“Everything’s got a moral, if only you can find it.”
So today I re-read Alice in Wonderland for the Children’s Literature module I’m taking next year. It only took me a couple of hours, because it’s all of 150 pages long, and that’s with pictures and a font size so large you can only get 27 lines to a page.
Brief synopsis: Alice visits a topsy-turvy land where she keeps eating things which make her grow or shrink, where animals talk and where the Queen of Hearts threatens to chop everyone’s heads off on an hourly basis. Then she goes home again.
Seriously, guys, this book is weird. And I don’t mean Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Discworld, British-humour weird. I mean incoherent, LSD, Thomas-Pynchon-without-the-metaphysics weird. It doesn’t really have a plot in the usual sense of the term; what it has is a series of events that happen one after the other without any particular causal sequence. There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it, and, more pertinently, there genuinely doesn’t seem to be a point.
For an English student, who is supposed to be able to find insidious political agendas in literally everything, this is disorienting. Why does the Queen of Hearts play croquet with live hedgehogs and flamingoes? Is there a reason why Alice keeps growing and shrinking? What are those cupboards on the wall of the rabbit-hole down which Alice falls? I don’t know the answers, and I’m beginning to suspect that there aren’t any.
I’m not even convinced that the story’s particularly well-written, which would make up for everything else. It’s very…Victorian, very stiff-upper-lip and matter-of-fact: this happened, and this happened, and nobody reacted at all. Ever. Even when she was falling down a four-thousand-mile pit. And all of the various pieces of nonsense which emerge from various characters mouths are just annoying. (Why is a raven like a writing desk? “I have no idea.” Well, thank you, Lewis Carroll. I will now spend the rest of my life wondering.)
I read somewhere that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is in fact a convoluted satire on the State of Mathematics in 1865 (Carroll being a mathematician in his real life, where he was known as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). I have no idea if this is actually true, but I like to think it is. There’s something about the thought of the many, many misguided homages to Alice over the years having completely missed the point which is very amusing.