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

I am very drowsy right now. And that’s all I really need to say. There are no very interesting things happening in my life, especially not since three days ago when I wrote for Peter Pan.

So, as I can’t actually remember if I’ve mentioned (and if I have a reminder won’t hurt), I’m reading these books because I know the stories, but I’ve never read them in their original, and it’s interesting the various surprises I’m coming across. It’s like you know the story… but not really. I’ve seen movies and adaptations of Alice (it actually seems quite popular at the moment- I see new Alice-esque novels every time I go to B&N) and they all look interesting because Wonderland is fascinating.

I got this book from the library (from which I get most of my books, especially first-time reads), and they actually had five different copies of both books. I chose two very old, classical covers that looked like a pair. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I realized about halfway through that it would be completely impossible to find the right covers when I needed to write this review. I still checked Google, just in case, and a part of me really wanted to just choose the most stylistic cover, but I figured, no, I chose these ones because I liked how old and musty they looked and I should share that with you. So I photographed them myself.

So here’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:

And here’s Through the Looking-Glass:

There, do you see what I mean? They’re perfectly lovely. I was especially thrilled when I looked at the inside cover and saw the name “Phillip A. Bennet” in wobbly penmanship and blue ink. By my estimation, the boy who donated it couldn’t have been more than nine or ten. Then I looked for the year the library had received it- 1978, but the edition came out in 1946. The pages were a pleasantly weathered yellow, there were places where the pages had separated from the cloth of the binding, and the book itself smelled divine. I actually read somewhere online, why it is that old books smell so good. The glue that’s used in book-binding is created from a plant which is closely related to vanilla, and when the glue breaks down it releases the scent. Someone correct me if that’s inaccurate.

Anyway, here’s the thing about Alice: it takes place in a dreamscape. So everything is completely topsy-turvy. It brings new meaning to word ‘nonsense.’ So there’s no real point telling you the plot, because there just isn’t one. It’s a sequence of events, but they’re not in any way connected. But that’s okay, for what it is- Lewis Carroll originally orated this story to a pair of young girls, and nonsense is entertaining to children. The sillier the better. So I won’t criticize it for being pointless- the real problem is that I’m not part of the target audience, so I can’t rightfully enjoy it.

The most fun, for me, came from comparing the Alice’s I know with the story itself. The Disney ‘Alice in Wonderland’ actually uses scenes from both books, and a lot of the more memorable things from the movie actually took place in Looking-Glass Land (there was no mention of Wonderland in Through the Looking-Glass). For example, Tweedledum and Tweedledee were one-scene wonders in the sequel. Humpty-Dumpty made an appearance. Also the singing flowers (though in the book they only made snide comments) and the Walrus and the Carpenter, and the Jabberwocky poem.

Then there were points that get no notice in any adaptations- the entire second book was played as a chess game, with Alice becoming a queen at the end. Through both books (but especially the second) there is a great deal of poems and limericks. Were children really made to memorize such long stanzas back then? What dull lessons. Of course, the first adventure begins because Alice is bored of her lessons.

There’s also much to be said about Carroll’s illustrations. Everyone’s at least a little familiar with the original Alice illustrations, even if they don’t realize it. Carroll certainly has some ability, but I never really thought it could be said that the drawings were pleasant. If anything, they’re a bit garish and even spooky in places. I doubt they were considered so in 1865. Still, I thought they were nice to have, even if they weren’t necessarily pretty. I’m an appreciator of quality illustrations; I really did enjoy the ones in Peter Pan. In fact, I wish I had thought to photograph my favorite one so I could have shown you.

On the subject of Alice adaptations- has anyone seen Phoebe in Wonderland? That’s a movie about a young girl who wins the part of Alice in her school’s production of the play, and she develops a relationship with the characters that helps her deal with the real world as it gets more and more foreign. It’s an excellent movie- a tad on the dark side, I would say, but worth the watch. Most of the daydream sequences were scenes directly from the book, using the exact dialogue, and whenever I came across a passage that I recognized from the movie, my internal voice would switch over. During the final poem in Through the Looking-Glass, I was hearing it sung in my head by the cast of children on stage.

So, I guess that’s it. I’m a little sad to be putting up the children’s books for now, but not entirely. Nonsense gets tedious. I think Alice shared my sentiments, you know- after reading about Wonderland (and Neverland, for that matter) I’ve sort of concluded that I’m happy enough not being there. You need to be very careful of what you say and not to offend, but everyone is s sensitive that you would just as well like not to run into anybody at all. But somebody is always in your path. They sweep you up thoughtlessly and then you have to just go with them. I would find it very frustrating.

Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 8:04 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I revisited these books a few years ago, after I developed my interest in semantics and linguistics, and I found the language in them to be completely delightful … the warped logic (which seems so sound, but doesn’t work), and the “Walrus and Carpenter” poem is one of my all time favorites.

    • Particularly in the parts where the King accepted only the most literal meanings of words. It was maddening, but at the same time there wasn’t anything WRONG with what he was saying. He was just being unnecessarily precise. I wouldn’t like to be his conversational partner.

  2. “That’s a movie about a young girl who wins the part of Alice in her school’s production of the play, and she develops a relationship with the characters that helps her deal with the real world as it gets more and more foreign.” Best summary I have ever heard. Well done.

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