Alice in Wonderland (#1) by Lewis Carroll

Published: June 25th 1998
Goodreads badgePublisher: Oxford University Press
Pages: 111
Format: Book
Genre: Fantasy/Literature
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Journey with Alice down the rabbit hole into a world of wonder where oddities, logic and wordplay rule supreme. Encounter characters like the grinning Cheshire Cat who can vanish into thin air, the cryptic Mad Hatter who speaks in riddles and the harrowing Queen of Hearts obsessed with the phrase “Off with their heads!” This is a land where rules have no boundaries, eating mushrooms will make you grow or shrink, croquet is played with flamingos and hedgehogs, and exorbitant trials are held for the theft of tarts. Amidst these absurdities, Alice will have to find her own way home. 

In recognition of Lewis Carroll turning 181 last month I feel a review is in order of the glorious Alice in Wonderland. I know this is a book that has been turned into so many movies and television shows (41 at last count according to Wikipedia), but the only one I see as being even remotely similar (that I have seen) is the Hallmark telemovie Alice in Wonderland starring Tina Majorino as Alice with a host of stars including Gene Wilder, Whoopi Goldberg, Christopher Lloyd and so many more.

When I studied this book at Uni I discovered that Carroll based Alice on someone he knew; much the same way J.M Barrie did for Peter Pan. Alice Liddell was the 10 year old sister of a friend of Carroll’s and he’d became a good friend to the family. He liked her a lot and he told the story of Alice in Wonderland (then Alice’s Adventures Underground) for her and her sisters. I found this website that gives a nice history about the book which is really quite interesting, and I think it would be much better than me telling you because I would become distracted in the fascinating history and not review the actual book. Plus trying to remember a university class almost five years ago may not do it justice. The edition of my book actually has a long introduction that tells the story, but it is not really necessary whatsoever to know.

I always loved this story, and when I read it growing up I liked the absurd nature of it. I am certain I did not understand half of the things I did as I got older, which personally I think is half the fun. There is a quote by Clifton Fadiman that states When you reread a classic, you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than there was before. . Whether it is about the book or yourself it doesn’t matter, I think learning something about yourself each time you reread something is just as wonderful. You can see how you have changed since the last time, in one of those small ways that you don’t notice until your attention is brought to it.

Carroll has written this book in the style that a young girl would, she is trying to remember all the proper etiquette she has be taught but she also thinks like a young girl which then reflects in her actions. The story opens with Alice being bored by her circumstance and her sister’s inability to read anything interesting that has pictures and dialogue. What I do remember discovering upon one of my later readings was that there is also a brother, so while I knew there was the older sister no one remembers she had a brother as well. Again, not important but still rather interesting.

As the narrator Carroll speaks to the readers on the odd occasion, especially during the rabbit hole sequence. He addresses readers as Alice falls which works well when you are reading to yourself but also lends itself to the fact it was initially an oral story. Everything Carroll describes does not seem as outrageous as it actually is; when he writes about growing larger, rabbits in waistcoats and singing griffins it seems perfectly natural. There is an accepted reality that Wonderland brings that is so absurd around every corner that you don’t question it. If there had been more real world similarities I think the absurd ones would stand out a lot more.

Aside from all the strangeness in this book the most strange is watching as this young girl eats and drinks everything she finds. Though one of my favourite quotes is “if you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison,’ it is almost certain to disagree with you, sooner or later.” Something in the matter of fact way Alice approaches this world is part of the joy I think. She is very understanding and accepting of her circumstances, she is driven by her curiosities more than anything which explains away a few things, the need to know outweighs thinking about consequences. This comes more from her being such a young child than anything else I think, and perhaps in part who she is a person. She does have faltering moments where she struggles to remember who she was, as she recites the lessons and what she knows Alice attempts to assure herself she is who she thinks she is. So in that respect Wonderland does begin to affect her.

Two of my favourite characters and scenes have to have been the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon. There is nothing in that scene I love more than the other; it is funny, clever, sweet all at the same time. What is great about Carroll, like Dahl, is that there are songs and poems within the story. The songs the Mock Turtle and Gryphon sing are beautiful and a lot of fun. In terms of creating characters Carroll is an expert at creating varied and unique figures that contrast Alice well, and also manage to suit the Wonderland world ideally without making them generic and all the same. He starts us off simply with a rabbit in a waistcoat and then slowly drags us further from the world we know until we reach the Queen of Hearts who is playing croquette with flamingos. In between we get mad tea parties, caucus races and not enough pepper, all of which makes it a joyful and amusing journey.

Each character offers a lot of wisdom to Alice as she passes through Wonderland. The Duchess, the King, the Cheshire Cat are just some of the many who offer strange and seemingly confusing advice that is somehow profound in their own ways. The irony is of course that Alice offers no moral to readers, it is simply a tale of wonder and adventure. The Duchess herself says that ‘Every thing’s got a moral, if only you can find it.’ That is why this book is so great, there is no need for morals, it is what it is and what it is is a strange mix of absurdity and nonsensical actions that make up a bizarre series of events. Why read any deeper meaning into it and spoil the fun?

The ending I know has caused some issues to some people but I don’t really mind it. I think there is nothing wrong with how Carroll has finished the book. There is a sense that it is open to interpretation but I also think that it depends on who you look at: Alice or her sister. Since the sister was not there and has the rational mind of someone who reads books without pictures and dialogue, perhaps she is trying to justify Alice’s story, unable to believe it is true. It is something I think you have to make up your own mind about when you read it for it is the only way you’ll know.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Allyce
    Feb 07, 2013 @ 22:06:18

    I think that’s a wonderful idea/quote about rereading books. Often times I have remembered my past self and how I felt/reacted to certain parts of a story more than new things in the work.



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