Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland tells the story of Alice, a young girl who follows the White Rabbit down a rabbit hole. At the bottom, she finds herself in a room with a tiny door and a bottle labeled “drink me.” She grows and shrinks depending on what she eats and drinks, and as a small version of herself, finds herself swimming in a pool of tears. Swimming to shore, Alice and some other creatures decide that “‘the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race'” (26). Alice continues to chase the White Rabbit and the White Rabbit sends her into his house for his fan and gloves. Once in the house, Alice gets into more trouble with an unlabeled bottle, quickly growing too big to move. The White Rabbit and Bill the Lizard try to get her out, and Alice only escapes by eating some small cakes. She runs into the woods and meets a hookah-smoking Caterpillar, who gives her some advice on ways to grow bigger and smaller. Next, she stops at the house of the Duchess with a pig for a baby; the pig escapes, and Alice asks the Cheshire Cat for help. Directed on to the March Hare’s house, Alice takes part in the Mad Tea Party, perhaps the most famous scene in the book. Alice moves on to the Queen’s croquet ground, where she encounters the Queen of Hearts and tries to play croquet with a flamingo and a hedgehog. Next, Alice encounters a Mock Turtle and a Gryphon, who tell her the story of the lobster quadrille. The book closes with a trial on the case of the stolen tarts, as the Queen accuses the Knave of Hearts. Alice is accused also, and she scatters the attacking cards, only to find herself awake on the river bank where the book began.
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was the first book designed for children that was entirely void of any sort of moral, and instead written solely for pure entertainment purposes. Before “Alice”, children were stuck with stories that preached goodliness and virtue, something that Carroll himself pokes fun at during the course of the story, when he refers to “several nice little stories about children who had got burnt, and eaten up by wild beasts, and other unpleasant things, all because they would not remember the simple rules their friends had told them.” His stories came like an unexpected breath of fresh air amongst Victorian society, and it was little wonder that adults as well as children helped to make “Alice” a bestseller during its day.
Another crucial feature to the tale is Alice herself, often considered the first realistic representation of a child in literature. She’s curious, but sometimes a little shy. She’s polite, but manners often give way to frustration and temper tantrums. She’s intelligent, but not as intelligent as she would like to think she is (relying heavily on an education that often fails her). She often holds her own against the contradictory natures of the people she meets, but more often than not is baffled and belittled by them. She possesses some degree of common sense, but often does some remarkably stupid things. She’s likeable, but she’s also a bit of a show-off and a snob. In other words, she’s the first (and perhaps the best) example of a three-dimensional child character in literature geared toward either children *or* adults.
“Alice in Wonderland” begins with the infamous sight of a white rabbit with a waistcoat and pocket-watch muttering to himself: “I’m late! I’m late!” Abandoning her sister and the dull book that she’s reading, Alice follows the rabbit down a rabbit hole and unexpectedly finds herself drifting deep down underground. What follows is a series of weird and wonderful meetings with the likes of the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter and the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat and the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle, as poor Alice – the only sane person in the madhouse – struggles to make herself heard against this twisted parody of the adult world.
Nearly every page contains a clever pun, nonsensical poem or mathematical puzzle, and there’s plenty here to keep you fascinated, whether it be Alice’s abrupt shrinking and growing (brought on by eating Wonderland food, and perhaps reflecting Carroll’s desire to control the growth of his young protagonist), the beautiful garden that Alice cannot seem to reach (and when she does, she finds it not quite to her liking, perhaps suggesting a reverse-Eden, in which children desiring adulthood soon realize that it’s not quite what they expected it to be) or Alice’s internal crisis in which she debates whether the surreal circumstances she’s found herself in have resulted in her loosing her own identity (I won’t even try to open the jar on *that* one!) No wonder scholars can go mad trying to untangle this tale! Even the fact that the story succumbs to the ultimate cliché in fantasy-fiction, the ending that will reward you with an F if you use it in a creative-writing exercise at school (I am of course, referring to the fact that Alice wakes up at the conclusion of the story to find that it was just a dream), doesn’t damage the power of Carroll’s imaginative force.
The joy of this book definitely holds through for me as an adult. I reread this with some trepidation as I remembered reading and enjoying it several times as a child, but was pleasantly surprised to find it just as magical as I did then.
I would reccommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it or at least hasn’t read it since their childhood. It is a quick, enjoyable read that takes ones mind into a magical land of wonder.
This task is from “Part 1” – Read and review Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It’s part of my challenge “The Alice In Wonderland Challenge…” hosted by Jenny at http://takemeaway-jennala9.blogspot.com/2009/08/alice-in-wonderland-challenge.html.