Thursday, February 15, 2007

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll


It is a very inconvenient habit of kittens (Alice had once made the remark) that, whatever you say to them, they always purr. "If they would only purr for 'yes,' and mew for 'no,' or any rule of that sort," she had said, "so that one could keep up a conversation!

I love that quote.

I've been hesitating to review this book for several reasons:

1. It's really, really difficult to describe.
2. Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are actually two separate books under one cover. Disney warped my brain. Who knew?
3. Blogger weirdness. All of a sudden the little task bar has shrunk and there are several things I can't do - highlight and change text color, for example. How very annoying.

So, a few comments. Apparently, I'm into lists, today:

1. Lotus is so much better at this. If you want to read a decent review, go to her blog or straight to the entry here.
2. Wikipedia has a really terrific page about Alice in Wonderland.
3. According to the Wikipedia page, Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria loved Alice in Wonderland; Terry Pratchett dislikes Alice. I'm siding with Oscar and Victoria on the first book and lean toward the words "nonsense without evident purpose" on the Looking-Glass portion (in spite of its obvious chess-game setting). But, that may be because I was so well-acquainted with the former, or thought I was.
4. Nonsense really fits me well, actually. I'm pretty much full of it.

Here's what little I know about Alice in Wonderland. The story was first told to a real little girl named Alice and her sisters to entertain them and was later expanded upon and published. I knew that much primarily because I've been to Oxford, England, where the story was created. At the time, I was much more interested in getting a glimpse of the fountain with a statue of Mercury in its center than hearing about Alice because I'd just read and watched Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Vaughn. I got my wish to see the fountain where one of the characters was "dipped in Mercury," and my aging camera picked that day to die. Of all places. So, I didn't manage to get a shot of the shop with Alice memorabilia, although I did take note of it.

In case there is anyone on the planet who isn't familiar with the story (and just happens to drop in), Alice in Wonderland is the tale of a young girl who tumbles into a rabbit hole and discovers a strange world where playing cards come to life, a cat disappears (leaving only his smile behind), and rhymes she's memorized in school come out all wrong . . . and too much else to mention. I have no idea why it took me so long to get around to reading this book, but it's loads of fun. My copy is the version shown above, with the wonderful original illustrations by John Tenniel. I think the fact that the illustrations fit the time period made the book even more enjoyable for me.

Among my favorite of the twisted rhymes is the following bit from You Are Old, Father William:

'You are old', said the youth, 'and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak--
Pray, how did you manage to do it?'

'In my youth,' said his father, 'I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength, which it gave to my jaw
Has lasted the rest of my life.'

Okay, I get that. I've argued a case or two with the husband. Hahaha.

The second book, Through the Looking Glass, tells about the backwards world Alice encounters when she steps through a mirror. Within this world, Alice becomes a part of a chess game. I found this particular story a bit too bizarre, although I still enjoyed it. Wikipedia helped to make a little sense of some of the characters - a man dressed entirely in paper, for example, bore a striking resemblance to prime minister Gladstone. The point of representing these characters in the way the author did is lost on me, unfortunately.

Both stories are very much products of the time period and location in which they were conceived and written, loaded with satire and puns, illustrations of real people, and political stabs. So, it's truly quite amazing that they're still fun to read. But, who wouldn't find it adorable to read about a "mock turtle", the kind you find in mock turtle soup?

I absolutely don't know how to rate this one. I loved the first story and found the second story baffling, but still loaded with great moments of silliness. I think I can't help but give it an excellent rating because it's so utterly clever, a bit like Douglas Adams' Hitchhikers series in that it was all extremely weird but in a wickedly fun way that not just any bloke off the pavement could have come up with. Yes, that's it. I've settled on excellent and I'm happy to have read Alice in Wonderland.

4.5/5

This was my fifth classic of the year, so I've officially finished the Classics Challenge, but I still have several I want to read this year. I'm not done with the Classics, just yet. Also, Alice has been sitting here a while, so the book is another one for the TBR Challenge. Wahoo!

Best moment of the day: Am I turning into a complete wacko? Because it seems a little weird that I've become incredibly enamored of my bird moments. Today, a hawk flew into a tree beside the highway upon which I was driving just after dropping the kiddo off at school. A bluebird whipped past, later. And, I found an Audubon bird guide tucked away in a drawer, thereby enabling me to determine that a bird I photographed in my backyard was a pine warbler. Wacko, wacko bird lover bibliophile chick. Well, so be it. I do adore nature.

