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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

One-line summary: The original much-misunderstood children's story and its darker, equally silly but less cheerful sequel.



Reviews:

Goodreads: Average: 3.95. Mode: 5 stars (35%).
Amazon: Average: 4.3. Mode: 5 stars (64%).


Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland has continuously delighted readers, young and old, for more than a century. A classic tale that has been interpreted by many an outstanding artist over the years, this remarkable story of one little girl who embarks on possibly one of the most amazing, fantastical adventures in literary history has more than stood the test of time.

The 1872 sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland finds Carroll's inquisitive heroine in a fantastic land where everything is reversed. Alice encounters talking flowers, madcap kings and queens, and becomes a pawn in a bizarre chess game involving Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and other amusing nursery-rhyme characters.



Lewis Carroll did not invent the "child goes to a magical world, has adventures, and returns home" plot, but everything written since following that storyline is basically Alice wearing a Campbellian mask. Despite being an acknowledged classic of nonsense verse, people have always tried to find deeper meaning in it. To quote Amazon.com:


Source of legend and lyric, reference and conjecture, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is for most children pure pleasure in prose. While adults try to decipher Lewis Carroll's putative use of complex mathematical codes in the text, or debate his alleged use of opium, young readers simply dive with Alice through the rabbit hole, pursuing "The dream-child moving through a land / Of wonders wild and new." There they encounter the White Rabbit, the Queen of Hearts, the Mock Turtle, and the Mad Hatter, among a multitude of other characters--extinct, fantastical, and commonplace creatures. Alice journeys through this Wonderland, trying to fathom the meaning of her strange experiences. But they turn out to be "curiouser and curiouser," seemingly without moral or sense.

For more than 130 years, children have reveled in the delightfully non-moralistic, non-educational virtues of this classic. In fact, at every turn, Alice's new companions scoff at her traditional education. The Mock Turtle, for example, remarks that he took the "regular course" in school: Reeling, Writhing, and branches of Arithmetic-Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision. Carroll believed John Tenniel's illustrations were as important as his text. Naturally, Carroll's instincts were good; the masterful drawings are inextricably tied to the well-loved story.


Is there anyone who doesn't know the basic story? Even those who haven't read the original books have almost certainly seen one of the many, many film versions (see below), and even if they haven't, Alice is one of those works that has worked its way into every corner of pop culture. From 'Curiouser and curiouser!' to 'Feed your head', Lewis Carroll gets quoted more than Monty Python.


Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said: 'one CAN'T believe impossible things.'

'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.'


("Feed your head," by the way, does not appear in Carroll's books -- that comes from Jefferson Airplane.)



Poems like Jabberwocky added nonsense words like "chortle" into the OED. My favorite, though, is the Lobster Quadrille:


“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail,
“There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my
tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle—will you come and join the
dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the
dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the
dance?


If you've never actually read the originals, you might miss some of Carroll's subtler jokes and the less well-known (but still brilliantly funny) poems. You may also miss some of the darker tones that permeate both books, but especially Through the Looking Glass.

In Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Alice falls down a rabbit hole chasing a white rabbit, and for most of the book wanders about without much concern about getting home again -- she's too bemused by all the characters she encounters, culminating in the courtroom scene in which she declares:


'Who cares for you?' said Alice, (she had grown to her full size by this time.) 'You're nothing but a pack of cards!'


Sure, you could read all sorts of mythological symbolism into her journey, from confused little girl to someone who has grown in stature to a giant who can dismiss her adversaries as inconsequential. Or you could read it as a children's story full of puns and nonsense verse.

Or, you could read it as a blistering attack on newfangled mathematical concepts.

In the sequel, Alice deliberately climbs through a looking glass and finds herself in the Looking Glass world, where logic is reversed and things happen at random, much moreso than in the first book. (Really!) While she remains the same pleasant, polite, but cheeky girl she was in the first book, this time she quests across a chessboard, until she becomes Queen Alice and meets the Red Queen and the White Queen. Along the way, she encounters nursery rhyme characters like Tweedledee and Tweedledum and Humpty Dumpty.


'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'


As a cornerstone of modern fantasy, the original books are a must-read, but they're also enjoyable in their own right, and unlike most children's books written today, they are clever and imaginative enough to engage adults as much as they delight children.

Alice Through the Years


Being such an icon for generations, few works have been given as many different film treatments as Alice in Wonderland. Interpretations range from whimsical to psychotic, but every one (even the winsome Disney cartoon) retain something of the psychedelic imagery that some people have blamed on Carroll's opium addiction, which I think is most responsible for the enduring nature of that particular legend. It kind of makes sense to think, "How could anyone not on drugs come up with this stuff?"

(Seriously, there seems to be no hard evidence that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll, ever did actually use opium or LSD, any more than there is proof that he was -- as has also been frequently alleged -- a pervert with an unhealthy interest in little girls. Either claim may or may not be true, but the available evidence is circumstantial at best.)

As I've been doing lately after reading a classic novel, I went on a Netflix binge. There are too many Alice treatments to review all of them, so just enjoy a little montage instead, and feel free to comment on your favorites.

1949


1951


1966


1966


1972


1983


1985


1987


1988


1998


1999


2001


2009


2010


2000 EA Game


Incidentally, Alice seems to inspire more naughty images than Ariel the Little Mermaid. (These are the sorts of things you discover when doing image searches for book reviews.) Seriously, people, Alice was seven-and-a-half (exactly). And they say Charles Dodgson was a pervert!

What the negative reviewers say



I could not help thinking of Charles Dickens's Mr. Gradgrind when reading the negative reviews:


There's no need to tell you the plot to this. First, it's famous enough. Second, there isn't really a plot. In fact, that's one of the things that bothered me so much. I don't understand this book at all. Maybe I'd have liked it had I read it as a kid, but I doubt that even (I hated the movie as a kid). I don't like books where people and animals talk to each other, where absurd things happen for no identifiable reason, and/or where there is no internal logic.


Some seem to be interrogating this narrative from the wrong paradigm:


I’m still not sure how to respond to this story critically. Given the fact that much of the story depends of the value of dreams, it would be interesting to consider how dreams influence us. In addition, Alice comes in contact with several people along her journey, each one with a different strange personality. Alice’s journey allowed her the opportunity to interact with a large variety of people. As we make decisions in life and progress through life, our experiences will inevitably lead us to others. After reading this book, I came to realize that it most likely would fit under the category of children’s literature (not YA literature).


No plot is a common theme:


Oh yeah, and there is no plot!! I kept waiting for something to happen but nothing ever did. I get that the story is supposed to be “whimsical and nonsensical” but I didn’t like that about the book. It was just so random and… weird. And what’s up with the animal cruelty?! It’s supposed to be a children’s book but everybody is so cruel, including Alice. The only good thing about the book is that it’s short and there were a few witty puns.

I don’t recommend this book to anybody, not even children. If I were a child and read this book it probably would have given me nightmares. I’ll still probably get nightmares from it.


So, yes, if you don't like talking animals, absurd things, or general weirdness, these are not the books for you, and I'm so sorry. That said, I can well believe that for some children, there are certain passages in the books (or images from various film versions) that might end up giving them nightmares.


Verdict: Whether whimsical children's adventure or nightmare-fuel, Alice in Wonderland has few rivals in imagination, and it's something everyone thinks they know, often without having read the originals. Which everyone should. My favorite versions are the ones with the original John Tenniel Victorian illustrations.

Tags: books, books1001, fantasy, kidlit, movies, netflix, reviews
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