However, it appears less absurd when seen from the point of view of children, who must be wide-eyed when watching the codified ceremony of “five o’clock tea” in the real world!

Mary Blair’s concept art as inspirations for the cartoon

Disney’s feature-length animated movie helped etch this scene into the collective memory, with images of a table laden with steaming teapots and flashes of bright color against a dark backdrop. But this surreal world is in fact the work of artist Mary Blair. By drawing on her own concept art – the illustrations created before making a movie, a cartoon, a comic book, or a video game, and used to give an idea of the work’s overall tone – she breathed life into the most unforgettable of teatimes. For your viewing pleasure, here are just a few examples we never tire of admiring.

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©Mary Blair