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"Curiouser and curiouser!"
on October 26, 2004
My first exposure to Lewis Carroll's classic children's story was through the 1951 Disney film adaptation "Alice in Wonderland," which I watched repeatedly as a child. The creative quality of the story never failed to fascinate me, and I kept going back despite my deep-rooted terror of the frightful Queen of Hearts, who always gave me nightmares! However, it was not until recently, as an adult, that I ever picked up the book/s upon which that film was based. In some ways I wish I had read it when I was younger, as the book certainly makes a great deal more sense than the movie does (as much sense as a story of this sort can, anyhow), but thankfully this book is unique in that it is just as enjoyable for adults as for children.
The story is actually spread across two books, here contained in a single volume. "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" was first published in 1865 and relates the events that take place after young Alice falls asleep during her lessons and dreams of following a white rabbit down a rabbit hole. Alice encounters all manner of strange creatures in her dream, and finds herself in all sorts of curious predicaments where common sense fails and the nonsensical comes to be expected. There is no central, concrete storyline, but rather Alice moves rapidly from one bizarre situation to the next before waking once more and relating the whole adventure to her sister.
The second of the two books, "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There," appeared in 1871 and is very similar in nature to the first, though having a slightly different plot. Here Alice steps through an ordinary looking-glass one day, only to find herself in a world where, if you wish to get anywhere, you must walk in the opposite direction! Walking toward your desired destination only gets you further and further away. Also, interestingly, the land which Alice has entered is essentially a giant chessboard, and she must move through the different squares to reach the other side if she wishes to become a queen (which she does).
The characters Carroll created in these two stories are some of the most strikingly unique and unforgettable in the world of literature. Alice herself, based largely on Alice Liddell, a real-life child of whom Carroll was very fond, is a wonderful heroine that you can't help admiring. Throughout all of her backwards and upside-down adventures, she remains ever sensible and analytical, always trying to reason her way out of the most unreasonable situations. Other characters a reader won't soon forget include the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Dormouse, the Cheshire Cat, Bill the Lizard, the Caterpillar, the Duchess and her peppery cook, the aforementioned Queen of Hearts, the Mock Turtle, the Gryphon, the Red and White Queens, the talking flowers, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the Sheep, Humpty Dumpty, and the Red and White Knights. Carroll also created many fascinating new creatures in his stories, including bread-and-butterflies, rocking-horseflies, "slithy toves," "mome raths" and more.
What I find most intriguing, as an adult reader of these books, is Carroll's brilliant use of wordplay and symbolism throughout the stories. Nearly everything has some sort of double meaning. There are hidden messags and subtle witticisms on every page. Carroll also includes several parodies of what were well-known songs and rhymes in England at the time. Young children will love the books for their fantastic qualities and imaginative inspiration, but most readers will not pick up on the many puns and jokes until they are a little older, so these stories really do have something to offer to anyone, no matter what age. I'd highly recommend the book to any reader - and be sure to get an edition that includes the original illustrations.
This review refers to the 2004 Barnes & Noble Classics printing, with introduction and notes by Tan Lin.