23 April 2014
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
At the next peg the Queen turned again, and this time she said "Speak in French when you ca'n't think of the English for a thing- turn out your toes as you walk- and remember who you are!" (pg. 144)
It only seemed appropriate to read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland while I was living in Christ Church College, Oxford where Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) lived and taught. I passed his portrait every morning in the dining hall. It is on the wall near the entrance. Characters from the story are hidden in the 5th stained glass window on the left, in the dining hall. I would greet them each morning at breakfast. Lewis Carroll wrote this story for the Dean's daughter, Alice, and imagined a topsy turvy world with inspirations from the England landscape he knew around the college.
So, when I saw this delightful Penguin copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at Blackwell's Bookshop, I had to snatch it up and begin reading that day. Being there in Oxford made me crave entering into those dreamy glimmers of childhood through his book.
I have always loved Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I've read it many times before. But never before have I enjoyed the story so much as this time. There is a high quality about this book that hints to me that it is written for adults who have imaginations like children (or to bring us back to those imaginations). I don't think children actually get the full charm and silliness out of this story that an adult can from reading it. The quizzical nature of all the characters. The riddles. The play on words. I love every bit of all that.
"I ca'n't believe that!" said Alice.
"Ca'n't you?" the Queen said in a pitying tone. "Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes."
Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one ca'n't believe impossible things."
"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast...." (pg. 175)
Everything is taken literally to the point of hilarity. I love what Virginia Woolf writes about the Alice books and becoming a child again. She writes "It is for this reason that the two Alices are not books for children; they are the only books in which we become children....it doesn't matter how old, how important, or how insignificant you are, you become a child again. To become a child is to be very literal; to find everything so strange that nothing is surprising; to be heartless, to be ruthless, yet to be so passionate that a snub or a shadow drapes the world in gloom. It is to be Alice in Wonderland."
"What is it you want to buy?" the Sheep said at last, looking up for a moment from her knitting.
"I don't know yet," Alice said very gently. "I should like to look all around me first, if I might."
"You may look in front of you, and on both sides, if you like," said the Sheep, "but you ca'n't look all around you - unless you've got eyes in the back of your head." (pg. 176)
We get to see the world upside down through the eyes of a child. And we get to laugh along with all the crazy adventures along the way. We lose our sense of right-side-up, I think, when we have been in Wonderland long enough. Dive into Wonderland. It's positively delightful.
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where - " said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat. (pg. 54)