Monday, September 9, 2013

Alice in Wonderland (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland #1) by Lewis Carroll

I didn't get into this story until the goofy Queen of Hearts splashes the pages with her contemptuous shouting, "Off with her head!" I had a week at work that made me tempted to squawk the same thing. Not with the students, mind you, just the adults. What a hysterical character and witty satire on the history of British royalty. The Queen of Hearts uses her power to command heads be chopped off for any minor offense. She is humored by the self-important King and sycophant soldiers but heads aren't generally chopped off. The king pardons the offender or influences the Queen such as when she wants to cut off Alice's head by reminding the Queen that Alice is "just a child." Even the soldiers pretend to obey the Queen shooing away an offender once the Queen has turned her back. The Queen wouldn't have anyone to rule if the powers-that-be followed through on her constant beheading requests. She is the most fearful tyrant in the cast of the characters, but just another obstacle in Alice's quest to get to the beautiful garden. While I admire the writing, I didn't love this book. It sort of hurt my brain... especially the logical fallacies. Logic is not my strength. Nor my passion. The book is a quick read and I should really reread it, to do it justice. I will. Some day. I did like Carroll's satire and while I have no clue who many of the characters are that he alludes to since it was written in the 1800s, I did like their characteristics such as the Mock Turtle.

Alice falls down a rabbit hole and ends in the alternate world of Wonderland. She sees a luscious garden through a small door but can't pass through it because she is too large. She takes a potion to shrink, but gets too small. Then she eats a cake and grows too big. Frustrated by this jack-in-the-box growing and shrinking and never being the right size she eventually cries a river of tears down the hallway when she is giant-sized that later sweeps her away like a current when she shrinks to the size of a mouse. Several other animals get swept down the tear-produced river and end up with Alice on some bank. The Dodo bird decides to have a Caucus-race and the odd party runs in circles. Confused yet? I was. Carroll's creation of Alice's dreamlike world is discombobulating at times. However, I did chuckle at the image of a political caucus that bustles about for no reason like the animals running in circles with no ending.

Alice's adventures continue with meeting a caterpillar using a hookah (don'tcha love that word), a Duchess, a Mad Hatter, a Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts, and more. Of course I liked the Mock Turtle who has a conversation with Alice that is full of puns and misunderstandings. The Mock Turtle is "melancholy" because he wishes he was a real turtle like in the old days before he ended up with a cows head, tail, and back hooves. According to Kent David Kelly who wrote a reflection that came with the book, Carroll is poking fun at a popular Victorian dish called, mock turtle soup, that was made out of those parts of a cow. Alice tries to talk to Mock Turtle about her school, the institution, but he thinks she is talking about a school of fish. When she asks what course he took at school, Mock Turtle replies, "Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with... and then the different branches of Arithmetic - Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision." Ha! That captures my sentiments for math. Well maybe not "ambition" but definitely the last three. More puns come with Latin and Greek being "Laughing and Grief" which made me think of a Shakespeare comedy or tragedy. Then there is the classics master who is an old crab. You get the drift. Pretty funny.

The beauty of this book is its appeals to adults and children. This is one of those books that if I was a Victorian book reviewer, I would wonder if child readers would get all the adult references. Duh. Obviously they do. "Alice in Wonderland" is just as wildly popular today with adults and children as it was in 1865. When Alice takes a potion to shrink she has to stop it or she might go out "altogether, like a candle. I wonder what I shall be then?" The idea of shrinking captures the imagination of a kid while the adult might consider the concept of non-existence. Not that I came up with that idea on my own - no sirree- my friend, Mr. Kelly who does a nice job interpreting sections of the book pointed this out. He also said that this theme becomes even more important in book 2, "Through the Looking-Glass." 

The book is a warehouse of symbolism, homonyms, rhymes, word plays, mathematical references, puns, nonsense, and more nonsense that makes it impossible to write about it all in a short review. I find the nonsense most inspiring or cathartic. Let your brain choose its own stack of favorites - interpretations are numerous and varied. I have not come across a book quite like it except maybe "The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland" - that author loves words like Carroll.  It is a marvel that Alice was created 150 years ago as Lewis Carroll spun the tale while rowing on a river with his friend's three children. I think I need to quit as its hard concentrating with stereo surround sound sports as my husband is blasting the Twins baseball game on the iPad in my left ear and the Gopher football game on the TV in my right. You try writing when the Minnesota Rouser is reverberating in your apartment. Where's the Queen of Hearts when you need her? "Off with their heads!"

5 Smileys

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