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Alice, Oxford, and the Dodo

When seeking inspiration for his stories of wonder and mischief for the Liddell girls, Oxford mathematician Charles Dodgson (better known by his pen name Lewis Carroll) often turned to the wonders and delights he found in the halls of one of his favorite haunts: The Oxford Museum of Natural History. Housed in a soaring stained glass temple to nature, the young academic was often seen admiring the exotic specimens, including the museum’s most famous resident: the Oxford dodo.

The now familiar character of the Dodo in Alice in Wonderland, who challenges Alice and other woodland creatures to a race with all winners and no losers, was Dodgson’s playful nod to himself, and his habit of stammering nervously, introducing himself as “Do-do-dodgson.” John Tenniel brought the scene and the Dodo to life in his illustrations for the book, familiar to every school child since.

Tenniel, like Dodgson, turned to the collection at Oxford for inspiration, meaning that Alice’s dodo is not just a dodo, but this dodo, illustrated by the Dutch painter Jan Savery in 1651, before the bird was driven into extinction. This painting had come into the collection of the Oxford Ashmolean collection — the world’s oldest university museum — and was later passed into the collection of the Natural History Museum along with the only two known dodo remains still partially covered in flesh.

Of course the story doesn’t end there! Continue for the full history of Alice, Oxford, and the Dodo, on Atlas Obscura…