Yesterday I attended a talk organised by the Conway Hall Ethical Society and the London Fortean Society, held at Conway Hall. The talk, entitled Science in Wonderland – The Scientific Fairy Tales of Victorian Britain, was delivered by Melanie Keene, a historian of science for children.
Keene spoke about how and why fairy tales were seen as appropriate mediums to instruct children in science. Fairy stories were very popular in Victorian Britain, and science was also growing in popularity. In 1859 The Fairy Tales of Science was released, a compilation of non-fiction lectures. We were shown some impressive pictures, including witches flying through the skies on telescopes and an evocative image of “monster soup”, a display of life as seen through a microscope. One unusual love story saw a microscopist falling in love with a creature living in his petri dish, who sadly subsequently died. Fairies were drawn as chemical elements, holding hands to combine into molecules, while L. Frank Baum’s The Master Key was subtitled An Electrical Fairy Tale. Finally, referencing the title of the lecture, an edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was displayed, showing Alice’s encounters with creatures beneath the microscope, even more unusual than the ones she encounters in the Lewis Carroll original.