October 6, 2013
A Very Happy Un-birthday To You!
& A Very Happy Mad Hatter Day To You Too!
“I don’t think…” then you shouldn’t talk, said the Hatter.”
What a weird and wonderful character that Lewis Carroll created. I think that the character that I most identify with this is the wacky character from the Disney version of Alice in Wonderland. I do not like the version that Johnny Depp played in the live action one. He was too creepy and too cynical…not nearly as bouncy and lovable as the one I grew up with. I thought it was interesting that the March Hare was also supposed to be crazy because rabbits in heat get a little crazy but that’s not how I remember the Disney version. Hmmm…. I will have to watch this again.
Here is some interesting information from The Straight Dope. It’s very insightful!
The most famous Mad Hatter, of course, is the one from the Mad Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland, the partner of the March Hare. Both mad, of course. But Lewis Carroll did not invent the phrase, although he did create the character. The phrases “mad as a hatter” and “mad as a March hare” were common at the time Lewis Carroll wrote (1865 was the first publication date of Alice). The phrase had been in common use in 1837, almost 30 years earlier. Carroll frequently used common expressions, songs, nursery rhymes, etc., as the basis for characters in his stories.
The origin of the phrase, it’s believed, is that hatters really did go mad. The chemicals used in hat-making included mercurious nitrate, used in curing felt. Prolonged exposure to the mercury vapors caused mercury poisoning. Victims developed severe and uncontrollable muscular tremors and twitching limbs, called “hatter’s shakes”; other symptoms included distorted vision and confused speech. Advanced cases developed hallucinations and other psychotic symptoms.
‘Twas the hatters, not the wearers of hats. The hatters were exposed to the mercury fumes, which would have been long dissipated (or of insignificant strength) by the time the hat was worn. This use of mercury is now subject to severe legal restrictions (if not banned) in the U.S. and Europe.
While this is the most widely accepted origin of the phrase, there are those who believe that the phrase was originally “mad as an adder” (meaning poisonous as the snake) which degenerated to hatter. Sounds pretty flimsy to me, but then etymology is not an empirical science.
As long as we’re off the subject, the expression “mad as a March hare” refers to the frenzied capers of the male hare during March, its mating season. Evan Morris of The Word Detective says, “Of course, the hare’s behavior probably only appears strange to us–we can only guess how our human courtship rituals might appear to a rabbit. In any case, March Hares can’t be entirely bonkers because, after all, every summer brings a new crop of baby hares.”
Martin Gardner, author of the wonderful Annotated Alice, reports that two British scientists (Anthony Holley and Paul Greenwood, in Nature, June 7, 1984) made extensive observations of the behaviors of hares in the spring, and found no evidence that male hares go into a frenzy during the March rutting season. They concluded that the main courtship behavior of male hares during the entire breeding period (many months) is chasing females and then boxing with them. Behavior in March is no different from any other month.
“The Mad Hatter: Have I gone Mad?
Alice: I’m afraid so. You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”
All of this to say…Lewis Caroll was one weird dude.