Thoughts on Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice’ books

aiw and ttlg

I actually finished reading these two over a week ago, but have only just got around to posting anything about them. Now, it may seem strange that I have been reading two children’s books, but they are two that I’ve wanted to read for quite a while and have never had the chance before now due in part to never owning copies. Also, having lived in Oxford- the home of Alice and the home of a rather quaint shop selling nothing but Alice memorabilia- I feel that I sort of have a duty to read them.

I know the story of the first from the Disney cartoon from 1951, and simply adored the 2010 live action version despite the plot alterations and the more radical mash-up of the two stories, but was actually rather surprised by just how many famous sections of the Disney film are taken from ‘Through the Looking Glass’- for instance, the talking flowers and Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I was also pleasantly surprised by how good the two books are, and reminded again that children’s books in the 19th century were actually far more intellectual and difficult than they are now, which is no bad thing, but which is a sad state for current children’s literature. Honestly, I don’t think that I could pick a favourite out of the two, but I did find ‘Through the Looking Glass’ a tad dragging in places due to the exasperating amount of discussions between the Queens over the logic of their conversations and the laborious actions of the White Knight. In contrast, the wordplay by the Gryphon in ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ is truly brilliant, and the story in this one for me is a lot tighter. I don’t know if that is just because it is more familiar, though. ‘Through the Looking Glass’ also has the added bonus of containing the poem ‘Jabberwocky’, which I had forgotten was such a good piece of writing.

I am glad that I read these two books, as they are perhaps the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time (and made such a refreshing change from the not long finished ‘Ulysses’, which is still casting an unhealthy shadow over me several months after completing it). It has also made me realise just how many other books have been inspired by Carroll’s (or should I really say Dodgson’s) use of nonsense and the concept of a journey by a central character, on which they meet a number of strange characters. One of the most obvious such books is ‘The Phantom Tollbooth’ by Norton Juster. I have read this, but long now to read it again, and hope to get a copy soon so as I can. Looking at Wikipedia, there are a vast number of books using the world of Alice and similar characters or settings, but I find those like the aforementioned ‘…Tollbooth’ the most interesting due to not attempting to align themselves with Carroll’s work whilst still retaining that seed and element. Interestingly, Wiki also says that Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ also contains several references, but… I don’t fancy reading it to find out… I do, fancy writing my own Alice-esque novel off the back of my reading, however, and so may have to get thinking…

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