Book review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
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, together with 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 revelled 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, reproduced here, are inextricably tied to the well-loved story.
Well, that was a long and complicated introduction, wasn’t it? 😉
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the first of two Victorian novels about a little girl called Alice, who sees a white rabbit and follows it into a rabbit hole, where she falls down, down, down … and ends up in a crazy world called Wonderland. The world makes very little sense to anyone, let alone Alice.
Or the reader.
There are drinks and cakes that make you shrink and grow, hares and hatters at a perpetual tea party, a homicidal queen with an entourage of playing cards … and so on and so forth. It’s crazy, and Alice is such a brat. I didn’t care much for her, but then I didn’t really care much for any of the characters. She’s the main character, though, so you’d expect her to give you other feelings than frustrated facepalms because she’s a little git. Thinking in particular about her eagerness to tell small animals about her cat’s skill at catching said small animals and killing them. Just don’t try to become a diplomat when you grow up, girl …
On the plus side, that Carroll loved kids and telling stories for kids is clear. It’s not trying to be educational, it’s just trying to be fun and challenge your imagination – and as such, it does a great job. You need to have a bit of fun trying to follow Carroll’s crazy imaginings.
Is it about anything? Nope, not really. Alice is just wandering around, having crazy things happen around her for a bit. But sure, that’s kind of amusing, if a little disappointing. Not a plot, as such, just a walk through the woods, using flamingoes and hedgehogs to play croquet, along with other assorted animal cruelties … but each to their own.
Sort of amusing, but mostly just bizarre.
3 out of 5 Cheshire cat grins, because at least it was surprisingly short.