Down the rabbit hole

While lieing in bed over Christmas, recovering from swine flu, I returned to a childhood favourite, ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. Going back to this story, however, published in 1865, I was left asking myself if it was actually a childhood favourite?

I certainly had vivid images in my mind of John Tenniel’s illustrations of the rabbit and of Alice, of the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter’s tea party, Humpty Dumpty and Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

But had I actually read it all the way through? Although the eccentric characters stood out like blazes, my recollection of the plot was hazy. I had a vague memory of attempting to read it as a child, but not really getting into the story, finding it a bit slow-moving. The story just didn’t capture my young, fervid imagination like THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE or any of Roald Dahl’s hilariously imaginative romps.

Reading it now was an unexpected treat. I felt I could appreciate the story fully, in a way I never did or indeed could not have done as a child. The pictures, the images that stuck so fast when the story was read to me by my parents (I’ve now decided that must have been what happened) and that I then spent hours looking at, flared up again as I read the text – a 2001 Bloomsbury edition with lively illustrations from Mervyn Peake and an erudite, if turgid introduction by Will Self. I consider myself to have a reasonable vocabulary, but I needed a dictionary to hand when reading Self’s intro – 20 words I looked up – 20! Just to be sure. It was, however, a salutary exercise in vocabulary building.

Anyway. I loved the story this time round. Lewis Carroll has a wonderfully seductive voice and pulls you into an eccentric, utterly English world of wit, close-cut green lawns, hedges, tempers, tea, cakes, queens and kings and funny creatures. I was reminded of J K Rowling, C S Lewis and E M Forster (cf Forster’s short story: ‘The Celestial Omnibus’).

And, rather shockingly, I discovered, upon finishing ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and moving on to THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, that half of the characters I thought were in the former, were actually in the latter (the Tweedles and Humpty-Dumpty for starters).

Did you enjoy the Alice books as a child?  Have you come back to them as an adult and found it was an equally enjoyable, if startling, rediscovery?

Now I look forward to watching Tim Burton’s film adaptation.

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3 Responses to “Down the rabbit hole”

  1. Anna Says:

    I think one of the best anticipations of having children are all the wonderful books you’ll revisit. I can’t wait to read some of the old classics again, Goonight Mr Tom, The Secret Garden, and Alice in Wonderland of course. Some of the elements of Alice are quite trippy – maybe quite literally: isn’t there a suggestion that the things she eats are magic mushrooms, and what about the potion she drinks, which changes her size?
    It’s also difficult to recall the written story in contrast to the Walt Disney cartoon – they feel quite blurred in my memory, at least.

  2. emily Says:

    Indeed! And yes … v trippy. It reeks of mind-altering substances.

  3. Anna Says:

    I realised the other day just how mixed up I’d gotten the book and the disney cartoon. Taking part in a pub quizz I ws certain that it was the dormouse who sang “Tinkle twinkle little bat” to find that it was in the cartoon, but the Mad Hatter sings it in the book!
    And strangely soon afterwards I saw the new Tim Burton film, more inspired by Lewis Caroll’s work than an adaptation of “Alice”. Wasn’t bad, none the less, made me want to read the Jabberwocky poem again!

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