Into the Rabbit Hole and Through the Looking Glass

It has been exactly two weeks since I last posted. I did blog last week, over at Speculative Faith; the weeks when you don’t find me here, I’m usually over there. Next week, however, is the CSFF blog tour of Rebels, and I’ll be posting on SpecFaith and my own blog.

In the meantime, I would like to report that I have read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. As with all classics, there’s a sense of accomplishment just in having read it, as if I have now entered a little more fully into the enormous cultural heritage of western civilization. Also, my siblings read the Alice books back in a distant childhood fad, and now I’ve finally caught up with them.

I’ve always known something about Alice in Wonderland. I saw the old Disney movie a number of times – a largely faithful, if highly selective, amalgam of the two books (mostly the first). I’ve heard the quotations: ‘Curiouser and curiouser!’ ‘Sentence first; verdict afterward.’ ‘When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean.’ ‘That’s logic.’

And everyone knows what it means to go through the looking glass.

But there were things I found in the books that were never translated into the movie, or carried through the quotations. One was Lewis Carroll’s puns. Most were amusing, and one was so bad I wouldn’t have known it was a pun if the King of Hearts hadn’t pointed it out.

Another was how Carroll did not merely have nursery rhyme characters in his books, but actually had them act out their rhymes. In fact, the Alice books educated me on nursery rhymes; before reading them, I didn’t know what rhyme was attached to Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and I had never even heard of the rhymes of the Knave of Hearts and the Lion and the Unicorn. (This last, by the way, brought about one of my favorite parts of Through the Looking Glass: The Unicorn expresses surprise over Alice, calling her a “fabulous Monster”, but eventually agrees to believe in her if she will believe in him.)

I also discovered some elements that were odd even for the Wonderland books. The scene with the Sheep, first in the store and then in the rowboat, has an elusive dreamlike quality. I didn’t care for the scene with the Duchess and the Cook; it was full of a kind of inexplicable hostility, as the Cook threw dishes at the Duchess and the Duchess sang a lullaby about beating “[her] boy when he sneezes” to her baby, giving him a shake at the end of every line. And then, bizarrely, the baby turned into a pig.

That notwithstanding, I’m glad I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I doubt there are any other books quite like them – the absurdity of Wonderland and of its citizens, who through it all took themselves quite seriously, the puns and moments of philosophy, the rampaging irrationality – and the sense that only the rational could really enjoy it, because only they could recognize it.