Sometime in mid-December I decided that I wanted to become a more rounded person in my reading habits. My entire life I have tended to pick a genre of storytelling, specific series, or even dedicate my reading efforts towards one author. Ultimately, these habits lead me into a frenzied state of reading where my entire life begins to fade away, but they don’t push me as a writer. This habit doesn’t force me to explore new writing styles, it doesn’t force me to expand my taste.
That’s why, sometime between December and the New Year I decided it was time for me to start a reading pattern. I was going to start reading a personal/professional development book and balance this pattern with some fictional reading. Initially, I thought the fictional book was going to be my favorite realm of reading, sci-fi, but I decided to up the ante and instead of focusing on sci-fi I would instead focus on exploring the world of classically great authors. This first lead me to visit a childhood favorite story, The Jungle Book.
Sometime after finishing The Jungle Books Michelle and I were having a movie night searching the Netflix archives and stumbled on the newest interpretation of Lewis Carrol’s creation starring Johnny Depp in Alice: Through the Looking Glass. After a lifetime of hearing Alice references, I have never actually read the books. This was a perfect opportunity for me to visit these classics and finally understand the source of my favorite quote: “I’m late!”
A quick trip to the NC State library placed in my possession A Norton Critical Third Edition of Alice in Wonderland which contained Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, The Hunting of the Snark, and several letters, journal entries, and various interpretations of Lewis Carrol’s work.
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Initially, I found the book to be highly amusing between the eloquent use of puns, flow of the writing, and creative imagination of Lewis Carroll. However, his writing style was never able to sweep me into the world of Alice; I never became lost in Wonderland. The book would leave me with a smile at the end of each chapter, but it never became an obsession of my heart and soul. After finishing the book and reflecting upon the story (almost a month past) I have come up with three reasons for my overall disengagement with the story.
Reason 1) There was never a plot to the story.
I fully realize that the story was never intended to have a plot. In fact, Alice in Wonderland came into existence because Alice Liddell requested that Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) compile the stories he would recite to her into a unified manuscript. After doing this, Lewis Carroll then decided to publish these stories. He even addresses the lack of a plot when writing a letter,
“As to the meaning of the Snark? I’m very much afraid I didn’t mean anything but nonsense! Still, you know, words mean more than we mean to express when we use them: So a whole book ought to mean a great deal more than the writer meant.” -pg 270
After reading this letter, I was reminded of a passage near the end of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when she is witness the trial of the Hatter. During the trial, numerous witnesses have been called for testimony, but as Alice continuously points out none of the testimony is actual evidence. It almost makes me wonder if Lewis Carroll is directly addressing criticism’s such as mine through the voice of Alice in this scene,
“‘If any one of them can explain it,’ said Alice…’I’ll give him sixpence. I don’t believe there’s an atom of meaning in it'” -pg 93
Clearly, I have lost my inner-child and the ability to simply appreciate the wild and creative imaginative genius of Lewis Carroll.
Reason 2) Purposeful Misinterpretation of Words Between Characters
Everyone can appreciate a pun. In fact, I am a very big supporter of puns. I am also a very big fan of using the most precise language possible, as any successful scientist can ensure you is an essential skill. However, throughout Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass Lewis Carroll purposefully takes these to the extreme. The first example occurred shortly after Alice meets the Hatter during tea,
“Then you should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on.
“I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least -at least I mean what I say-that’s the same thing you know.”
“Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter. “Why you might just as well say that ‘I see what I eat’ is the same thing as ‘I eat what I see’!” -pg 53
In the above passage the Hatter is demonstrating the importance of correct grammar and precise language. We have all seen the meme’s that highlight the same things with punctuation in sentence and while these are amusing, an entire book written with these jokes can become increasingly dense.
But, it wasn’t until well after Alice’s tea with the hatter and her numerous adventures that the real reason for my dislike of Lewis Carroll’s word play hit me: The entire book read like an argument between two people disagreeing on the fundamental definition of a word or purposefully using the wrong word with the same sound. This scene between Alice and the two queens from Through the Looking Glass should clarify what I am referring to,
“Here,” the Red Queen began again, “Can you answer useful questions?” she said. “How is bread made?”
“I know that!” Alice cried eagerly. “You take some flour-”
“Where do you pick the flower?” the White Queen asked: “In a garden or in the hedges?”
“Well it isn’t picked at all,” Alice explained: “it’s ground-” -pg 193
Reason 3) Perceived Reality
When I reached the end of Through the Looking Glass there was true joy in my heart for the last few pages. This happens with any book, you gain a feeling of accomplishment and betterment. You think, ‘I read that great (or awful) book and have become a better person!’ But, sometimes as you are reading the end of said book the author adds a line to steal that moment away from you.
Lewis Carroll stole my moment at the end of Through the Looking Glass.
“Now, kitty, let’s consider who it was that dreamed it all. This is a serious question my dear…You see, Kitty, it must have been either me or the Red King. He was part of my dream, of course-but then I was part of his dream, too!” -pg 207
This entire chapter, entitled Which Dreamed It?, left me flabbergasted at the end. Throughout the book’s entirety I knew Carroll was playing with the concept of reality and perception, but addressing it at the end was too much for me to handle. It reminded me of attending Philosophy Club meetings at Aquinas College turn from discussions about sensible subjects into arguments about perceived reality.
When I was an Undergrad I despised pointless discussions about unanswerable problems and apparently almost four years after graduation I still have the same feelings.
Did I miss the point of Alice in Wonderland?
After reading this book (which includes letters, diary entries, and critiques of Lewis Carroll) I am left with a conclusion and a question.
First, I found the book amusing, but I did not enjoy it.
Second, I am left wondering if I missed the point of Alice in Wonderland? Perhaps even asking such a question reveals my lack of comprehension about Lewis Carroll’s great work.
How about you, what are your thoughts about Alice in Wonderland?
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
Edited by: Donald J. Gray
Published: 2013 by W. W. Norton and Company, New York