“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
Welcome to Wonderland Week, a whole wingding for Alice and her wacky wandering. A fiesta for a flaky females foolish frolic through frenzied fantasy. A celebration of comical, certifiable craziness. A memorialization of the mentally manipulated misadventures of a maiden, magic and madness. This week you can look forward to reviews and discussions about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, as well as me hosting my own tea party here at the G.O.B.. Today, instead of a typical formulaic review I would like to do more of an open discussion format. And really, just talk about what this story means to me, if that’s okay with you? If not, here’s a link to a dancing man in a horse mask cooking wild mushrooms.
“Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pen name Lewis Carroll. Published in 1865, received mostly poor reviews, with illustrations by John Tenniel gaining the praise. The story goes that Dodgson improvised the original tale for the three daughters of Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University Henry Lidell, on a boating trip. The youngest of which, Alice, pleaded with Dodgson to write the story for her. Three years later, he had a manuscript, complete with the illustrations provided by Tenniel. Alice’s Adventures began gaining popularity by the time the sequel, Through the Looking Glass was complete. By the end of the 19th century, Sir Walter Besant wrote about the story: “a book of that extremely rare kind which will belong to all the generations to come until the language becomes obsolete”. A premonition that has proven true over a hundred years later.
There are many metaphors and theories that can be pulled out of the story. I often look at Alice’s story, as one of aging and accepting changes. Food being used as the clearest representation of ‘growing up’ as well as her quarrels with the Red Queen. Alice is heading down the ‘rabbit hole’ of an unclear, undefined path, questioning herself on where to go, and what should she do. Much like the popular term, ‘adulting’, that most of us struggled with during those transitional years. It is all of the chaos that changes her within, as by the end of the story she is seemingly physically unchanged, but internally, and emotionally she has an entirely perspective having ‘lived’ so much.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
As fun as it can be to dissect a story and find these deeper meanings, Alice’s Adventures is also the best example of literary nonsense as a genre and can fairly be treated as such. From the moment Alice slips down into this ‘wonderland’, nothing can be found that makes sense. Confusion, misunderstanding, disorder, and anarchy rule this underworld. There are examples throughout of tales, rhymes, and dialogue with irrational ideas, if an idea at all. While there is a plot, the path from the beginning to the end is discombobulated from typical literature. Taking us down unnecessary paths, and distracting us with misshapen rhymes. There is an intentional madness that questions if the story is even supposed to have a purpose.
“Tut, tut, child! Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”
Fair enough, clearly the author was trying to teach something through his children’s tale. But, I feel it is not so cut and dry, or obvious as something like, everyone struggles with growing up, and we all fake it till we make it. Through the book Alice is constantly transitioning from large to small, or being the teacher to being taught. She is searching for who she is, and who she should be at the same time. So, while it is important to be adaptable to the world around us, we should never lose who we are; growing up can be difficult, hold on to the wonder of youth. Lewis Carroll is teaching us that there is no point to growing up if you don’t have fun along the way. A ‘stop and smell the roses’ message that is of deep purpose for me, it’s ideas like this as a personal mantra that has kept me from letting stress, work, or money control my life, and I live much happier for it.
“‘Be what you would seem to be’–or if you’d like it put more simply–‘Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.”
What truly separates this book from all the others, the reason it is my all-time favourite story, the creativity! To me, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a century ahead of its time. The worlds most original, one of a kind journey. Repeated countless times but never matched. Whenever I read, talk about, think about, this book I am inspired by the visionary way it was crafted. Being creative has become a main purpose that drives me, mostly thanks to the way this book and the Disney 1951 animated film captivated my youth. I became a chef, to create. I learned guitar, to create. I write, to create. Always looking at Lewis Carroll’s work as the epitome of creative expression.
“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
No matter what Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland means to you, it cannot be denied as one of the most timeless, outrageous children’s tales. It has become so ingrained in pop culture that references can be found in every possible media. If you have yet to read through the original works I would highly recommend doing yourself the favour. The madness may seem overwhelming, but as it takes hold of you, you may need to check your own sanity as things begin to make too much sense. And then you can ask yourself that powerful question, “who are you?”
Thanks booknerds, “why is a raven like a writing desk?”