50 Books to Read Before You Die

words to inspire before you expire

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Hello, class, and welcome back.  I hope you’ve had a good week.

I’ve spent the last week reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  I’ll bet you know the story.  You’ve probably seen the Tim Burton movie, or the old Disney movie.  Some of you may have seen the short-lived TV show Once Upon a Time in Wonderland.  The curiouser of you may have noticed the subtle Alice references in movies like The Matrix or Still Alice.  Then there are the fans of T-Swift’s “Wonderland” from her 1989 album.

This story has saturated our culture.  We are still swimming in Alice’s pool of tears (thank you, for those of you clapping in the back; yes, it was a good joke).  That should be enough of a reason to read it—if you’re going to at least try to understand all of those down-the-rabbit-hole-, mad-hatter-, caterpillar-hookah-jokes, you might as well read the book to see what the fuss is about.

But my opinion, for the two cents that its worth, is that Alice has saturated our culture because of something more important.  It has some inner beauty, some strange quality…something that makes it stand the test of time and spawn hundreds of adaptations and pop-culture references.  I don’t think it’s Wonderland that makes it so special (but that place is a TRIP, to say the least).  I don’t think it’s the adventures Alice has there, either.  I think it’s Alice.

She’s some kind of “every-child.”  She’s far from normal and that’s what makes her matter—no child on the planet actually fits the definition of “normal.”  The weirdness of Alice makes her relatable.  She talks to herself as if she’s two people (who hasn’t done that).  Her adventures make her question if she’s still Alice at all, and at one point she decides that she must be some girl named Mabel, since she’s changed so much.  Even the poetry she’s been trained to recite (let me go ahead and disagree with that “educational” practice right there…alright, moving on) comes out wrong.  Not bad, just wrong—different than she learned it.  She clashes with the Victorian England she’s been raised in.

Without even trying, she subverts the rules, etiquette, politics, and education of her society.  It sets her apart, forcing her to be lost in this strange Wonderland.  And if that’s the case, wouldn’t all children, as represented by Alice, be lost in their own Wonderland?  Wouldn’t all children, by being themselves, conflict with what society needs them to be?

YES.

Wonderland isn’t some strange fantasy world.  It’s the way children see reality.  Rules that don’t make sense, random body changes, identity confusion, and a string of useless lessons…Wonderland is around us here and now.  And that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Now, confession time: I am actually rereading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.  The first time I read it was in a college class, so I get to pretend like I know what I’m talking about.  But I do believe it—that Alice was Carroll’s way of subverting Victorian rules by showing their consequences.  Wonderland is an amazing place from the outside, students, but Alice’s adventures weren’t as happy-go-lucky for her.  I believe Carroll was trying to show us that if we stick to rules, regulations, and the evils of “etiquette,” our children will suffer for it.

Alice didn’t take too long for me to finish (another reason to read it—because it’s quick), so finishing this post wasn’t a strain on my personal life.  But my #2 book also happens to be my unofficial #3 and #4 book: the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  It is much longer.  Don’t worry, we’ll still have class next week (wipe those frowns off your faces, my class is fun!!).  I’ll just be improvising my lecture a tad.

Until next time,

Prof. Jeffrey

2 Comments

  1. I hadn’t thought about this until I read your post, but Spring Awakening and A Doll’s House plus others parallel Alice as well (considering teens’ and women’s rights could be considered similar to children’s during the Victorian period).

    • wordsmith2294

      September 1, 2016 at 4:50 pm

      I haven’t actually read (or seen) either, but I definitely see your point. In the same class where I read Alice, I read the novel Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, which had a lot of the same ideas. Victorian rules regarding women caused strain on every character, most notably on a young girl (though not as young as Alice) who strongly resisted the duties she was expected to fulfill. It’s not my favorite literary period, but a lot of the ideas that are discussed and challenged lay the groundwork modernism, which IS my favorite period. Ideas become unstable, society crumbles, and hierarchies are flipped and re-flipped for good measure, and I love every second of it.
      I’m shy and quiet in the real world, but I’m a rebel with literature!

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