Note: In this post I’ll talk about my experiences with reading Alice in Wonderland. In addition, I’ll list some helpful resources to accompany the book. This post is part review, part analysis, and part reading guide. I plan on writing this kind of hybrid post for works of classic literature.
Title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Author: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Pen name: Lewis Carroll)
Series: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland #1
Genre: Fiction – children’s, nonsensical
Number of Pages: Approximately 132
Alice falls down a rabbit hole and lands in a fantasy world.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an odd little book. Sometimes it was clever. Sometimes it was weird. Sometimes it just didn’t make any sense.
I decided to read it for two reasons:
1. It’s a classic.
2. I enjoyed the Tim Burton movie which was loosely based on the book.
I never read the book as a kid (and I’m kind of glad I didn’t. I wouldn’t have understood half of it) but I did see bits of the animated Disney classic, which made me feel a little dizzy—which is what the book did to me as an adult.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is filled with symbolic references and plays on words, and that was my favorite thing about it. I wouldn’t enjoy Alice as just a story. The symbolism is pretty clever if you do some research and find out what it means.
Let’s look at the book’s symbolism, and status as a classic.
On the surface, Alice in Wonderland is just totally off the wall. Beneath the surface lies a plethora of symbolism. The only problem is understanding what it all means.
I discovered that since I don’t live in 19th Century England, a lot of Carroll’s references went right over my head. This is where Cliffnotes comes in handy. I highly recommend reading Cliffnotes alongside Alice to aid in understanding the references. That way the book won’t seem like mindless twaddle.
Some of the plays with words were pretty good. Here’s one example:
When the Gyphron and the Mock Turtle told Alice about subjects in their school, they mentioned:
- Reeling and writhing (reading and writing).
- The different branches of Arithmetic – Ambition (addition), distraction (subtraction), uglification (multiplication), and derision (division).
- Laughing and grief (Latin and Greek).
Here’s another example: In Wonderland, playing cards are alive. Spades are gardeners, diamonds are courtiers, clubs are policemen, and hearts are royalty.
Status as a Classic
As for the book’s status as a classic, I personally don’t understand all the fuss. Perhaps Alice was more meaningful at the time it was written. It pokes fun at a lot of societal conventions which are no longer relevant.
I thought it was an OK book. As a children’s book, it seems a little disturbing and harsh. As a book for adults, it seems over the top and silly. Reading this was not an extremely enjoyable experience, but I’m still glad I read it because of the great plays on words and because many phrases from it have been absorbed into our language. For example:
- Down the rabbit hole
- Grinning like a Cheshire cat (There’s an interesting story right there. Lewis Carroll was born in Cheshire, England.)
- Mad as a hatter
Sometimes I liked this book, sometimes I didn’t.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was sometimes weird, frustrating, and just not that great. A plot doesn’t exist. The story is episodic. Characters are shallow and not endearing. I realize I’m being overly harsh. Carroll meant to write this as merely an opportunity to play with words and logic. But nevertheless, the lack of plot and good characterization made it a thoroughly less enjoyable book.
However, when it comes to the wordplay and symbolism, the writing is at times even genius.
Despite its flaws, overall I think Alice is worth reading for its cleverness.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland can be described by two separate quotes from itself:
“Tut, tut, child!” said the Duchess. “Every thing’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”
“If there’s no meaning in it,” said the King, “that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any. And yet I don’t know,” he went on, spreading out the verses on his knee, and looking at them with one eye; “I seem to see some meaning in them, after all.”
This is one of those books, that, because it’s a classic and because it has greatly influenced our culture we should probably all read it. Good thing it’s short.
I recommend this to:
- Connoisseurs of classics.
• For, you see, so many out-of-the-way things had happened lately, that Alice had begun to think that very few things indeed were really impossible.
• She generally gave herself very good advice (though she very seldom followed it).
• “Speak English!” said the Eaglet. “I don’t know the meaning of half those long words, and, what’s more, I don’t believe you do either!”
• The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. “Off with his head!” she said without even looking round.
• “If everybody minded their own business,” the Duchess said, in a hoarse growl, “the world would go round a deal faster than it does.”
“Which would not be an advantage,” said Alice, who felt very glad to get an opportunity of showing off a little of her knowledge. “Just think what work it would make with the day and night! You see the earth takes twenty-four hours to turn round on its axis—”
“Talking of axes,” said the Duchess, “chop off her head!”
• “Really, now you ask me,” said Alice, very much confused, “I don’t think—”
“Then you shouldn’t talk,” said the Hatter.
• “I could tell you my adventures—beginning from this morning,” said Alice a little timidly; “but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
Here are some helpful links to aid in reading and understanding the book:
http://www.alice-in-wonderland.net/resources/ – A wealth of information including the meaning of the poems and the references behind them. Here you can also read the full text of Alice in Wonderland.
https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/a/alices-adventures-in-wonderland/book-summary – Chapter by chapter analysis. Discusses themes and gives biography of the author.
http://www.penguin.com/static/html/classics/readingguides/aliceinwonderland.php – A helpful reading guide.