24 December 2006

Alice in Wonderland, and Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

December 24 2006 (04:05:00)

One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small,
And the ones that mother gives you, don't do anything at all,
Go ask Alice, when she's ten feet tall.
--White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane.

If you haven't read Alice and/or Through the Looking Glass, don't put it off. If you have read it, do it again. It doesn't take long, that's for sure. I found this old paperback on a rainy Sunday afternoon and was soon lost down the rabbit hole.

There's plenty written about these works and little that a person of my education and experience would be able to add to the critical analysis of Carroll's whimsical fiction. It's well known that these stories were written primarily to entertain children, some of them very specific children with whom Lewis Carroll (the pen-name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was acquainted, including young Alice (Liddell) herself. And it's also common knowledge that there are other levels, and jokes, to the stories, more accessible to adults and particularly to adults of the time, culture, and social class in which Carroll lived.

What attracts me to the story of Alice and her adventures in the Looking Glass world is that this is part of the quintessential English literature of childhood. Along with the Chronicles of Narnia, Baum's Oz classics, and others, these books find some place in most English-speaking children's mythology -- or at least I think they still do! -- and their landscapes and population are ever in our imaginations. When one sees an impatient, harried person checking his watch, one thinks of the White Rabbit: "Oh dear...I shall be late..." Imperious self-important tyrants always have something of the Red Queen about them, and who has not been in a conversation that reminded him of the one between the Hatter and the March Hare, with the Dormouse sleeping between them?

"Alice felt dreadfully puzzled. The Hatter's remark seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English."

Through the Looking Glass, the second work, is said to be understandable as a complete chess game. It is also obviously rich with puns and inside jokes, and probably a great deal of humor at the expense of personages long deceased. This is all a great monument to the genius that called himself Lewis Carroll, but for me I value its capture of the time of life when we have the leisure and openness of mind to contemplate and observe the world that exists in our mirrors, when we think about whether the flowers mind being tethered to the ground, and when we have the imagination to conceive of a Rocking Horse Fly, "...made entirely of wood, and gets about by swinging itself from branch to branch..."
More Information and Where You Can Read the Books:

* The entire text of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, courtesy of the Gutenberg Project.
* This site is sort of an Alice fan-club site, I suppose; there's a lot of Alice-related information and much evidence of her influence on the world in which we live.
* Lenny's Alice in Wonderland Site seems a good resource for background and analysis of the work, nicely designed with great respect for the tales. Lenny is not above referring to the Disney movie that has no doubt been responsible for introducing millions to Alice and her adventures.

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