“In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.”
This, ladies and gentlemen, is my palate cleanser. Suffering from a fierce book hangover after Great Expectations, I needed to blitz through something light-hearted and so utterly contrary to the gloomy books I’d been reading in recent weeks that it would reinvigorate me on my classics-devouring quest. Lewis Carroll was the man to rise to that challenge, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was the book to meet it; a story that is saturated to the point of bursting with whimsy, intelligence and mad imagination in ways I have never before encountered while reading any book.
I’m sure everyone knows the basic premise of this book by now (little girl, rabbit hole, wonderland, weirdness, and back again), but there were a few things I found particularly fascinating about the book. Firstly, there is pretty much no plot to speak of – the story merely meanders between set-pieces that are, at best, only tenuous linked together, and the conclusion is as abrupt as the introduction is brief. It suits the style of the book, but I can’t honestly deem it “good” from a structural standpoint.
Secondly, Alice herself is very…I’m struggling to come up with a better word than “petulant”, to be honest. I liked how completely flustered she gets at the weirdness she encounters, yet her position as a character with whom the reader can identify in this bizarre tale is compromised by her own brand of off-kilter kookiness that pervades her thought processes and actions. Also, she is remarkably slow to realise her cat-based insensitivity, which is more than a little frustrating.
In truth, Alice comes remarkably close to being upstaged in her own story by Wonderland itself. The way Carroll describes the world and the eclectic cast of characters with whom he populates Wonderland fire on all cylinders of the imagination, appealing to the reader’s visual sensibilities even without the aid of the iconic illustrations by John Tenniel (some of which I’ve included here). I especially enjoyed the perennially stressed White Rabbit, and the wonderful quips bounding back and forth between the attendants of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Some of the tangents were so odd that they actually unsettled me a little (what on earth was the whole episode with the Mock Turtle about?!), but these moments were usually followed by something much more agreeably bonkers- especially the final confrontation between Alice and the Red Queen that plays out like Judge Judy on opiates.
It’s little wonder the book has inspired so many artists and creatives since its release over 150 years ago – just look at all the little inspired touches throughout the book like this depiction of a tale (tail?) told by a mouse! Even though the original illustrations are pretty iconic by this point, this is a book of such incredible invention, inspired wordplay and, yes, wonder, that I’m sure it will continue to inspire limitless and wonderful responses from its readers for years to come.