The reason for choosing to read what is often seen as a children’s book by Lewis Carroll was firstly to read the text free of the film version confusion and secondly to remind myself of the book I have not read since being a child.
On the first point there are differences between the book and the film versions, I’m thinking of the Disney version here mainly, with the book being much more episodic and short and based in far fewer locations than you might imagine.
On the second it made me realise that although when I read it as a child we were being told to keep a look out for mathematical and historical references (the mad hatter being mad because of lead poisoning as an example) it is possible to read it and enjoy it as a story of the power of childhood imagination.
Alice falls into a dream after noticing a white rabbit hopping by and in her dream state she follows the rabbit down a hole that falls for a long time. At the bottom there are doors, mostly locked except one small door looking onto a garden, and a table with a bottle marked ‘drink me’. This drink shrinks Alice who then spends sometime regretting that she did not remember the key. Once she finally manages to get to the right size she encounters several characters including a hookah smoking caterpillar, a mock turtle and a Cheshire Cat. But what continues to be a theme is the white rabbit who finally reappears with the queen and the king in their kingdom of playing cards. A game of croquet with hedgehogs and flamingos is broken up by threats of mass executions. A final court scene is broken up by Alice growing back to her normal size and then as the playing cards attack her she wakes to tell her sister all about it.
Is it well written?
From a style point of view what you have to admire is the ability to keep a dream state going without constantly reminding the reader that Alice is dreaming. This is done primarily through the confusing use of language and the constant disorientation Alice experiences in both size and her interaction with the animals she encounters. If you put to onside the search for some deeper hidden meaning and appreciate the power of imagination then this is a work of inspiration as well as enjoyment. The slight problem for an adult reader is the stigma attached by reading a ‘child’s book’ but then as Harry Potter and Curious Incident of the Dog… have proved it is quite acceptable to read a title aimed in principle at a younger reader.
Should it be read?
It is the sort of book that gets read at school then forgotten and lost underneath the interpretations of the films, both cartoon and acted, that add to the excesses of the story. This is part of the Penguin Red series, which are short but important works the publisher has decided to brand for an adult readership. It deserves to be read by anyone who can look back and remember the dreams they had as children and appreciate the power of imagination that although strong in children sadly rarely flickers into life again this strongly except in the pages of the fiction written by Carroll and J.M Barrie.
Alice falls into a dream populated by white rabbits, mad hatters and an execution hungry Queen but wakes with a memory that will live with her forever
Version read – Penguin paperback Red Edition