Next up: A review of In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Faith Reborn in a POW Camp by Howard and Phyllis Rutledge, which I finished yesterday. And, a description of the totally unexpected, ridiculously romantic thing my husband did for Valentine's Day. Bet you can't wait.

Now wondering:
Salmonella in peanut butter? What is the world coming to? If peanut butter isn't safe, Mom's apple pie is about to become suspect.

Grammar lesson of the day: Always write "female" when describing women in a particular profession. Female astronaut, female senator - not "woman"! You wouldn't call a male astronaut or senator a "man astronaut", right? Okay, just had to get that off my chest.

Are you going to end this post before the next federal holiday? Umm, okay. Yeah. I'll do that. But, the next federal holiday is coming up really soon. Yes, right, I'm done. Have a peachy day, booklovers.

25 comments:

  1. I am like the only person in the world that does not like Alice in Wonderland... Considering how much I like fantasy books, that has always surprised me.

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  2. Kailana,

    Actually, you're not alone. You get to share your distaste with Terry Pratchett, of all people - not bad. :)

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  3. I'm glad you enjoyed Alice, as it's a favourite of mine. I especially enjoy the Jabberwocky and the Walrus and the Carpenter poems. :)

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  4. I never liked Alice in Wonderland (Disney) either. Probably wouldn't want to read the books.

    Are you writing your post in the "edit Html" screen instead of the "compose" screen? The "edit html" screen has a smaller taskbar.

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  5. I haven't read 'Alice' in just about forever. I'm going to have to revisit this one, because I loved it when I was younger. Nice job on the review. And I agree 'Alice' is better than 'Looking Glass'.

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  6. I loved Alice when I read it as a child and again in my 20's. Will have to pick it up and see how it fares in my........uh, never mind. But this time I want more of the backstory.

    And there is nothing whacko about being suddenly completely enamoured of birds. They're gorgeous majestic creatures.

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  7. Sarah,

    Those are the two poems my husband quotes at improbable moments. I think that's one reason I always felt like I had to get to Alice, someday - just to see what those strange rhymes were about!

    Lynne,

    I think I was neutral about the Disney version; didn't love it, didn't hate it.

    Yep, I was in edit mode. Thanks! I didn't think about that. Because I have such a hinky connection, I've lost some posts after a great deal of effort writing them, so I was being hyper-cautious and saving repeatedly as I wrote.

    Kookiejar,

    Thank you. :) I think I might need to do a reread one day; Alice seems worth revisiting.

    Carrie,

    I enjoyed it the first time but I think I'll definitely read up before I reread Alice . . . some day.

    Thank you. I need the "You're not a wacko" reinforcement. I also probably need to quit watching the treetops. I spotted 4 hawks, today. Yep, they're utterly cool - no two ways about it. But, I was driving all four times . . . :)

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  8. I'm in the anti-Alice camp. And I'm a children's literature major. I know, I'm a traitor. I don't know what it is, but I could never love Alice.

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  9. Andi,

    You're not a traitor. I think it's very much a matter of taste, possibly even picking up the book at the right time. As I was reading it, I found myself thinking it was fun but I couldn't imagine the story would float everyone's boat, ya know? It's definitely out there.

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  10. Hi, Nancy!

    What a splendid review! Alice, I think, is one of those books that people either love or hate. All that nonsense (although inspired) can get a little tedious after a while, but because I was busy searching for the hidden meanings it kept me going! :)

    Oh, I, too, loved the "Father William" poem and "Jabberwocky". Carroll was such a clever writer! And all those quotes!!! One day I am going to have to sit down and write down all my favorite Alice quotes - I could perhaps make a whole post out of it.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your reading experience of Alice with us, Nancy. I have enjoyed it!

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  11. Thanks for the great review of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I know very little about either book. Just the basic premise (falling down the rabbit hole, the Queen of Tarts, Mock Turtle, Chesshire Cat, etc.). I've never read either book nor have I watched the Disney movie to the ending. There's just something about the whole tale that scared me off as a kid.

    Ooooh, I can't wait to read about your surprise Valentine's Day!!

    I'm a bird nut myself, but in the city we don't have nearly the variety we did when we lived out in the country. I'll never forgot how excited I was to see a Kingfisher dive into our creek behind the house. It was Christmas morning. Didn't see him again for a whole 'nother year - yep, on Christmas morning. Weird, eh?!

    Guess who ate through an entire jar of that tainted peanut butter?! We didn't get sick, thank goodness. However, now I get to return to unopened jars. Such a nuisance. Nothing's safe anymore!

