"She stretched herself upon tiptoe, and peeped over the edge of the mushroom, and her eyes immediately met those of a large blue caterpillar, which was sitting on the top with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the least notice of her or anything else."
The Caterpillar first appeared in Carroll's original manuscript Alice's Adventures Underground. His persistent questions and pedantic manner have often led critics to interpret him as a Victorian school master. This seems supported by his commanding Alice to recite "You are old, Father William," which in its original version was a popular didactic poem for children in the Victorian age. The Caterpillar has also been used, especially in the '60s and '70s, as proof of the psychedelic and drug-influenced aspects of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, citing as evidence the Caterpillar's hookah. Additionally, the Caterpillar plays an important role in the development of Alice's identity. The Caterpillar's crucial first words "Who are you?" induce Alice to begin the processes of reclaiming her own identity and deciding who exactly she is. However he is interpreted, the Caterpillar remains one of the most popular and enduring characters from the book, appearing in numerous illustrations and nearly every film adaptation.
llustrations of the Caterpillar range from innocent to frightening to bizarre. For instance, while A. E. Jackson's caterpillar is quite reminiscent of a school master, while Ralph Steadman's is meant to look like a "young intellectual...smoking hash, pedantic, who thinks he has something to say and sheds his opinions as easily as his skins.” Another illustrator, Camille Rose Garcia, has even given the Caterpillar a feminine look, portraying it as a gypsy fortune-teller. Click on an artist from the right hand column to see how the Caterpillar has been portrayed by different illustrators over the years.
Below you can watch some clips from a few film adaptations of Alice featuring the Caterpillar: Disney's (1951) stuttering guru; the Eastern, meditating Caterpillar of Alice at the Palace; Tim Burton's (2010) reincarnation of the Caterpillar as "Absolem" (voiced by Alan Rickman); and finally Jan Svankmajer's (1988) stop-animation Caterpillar sock puppet.
Wikipedia article on the Caterpillar
Commentary on the Caterpillar's Hookah
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