By: Lewis Carroll
Followed by Through the Looking-Glass
Subject Matter: Fantasy; Sir John Tenniel
Who hasn’t heard of Alice in Wonderland?
This book is a classic of classics. And in the words of Peter Glassman, who wrote the afterword in my version, “Few books have influenced the history and development of children’s literature as Lewis Carroll‘s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
And yet, somehow I had never read it (or watched it) until now. (Yes, I’m also one of those people who has somehow managed to make it this far without ever seeing The Sound of Music…).
But even without a past experience with it, I knew what I was getting into. The shrinking and growing, the Mad Hatter and White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat’s smile, the murderous Queen of Hearts, the hookah-smoking caterpillar, the flamingo croquet.
It’s all got such cultural reference that I felt like I was visiting an old friend.
I’m not going to attempt to analyze this book. That’s been done a million times over by people a million times smarter than me. I’m just sharing my experience.
It’s a book of the bizarre, certainly.
I’ve often heard this book discussed in regard to drugs. And I understand that. The endless wordplay and nonsense and abrupt transitions are enough to make anyone feel out of sorts.
But I think that’s an after-the-fact perspective lens that just so happens to make a little sense. I think this book is exactly what it purports to be: a silly, non-moralistic tale told to a little girl. (I will admit, though, the creepy stuff about the real Alice and Lewis Carroll does get me.)
My favorite parts were with the Mock Turtle. The whole book is frustratingly nonsensical, but the wordplay and puns really kicks it up a notch here.
“The master was an old Turtle — we used to call him Tortoise–“
“Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?” Alice asked.
“We called him Tortoise because he taught us…”
I actually laughed.
I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything by saying that we all know Wonderland is a dream. My one disappointment is that Carroll didn’t just leave it as a dream. After Alice wakes up, there’s a brief page or two of her sister trying to recapture Wonderland, but in doing so, giving it all a logical meaning. We all know the feeling of dream sirens turning out to be our morning alarms, etc. And maybe if Carroll had just left it with the playing cards attacking Alice turning out to be the leaves that had drifted down during her sleep, I wouldn’t be so bummed about it all having some logic to it.
But the whole book is such a frustrating mind warp that it’s kind of a bummer for it to lose it’s charm right at the end.
Don’t worry – I’m still a fan. And it’s still a silly adventure ready and waiting for the best of us.
Fan of Alice? Try these:
(for more by Carroll)
Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll
Rhyme? And Reason? by Lewis Carroll
The Hunting of the Snark by Lewis Carroll
Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll
(for anthropomorphic children’s lit)
Stuart Little by E.B. White
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
(for nonsensical children’s lit)
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Book of Nonsense by Edward Lear
Angels and Demons by Dan Brown
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz
The Little Locksmith by Katharine Butler Hathaway