Sunday, February 17, 2013

Review: Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

When I first read about Alice's adventures in Wonderland I closed the book in complete bewilderment because I just didn't understand what made it so popular and gave it such staying power. There was no plot, the story was utter nonsense, the characters were beyond strange and to top it all off the whole thing was a dream. Needless to say I didn't pick up Through the Looking Glass.
Fast forward to last week when I was supposed to read both books for a course I'm taking on fantasy and science fiction. Upon first reviewing the syllabus I gave an inward groan, but when time came to read I had to bite the bullet. Alice in Wonderland was first up and it was still nonsense, there was still no plot and the characters were still strange, but now approaching it from an academic standpoint and knowing that the whole thing is a dream I was able to enjoy it much more. I noticed things such as clever play on words and tried to guess if the strange animals were symbolic of real-life people who real-life Alice would be able to recognize and would delight in, as children tend to do when they solve a riddle. I also kept noticing things that would appeal to adults and children on different levels and for different reasons, which reminded me of the Shrek cartoons. And so having had a decent experience with Alice in Wonderland I cheerfully moved on to Through the Looking Glass.
What a transformation the storytelling and the characters underwent between these two books! While in Wonderland, which is referred to as Nursery Alice, it was all about adventure and emotion, which younger children can understand and relate to easily, and in Through the Looking Glass there is an actual plot, things make sense so much more, and characters don't appear and disappear in completely random ways. These changes alone would've been a sufficient enough upgrade for me, but then I looked at the larger picture of cards vs. chess, read some of the poems out loud, googled a few things and decided that Surprise! this one I actually did enjoy. I even have a favorite rhyme:
"In spring, when woods are getting green
I'll try and tell you what I mean.
In summer, when the days are long,
Perhaps you'll understand the song.
In autumn, when the leaves are brown
Take pen and ink, and write it down."
Lewis Carroll really was a very clever man.
I think the next step would be to get my hands on the audio books and listen to them since having read them on the page I've become quite convinced that they were meant to be read aloud. They are children's stories after all.

P.S. If you are waiting for me to say something about how Disney has taken far too many liberties with Lewis Carroll's creation you'll be disappointed, for I enjoyed the Tim Burton's Alice quite a bit (although Anne Hathaway's jet-black eyebrows were incredibly distracting when compared with her general whiteness).


  1. I'm one of those apparently rare people who loathed Alice in Wonderland with a passion when I read it, aged 8. It wasn't "right" in some strange way. I've never read Through the Looking Glass either though I've been encouraged too.

  2. I still wouldn't necessarily recommend Alice in Wonderland but I would read Through the Looking Glass again. Who knows, you might not hate it if you gave it a chance now!