Monday, April 21, 2008

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking- Glass by Lewis Carroll

I'm not quite sure how it happened that I'd never read Alice in Wonderland before. You would think that it would be required reading in our public schools. And, lest you think I simply skipped that assignment, I can think of only one assigned book that I neglected to read while in high school, and sadly, that honor goes to Crime and Punishment - so sorry Mr. Dostoevsky, but I just couldn't get through it. But back to Alice and her many adventures. I've seen the Disney movie dozens and dozens of times - it was one of my favorites when I was a child. I especially loved the Cheshire cat, who in the book isn't quite as ruthless as he was portrayed in film. If you've never read either story, they really are something. I thought the nonsensicalness (I was certain that couldn't be a word, but spellcheck assures me that it is) would be annoying, but I didn't find it to be so.
The edition I have contains both books and the original illustrations by John Tenniel - which are something in and of themselves. First, I'll take a look at Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It starts off with a particularly spectacular poem.
...And ever, as the story drained
The wells of fancy dry,
And faintly strove that weary one
To put the subject by,
"The rest next time - " "It is next time!"
The happy voices cry.
Ahhh....sweet words to anyone who reads aloud to their children. And so it begins, this tale of Alice, a bright and inquisitive young girl (who, too, isn't quite as annoying as the Disney folks would have us believe) and her dreamy trip down the rabbit hole. One thing that struck me as I was reading was that it doesn't read like a novel. It's more like a collection of short stories that happen to be about the same girl. Within each 'story' she meets new characters, each one a little more odd than the last. Well, maybe none quite so odd as the Duchess with her pig baby, but still. As a whole it was loads of fun. Simple and sweet, with some terrific poetry thrown in to boot.
Through the Looking-Glass was not what I was expecting. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. It's not so much that I didn't care for it, but I think more that I read it on the heels of Alice's Adventures, and I think by then I was getting a bit tired of the absurdity of the environment and characters. While perhaps more interesting, I didn't enjoy the characters Alice met in this other-world nearly as much as those of Wonderland. Perhaps it was because more of the Wonderland characters had been immortalized in my mind as a child by Walt Disney. I can't really say. All I know is that by the end, I was ready to be done with it. Smushed (not a word, but I feel it should be) together in one installment, I'd give them 3 1/2 stars out of 5, but as a stand-alone, Wonderland ranks up in the 4 1/2 range.