"Your hair wants cutting," said the hatter. He had been looking at Alice for some time with great curiosity, and this was his first speech.
The Hatter does not appear in Alice’s Adventures Underground, being added, along with the rest of the Mad Tea Party, for the printed edition. Interestingly, although commonly referred to as the “Mad Hatter,” Carroll never calls him this in the book, where he is simply the “hatter.” Of course, the connection between the Cheshire Cat’s assurance that he is mad and his profession was certainly intentional. The colloquial phrase “Mad as Hatter” entered common use in the 1830s although the origin is uncertain. Many speculate that it refers to the symptoms of Mercury poisoning which affected many hatters in the early nineteenth century who used mercury to cure pelts. In any case, although Carroll’s Hatter’s symptoms do not match those of mercury poisoning, his behavior certainly is peculiar, and, especially in Alice’s view, quite insane.
The Hatter is one of the most famous and most popular characters from the book, appearing in every adaptation and illustrated edition. And critics have long been fascinated by the hatter, and especially with his obsession with time. Despite his rudeness and annoying penchant for asking riddles that have no answer, Carroll’s compassionate treatment of his insanity has encouraged some critics to read the chapter as radical stance for the humane treatment of the insane. Others have interpreted the Hatter simply as an adult, showcasing the ridiculous and nonsensical elements of adulthood.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Chapter 7
Reappears in Chapter 11
Below you can see how illustrations of the Hatter have changed over time. Many illustrators have relied heavily on Tenniel’s drawing, copying the price-tag on the hat motif, and even giving him a similar look. Especially noteworthy are Barry Moser’s, Rodney Matthews’ and Willy Pogany’s Hatters. Ralph Steadman wrote this about his version: “THE HATTER represents the unpleasant sides of human nature. The unreasoned argument screams at you. The bully, the glib quiz game compre who rattles off endless reels of unanswerable riddles and asks you to come back next week and make a bloody fool of yourself again” (Textbooksrus.com). Click on the name of an illustrator in the right hand column to see the next image.
The Mad Tea Party scene is one of the only scenes to make it into every Alice adaptation. Unlike some other scenes, the Mad Tea Party translates remarkably well, with snappy dialogue and an abundance of verbal and physical gags. Big name actors are often cast as the Hatter, each bringing his own unique stamp. Below are Disney’s 1951 version (voiced by Vaudeville comedian Ed Wynn) and Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s 2010 film, which greatly expanded the role of the Mad Hatter in the action of film. Additionally, in many music videos which are based on Alice imagery, the main singer chooses to be depicted as the Mad Hatter. The role seems to be a comfortable one for Rock singers. As Steve Tyler sings in his “Sunshine” (2001), “I took to the Hatter like a walk in the park.”
A Mad Tea Party
Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951)
A Mad Tea Party Clip (Johnny Depp)
Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland (2010)
Wikipedia article on the Mad Hatter
Short Documentary of Ed Wynn recording the voice of the Mad Hatter on YouTube.
The Hatter also has an expanded role in Syfy’s “Alice": watch a clip of Alice meeting the Hatter on YouTube
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