Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland" and "Through The Looking Glass" By Lewis Carroll

Our initial memories of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures In Wonderland come from the 1951 Disney film, which combines elements of Wonderland and his often overlooked sequel, Through The Looking Glass. While the movie is fascinating... and I'm referring to the 1951 Disney film and NOT the 2010 edition that was obviously meant to put Johnny Depp in the spotlight as the Mad Hatter... the original novel is quite a fascinating piece with a fascinating concept.

In Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, We begin with Alice in the park, paying an ordinary visit with her sister, when she comes across a rabbit who is in a rush and heads down a rabbit hole. Curious, Alice chooses to follow him, tumbles down, and realizes she's about to take part in a wild adventure. When she's down in the hole, she comes across a door that is larger than she, so she has to find a way to shrink to its size. She relies on a potion that says "drink me." We see that her organization and timing is off, because by the time she shrinks down, she realizes the door is locked and the key is out of her tiny reach. Growing and shrinking become quite the common trend for Alice as the story begins.

Her adventures start with overseeing a completely disorganized race by a group of dodos (as in dodo birds, but Carroll could very well be hinting at something else, too) where they plan to decide on a leader through a physical race... a race that features them running into circles. After Alice scares them off, she comes across the caterpillar, the pig and Pepper, and one of the more memorable characters... The Cheshire Cat. This cat has a different thinking, as it growls when it's happy and wags when it's not, and assures Alice that everyone in Wonderland is "mad," because Wonderland is in fact a land filled with madness. As he vanishes, he only leaves a grin behind, adding to the contrast of how life flows in society. The Mad Hatter's Tea Party is next, where Alice engages in an event with guests such as the eccentric Hatter, the tired, often sleeping Dormouse, and the March Hare, who engage riddles that make absolutely no sense and Alice leaves departing on a bitter note. The Mad Hatter has often been explained as a victim of mercury poisoning to the head, common in Britain during that era.

Next, Alice takes part in a game of croquet with the Queen Of Hearts, who demands that anyone who bothers her in some way, shape, or form be beheaded, which is where "off with his head" originates. In the game of croquet with the queen, flamingos are mallets, while hedgehogs are balls. Alice pays a visit to the always miserable mock turtle, who tells his story, before being brought to court as a witness to the Knave of Hearts being accused of theft of tarts. To wrap things up, Alice starts growing larger and larger, allegedly a crime in Wonderland, before finally seeing the royalty as what they really are... a pack of cards. She throws them like they're as worthy as products in a game of fifty-two pick up before being awoken by her sister. From there, her visit to the park continues.

Through The Looking Glass is the highly overlooked sequel to Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, as if anything, the two are often combined. One such element is that of Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the stout twins that look like downers. After reciting a poem, they direct her throughout this land through the looking glass, which is set up like a game of chess, which is contrasting to the notion of the book it succeeds. While she doesn't meet as many memorable figures in this book, she does meet Humpty Dumpty, who tells his story AND tells of his "un-birthday," something he celebrates on everyday it is not his birthday, which adds to the madness that Wonderland has to bring. While Alice admits she prefers birthdays, Humpty Dumpty reminds her that celebrating "un-birthdays" means that you celebrate them every other day of the year. The story sums up in a very similar fashion that the original ends, which is Alice confronting the queen before shaking her like she lost a game of chess. The king was put into "checkmate" and Alice returns home.

The ending leaves us with a notion of the meaning of life, which is Lewis Carroll's intended goal when writing his two books. It provides us with a realistic land of fiction and a fictional land of reality and which is which is the question at hand. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland is depicted as being a satire on the British government and examples such as the Mad Hatter being a subject of mercury poisoning (which would come from wearing a hat and go through the head) are evident. Looking deeper into the subject, however, we also have a story of the ridicules of life and how life is so misunderstood. We may question the practices in Wonderland, such as how the Dodos determine authority, how the Cheshire Cat functions, what the Mad Hatter discusses at his tea parties, how the Queen of Hearts plays croquet, and how Humpty Dumpty celebrates "un-birthdays," but how about questioning our own practices as well? What is the meaning behind voting for people who are often unqualified, why do we discuss what we discuss, even if it may not make sense, what's the purpose behind some of the games we play, and why do we celebrate birthdays? We may think the answers are simple, but how about someone else from the other side.

Alice represents an interference between two worlds, which is allegedly someone from reality seeking a world of imagination. What makes the story excellent is that what she comes across is so ridiculous and thinks in such an odd fashion that only a skilled psychiatrist would be able to confirm that there is logic and sanity behind their thinking. Yet at the same time, we are led to believe that there is in fact a method to their madness and that this is how things were meant to be. That the sleeping Red King was in fact the center of the story and he was dreaming of a girl exploring his land.

Alice's Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass are meant to be a children's story, but with a very dark meaning behind it. It's meant to be about British government and/or the meaning of logic. I would highly recommend this book and then if you find the opportunity and you don't own as many books as I do, read both of them again. It may take awhile to find the meaning behind the psychosis of each of the characters.

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