Curiouser and curiouser.
First Published: 1865
Date Reviewed: 21st September 2016
When Alice finds herself bored, sitting beside her sister who is reading a book without pictures or conversations, she longs to do something else. Seeing a white rabbit dressed in a waistcoat and holding a pocket watch, she follows him to his rabbit hole and promptly falls down it. At length she finds herself in a room with a tiny door and no way to follow the rabbit through, but there on the table is a bottle with a clear instruction: ‘drink me’.
Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland is a Victorian children’s novel of bizarre fantasy. Ever relevant and deeply ingrained in our popular culture it’s both an important read and a fun one, and it’s good at any age.
Alice is an interesting character. She is in many ways a device, a fictional person Carroll uses to teach his audience various lessons and skills, a young girl who could be said to be a bit silly, oblivious, and perhaps bad tempered for the very fact that it makes the story and lessons more obvious. In Alice we have a very good imperfect person who allows you to see mistakes that could be made, meaning you would learn the cause and effect without, hopefully – I think we can assume Carroll had this in mind – making the same mistake yourself.
As a character otherwise she can be a bit of a bother – ‘irritating’ is too harsh a word – especially as there is no real turning point where she realises what she should be doing or how she should be acting. However this is speaking as an adult and speaking at a time when the Disney film adaptation, with its very polite, perfect, Alice, is more prevalent in popular culture. It’s hard to say for sure whether it’s the product of Alice’s age – alluded to rather than told to us – or perhaps the difference in time period.
It’s fair to say that in our culture where we speak of ‘wonderland’ in terms of something we all know about, the place has become more important than the person. Wonderland is bizarre, it’s the stuff of very strange dreams and far-out imaginings. It’s in part made up of that swords and shields and heroes idea that we have in childhood – and obviously has been a mainstay of childhood for a good couple of centuries at least – partly the dream of animals being able to talk, and also various bits and bobs that you can see Victorian cultural influences from. It’s magical but of the magic that can be more baffling than dreamy. It’s a weird place that is fine to read about, but not a fantasy world you’d want to visit. That’s Narnia’s forte – Wonderland is a little scary.
The writing is simple and the tale fairly short. The text hasn’t aged beyond its few time-specific ideas (that pocket watch, for example) making it completely accessible. For the violent aspects, such as the constant ‘off with his head’ it might be regarded nowadays to be for older children than it was written for but the lessons remain appropriate to the single digit years.
In sum, Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland has something for readers of any age because even when you’re past the target age range there’s a lot to appreciate.
October 19, 2016, 9:10 am
Im taking a course on children’s literature at the moment and this book is one of the seminal texts. Its considered the first book that was purely entertainment – although you read into it some messages about behaviour etc, that wasnt Carroll’s intention. it was meant to be fun and to challenge authority. I loved it as a child even though I didnt understand most of the puns and humour.
October 19, 2016, 11:53 am
I loved this as a child, but, although one of the advantages of having children is that you get to read childhood favourites again, I haven’t read ‘Alice’ in 20/30 years. i wonder how it would seem now, viewed through adult eyes?
October 19, 2016, 5:05 pm
As a child I watched the Disney film but I didn’t read the book till I was an adult; as part of The Classics Club. I loved it! However, I have to agree Wonderland is a great place to read about but not a place I’d like to visit! It is like the worst surreal dream!
October 19, 2016, 5:14 pm
I was an adult before I actually read Alice and I expected it to be different than Disney and pop culture, but wow, it was even more bizarre than I imagined! yeah, Wonderland is kind of a scary place and I am pretty sure if I had read the book as a kid I would have been as traumatized by it as I was by The Wizard of Oz!
October 20, 2016, 1:33 am
I loved this book as a kid and reread it a bunch of times — it’s actually been kind of a while, and I should probably reread again now! I love Through the Looking Glass better than Alice’s Adventures, but there’s so many moments in both of them that I think of all the time. As my new little godson starts to pay more attention to the world and make noises and do things, I think a lot about Alice saying to the baby “Now if you turn into a pig, my dear, I shan’t be bothered with you.” :p
November 10, 2016, 3:00 pm
Bookertalk: Yes, there some parts that are hard to understand!
Mary: Sounds like you’ve a potential plan there ;) I’ve been wondering whether it’s time to introduce it to my nephew.
Jessica: I think Disney did a good job making it less scary because it really is so! (Especially some of the drawings!) Though of course that’s to us – I wonder how Victorian children found it…
Stefanie: Yes – I thought it was likely to be a bit different, but how much so it really is! I remember finding The Wizard Of Oz pretty creepy – I’ve always thought they were a lot less worried about scary images then.
Jenny: Definitely; see how you find it now. I never read Through The Looking Glass nor know the story, really, and I’m looking forward to a completely new experience within an ingrained one, so to speak. Just as long as you keep that line to yourself until he’s older :p