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  12. I love Alice In Wonderland but Through the Looking Glass gives me a headache. Never really enjoyed book 2. But I love Carroll's poems especially the Jabberwocky.

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  13. Hi Lotus!

    Thanks. I'm glad you liked my review. :) I fretted over it for at least two or three days!

    I think you're correct; people either love or hate Alice. I've yet to read a neutral opinion and I think I would have begun to hate it if I hadn't spread the reading out and balanced other reads at the same time. I did think the author was awfully clever, though!

    Oh, a post of your favorite Alice quotes would be wonderful!!!

    Les,

    I can see how even the Disney Alice could freak out a child. As it was, I felt myself cringing at all that "chop off his head" business. In the book, the king quietly walks up to the condemned and says, "You have been pardoned," (I'm not quoting directly) and I could feel the held breath whooshing out.

    Need to get to that post about what David did - it was so sweet. He's been a bear, today, though.

    Oh, very interesting about your kingfisher! We saw *something* interesting, today - a hawk or other raptor with some blue and orange coloring. I'm looking in my book and leaning toward Cooper's Hawk, but I'm just not sure. It was gorgeous, though.

    Oh, dear! I'm glad the peanut butter didn't make you sick, but doesn't it make you cringe just knowing you got a jar from that lot? Scary. You're right, nothing is safe. I wonder if it's just unsafe handling practices that have caused so much recent trouble.

    Indigo,

    I did kind of feel like I wanted to get Through the Looking Glass over with. And, yet, there were things I loved about it so in the end the cleverness won me over - and, yes, it was mostly those delightful poems. The Walrus and the Carpenter is the one my husband's been quoting for eons. So, it's kind of special to me. :)

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  14. The Tenniel illustrations seem as much a part of the story as the writing.

    Is my memory playing tricks on me, or is Alice In Wonderland Cathy Ames' favorite book? I mean Cathy/Kate from East of Eden. I thought I remembered her reading it as a teenaged girl and her mother chiding her, saying she was "too old".

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  15. Is it too late to join the Chunkster Challenge? I'm coming up with a list on my website.

    Karen

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  16. Bybee,

    I have an extraordinarily fat copy of East of Eden, but I haven't gotten to it, just yet, so I'm ignorant about Cathy Ames and her preferences.

    Lotus actually read a different copy that doesn't have the John Tenniel illustrations. I agree; the original Tenniel work should be preserved along with the story, if only because Tenniel worked with Lewis Carroll and knew exactly what those illustrations were supposed to depict!

    Karen,

    I've added you to the Chunkster Challenge list, no problem! Hope you enjoy the reading of your chunksters!

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  17. I really did not care for Alice in Wonderland, but am liking Through the Looking Glass. Of course, I've only read 10 pages so my feelings could still change.

    I am interested in learning more about Lewis Carroll. He has quite an 'interesting' mind.

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  18. Just lost my comment. It's floating around in the internet goo.

    Congratulations on finishing all five books. I just need to finish Through the Looking Glass and I'll be done. I've been so slow.

    So far I'm enjoying the second Carroll book more than the first. Just the opposite of you. I'm only on page 10 so my opinion could still flip.

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  19. Booklogged,

    I see that I just approved both your missing message and your update. LOL
    Interesting that you're enjoying the second book more! I love that - life would be dull if we all agreed on everything, wouldn't it? I'll have to peek at your blog and see if you've posted your thoughts, in a few days.

    And, thank you! I've enjoyed reading my classics and I'm finished with the challenge but there are still quite a few classics calling out to me, so I'm going to keep reading them!!

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  20. Congrats on finishing the Classics Challenge!

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  21. Alice was the daughter of the current oxford president. Carroll was painfully shy and admired young women from afar. He knew of Alice and her sisters and thus Alice in Wonderland was created. He didn't know how to finish it (thus the terrible ending with the sister) so a few years later he published Through the Looking Glass. Want to see something sad and intresting? Search for Alice Liddle as an adult. Just like in her 20's. She certainly turned into the "red queen."

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  22. Goodness, she did look just like the queen!

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  23. thank you! read it!! You are so fun.
    Also, totally unrelated to AiW but does address your bit about the birds... I just got a hold of some old bird books. Would you be interested? shoot me an email if you want more info.

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  24. Hi Care!

    Thanks. I wrote this review back in the days before I became jaded and dull. I have plenty of bird books, but in case you don't see this, I'll write you an email. :)

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