I’m a little bit ashamed that it’s taken me until twenty three years of age before reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the first time. I was quite scared by the film adaptations as a child though, so it put me off a bit. I would definitely recommend giving it a go though to anyone who’s yet to brave jumping into the ultimate nonsense-story pond. I think everyone’s familiar with some of the characters at least (like the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts), it’s such an incredibly well-known and often adapted story that I don’t think anyone could read it and be completely surprised by what they found in its pages.
I think one of the aspects of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that works really well is the fact that it is clearly a dream sequence. Anyone who’s even vaguely familiar with the plot or the films knows that Alice falls asleep on the riverbank, and is transported to Wonderland in her dreams. The whole set up of it works so well though, everything is extremely fast paced and fantastical. The whole story feels like it’s in a constant rush to move on to the next scenario, and none of them really seem to follow logically on from each other or really have that clear of a plot structure. It evolves and develops exactly as a dream would, with no rhyme or reason. One minute Alice is drowning in a pool of tears, then she’s holding a baby which turns out to be a pig, then she’s at a Mad Hatter’s tea party, then she’s playing croquet with a flamingo, and it just goes on and on and on. Really, it’s just pages upon pages of seemingly random nonsense, and I think that’s why it’s been so popular for so long. You just don’t know what’s going to happen next, or what strange creatures will appear, or what situations Alice will find herself in. There are no boundaries and no sense to any of it, it really is a perfect replica of one of those half-dozing dreams you have during an accidental nap on a warm Sunday afternoon.
I was quite surprised by how quickly Alice bustled through the plot though. Considering that it’s really not that long a book, there’s an awful lot packed into it and it has to be extremely fast paced to fit everything in. Because of its length I also think it’s the kind of book which should preferably be read in one sitting, but it is kind of exhausting by the end because there have been so many different adventures to get through and so many wonderful characters to meet. I can see why children love it so though, it’s the right mixture of nonsense and very good fun, and just the right length to while away a rainy afternoon.
But I’m not going to be one of those people who read too much into the story and feel the urge to connect everything with the hidden symbolism of Lewis Carroll’s complex mathematical theories or allusions to real life political figures and the like. I’d much rather look at it as I believe it’s meant to be looked at, as a children’s adventure story, and I don’t believe for a minute that the children of Victorian England would be wondering if Alice was making a reference to inverse mathematical relationships or if the lizard Bill was meant to represent Benjamin Disraeli. What I think they would be doing is appreciating the silly rhymes and poems, laughing at the imagery of flamingos being used as croquet mallets, spying on their pet white rabbits to see if they could really talk, and wishing they could visit the fantastical world of Wonderland for themselves. Those are exactly the sorts of things that I did while reading the book (and as a twenty three year old I am very nearly on the verge of grown up adult territory!). My white rabbit Alice is yet to reply to my conversation, but there is a twinkle in her eyes at times that implies she is not as ignorant to my ramblings as she would like me to believe. So let’s all learn the Lobster Quadrille and find a mock turtle for a dancing partner, and enjoy books like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the sheer childish delight they bring, instead of trying to dry them out with adult stuffiness and algebra.
See also My Culture Mission or read previous Book Review featuring Christopher Isherwood’s Mr Norris Changes Trains.