Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Book Review: Alice in Wonderland/ Through the Looking-Glass, by Lewis Carroll

I adore this book, which surprises me because much of it doesn’t have a real goal or plot, and usually that sort of thing looses my attention so quickly. Instead I discovered that the word-plays on each page kept me endlessly amused, and the non-sensical rules of the Wonderland world are so cleverly counter-productive that they almost make sense. In the words of Alice (after the "Jabberwocky” poem, which is- according to many critics and I would agree with them- the greatest nonsense poem written): “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas- only I don’t know what they are!” Beneath all the strangeness, there’s a treasure trove full of meaning, if you just know how to look for it.
I may be reading far too much into this, but I found it curious that Dodgson stayed so clearly away from anything religious in this work (I am not sure about others- I haven’t read anything else by him, so I can’t say). The reason I found this so curious was because Dodgson’s father was actually a clergyman, and Dodgson himself attended college pursing a religious degree. Eventually he became clergyman, too. So one would think that his work might, if not point to something Christian, at least elude to it. Contrariwise, there isn’t a thimble of anything like that to be found, unless I have missed it? I once heard (from a debatable source) Alice’s near-drowning in her own tears described as a “baptism” but I find this difficult to believe in the context and also in light of the lack of other evidence to support this claim. In fact, I think there is evidence to support that Dodgson avoided Biblical references on purpose, but I could be wrong, of course. When Dodgson wrote Alice, he wanted an artist to illustrate his book even though he had drawn up some of his own illustrations. He felt someone professional could do it better, so he hired Tenniel. Tenniel appears to have worked closely enough with Dodgson that he followed Dodgson’s instructions for each piece and Dodgson frequently critiqued Tenniel’s work. According to some notes made on the text, there were even several illustrations that Dodgson had Tenniel do over for various reasons. In one of these pieces, the illustration depicts chesspieces, one of which is the pope, holding a newspaper. This may be significant in that it shows how Dodgson views men of the church, or at least a lack of respect for church leaders. Again, it’s possible that I am wrong, but it is rather odd that Dodgson would request this, or even if Tenniel drew it himself that Dodgson would not scrutinize it or ask Tenniel remove it.
I am also well aware of the speculations surrounding Dodgson and the real Alice Liddell, but beyond that are a great many things that appeal to children in this story and spark the grown-up child of adults, too. It is interesting that Alice feels she cannot control anything about herself throughout the stories, yet it is the scatter-brained adults who supposedly can. Remember, this is all from Alice’s perspective. To her eyes, everything should be one way, but contrariwise, it ain’t. Did not we, as children, have a view of the world that we felt our peers could not possibly see? And did we not become so terribly frustrated with their control over us at times? The book was written for children, and I think it appeals to them in a different way that it would to an adult. As a child, often times you did not understand everything around you, and yet you accepted it- I think that is a huge part of understanding this book. The logic of this world makes little sense, but Alice is again and again faced with the decision of whether or not she will accept it. There are rules given to us even as adults that feel ridiculous, and we must decide how we will react to them daily. Will we take it out on someone else, or will we look to Christ as devotedly as Alice looks up to the Queen in Through the Looking-Glass? (I'm talking about the Queen in the book, not the movie versions.)
The puns and word-plays are witty and sharp, sometimes referring to things that are inside-jokes with the Liddell children, thus leaving us a vaguely out of the loop but the meaning as a whole is usually grasped with little trouble. These word-plays are actually my favorite parts of the book, as they are something over which I puzzled over at times, or even giggled (outloud, a few times). It’s generally a work which requires you to think, but not think too hard. Sometimes the characters say things that make you just want to roll your eyes, but mostly you are captured by their silly, illogical seriousness.
This is such a nice, relaxing, trouble-less book that I think it is perfect to read during a summertime vacation. It is best enjoyed in a golden afternoon on a soft grassy bank. Sometimes, nonsense is just what one needs to relax and banish all the overly-thought-out problems in the world. And other times, you can find the sense in nonsense if you know how to look for it…

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