But people who approach Alice as psychedelic literature or a creepy Lolita story, I think, miss the point. However, these questions do add to the depth of the reading experience. I’d read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a few years ago; however, I just felt like picking it up again and I’m glad I did. I don’t know why, but I enjoyed Alice’s observations and the humor more this time.
RC Sherriff’s 1928 play Journey’s End provides a powerful example. For most of the action, the Alice books remain in the background, like the steady grumbling of the guns; only occasionally do they flare into life to remind the audience that they have been there all along. The night before a planned raid on the German lines, the officer Osborne takes a small leather-bound copy of the story from his pocket and starts to read. Initially it appears to be straightforward escapism, rather as he proposes that they avoid thinking about the busy worms in their trench by talking about croquet instead. My own memories of the Alice books go back much further than my earliest memory of reading.
It tells the story of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit-hole into a fantasy realm populated by talking playing cards and anthropomorphic creatures. The tale is fraught with satirical allusions to Dodgson’s friends and to the lessons that British schoolchildren were expected to memorize. The Wonderland described in the tale plays with logic in ways that has made the story of lasting popularity with children as well as adults.
There’s also something that’s fun and a bit surprising when we’re reading something we thought we knew really well (because we’ve been exposed to the stories for so long even if we haven’t read the actual story). I know my ratings are always subjective based on when and where I’ve read a specific book. It’s clear that I was ready to have fun down the rabbit hole!
They were always there, full of quirky figures that helped to populate the busy borderland where real life shaded into the world of stories, and that is where they remained for the next 40-odd years. I visited Wonderland as a reader from time to time, but for the most part Carroll’s story remained quietly in the background. Only when I started to investigate Alice’s literary birth and afterlife did I discover that I knew far less about her than I had assumed. You may have seen the Disney film or been to a play, but most everyone growing up in a Western European-based culture has had some contact in some form with Alice and her adventures. I cannot recommend high enough actually reading Lewis Carroll’s superb book written for his daughter Alice’s bedtime story. There is a lovely innocence to Alice and a startling and surprising freshness to all the creatures and characters she meets. It does sometimes feel like an acid trip, but then so does Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and other high flights of fancy.
Over the next 30 years, Carroll experimented with this idea in various ways. At the end of 1871, he published Through the Looking-Glass, a sequel he privately referred to as “Alice II”, in which he proved that time could be manipulated much more effectively on paper than it could in real life.
The great thing here is the oblique criticism of societal norms and the evocation of youth and innocence that is unforgettable and ageless. This is yet another book that one should read to their own kids as a gift for their imagination. If I didn’t already know the story and the basic plot points of Alice in Wonderland from movies, books, and other pop culture retellings, I think this book would have been very confusing. I didn’t realize how short the Wonderland part of Alice’s story is so, despite the bizarre writing, it was a pretty quick read. In fact, if you are really into fairy tales, I imagine this could be a one sitting book. While many readers pray their letters just got lost in the mail, I’m constantly hoping I’ll see a white rabbit in a waistcoat and fall down, down, down into what must be the center of the earth. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a work of children’s literature by the English mathematician and author, Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, written under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.
These things interested the adult reader in me, but Alice is really for children of all ages. Thanks to the animated movie, I knew the characters and I felt like I was being reunited with old friends. I especially felt this during the Mad Tea Party, which I think must rank among the most brilliant comic scenes in English literature. However, Alice proves that books for children need not be dumbed down or sentimentalized. There are some dark undercurrents to the excellent humor . And the beautiful concluding paragraph is a startling, Shakespearean meditation on childhood, age, and eventual womanhood. And then of course there’s the drug use of the caterpillar and Carroll’s suggested pedophiliac obsession with young girls.
The book is often referred to by the abbreviated title Alice in Wonderland. This alternate title was popularized by the numerous film and television adaptations of the story produced over the years. Some printings of this title contain both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.