Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll

Photo: Annie Leibovitz for Vogue

Here one of the guinea-pigs cheered, and was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court.  (As that is rather a hard word, I will just explain to you how it was done.  They had a large canvas bag, which tied up at the mouth with strings: into this they slipped the guinea-pig, head first, and then sat upon it.)

“I’m glad I’ve seen that done,” thought Alice.  “I’ve so often read in the newspapers, at the end of trials, ‘There was some attempt at applause, which was immediately suppressed by the officers of the court,’ and I never understood what it meant till now.”

Clever?  Yes.  Charming?  Certainly.  Genius?  Well . . .

Charles Dodgson published his children’s story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll in 1865.  It quickly gained popularity and was praised by everyone from the young girls for whom he originally wrote the story to Queen Victoria.  Carroll despised the fame he gained from his story, despite the novelist Sir Walter Besant calling it “a book of that extremely rare kind which will belong to all the generations to come until the language becomes obsolete.”  Today there are hundreds of screen and stage adaptions, books inspired by his story, and even a theme park ride.  But after finally reading it for the first time, I can’t help wondering what all the fuss is about.

In the story our young heroine, Alice, follows a rabbit down his rabbit hole and finds herself in the most curious world.  Woodland creatures are talking to her, she rapidly grows and shrinks, and she can’t quite seem to remember how everything used to be.   The book is written in a dreamlike state of mind, so there isn’t any plot or goal.  It just follows Alice as she wanders through Wonderland meeting strange creatures, attending garden parties, and getting dragged into court cases.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually loved the book, but it did not stand apart from the many other great children’s stories I’ve read.  It is quirky and funny with just enough mystery and danger to capture children’s imaginations but not so much that it will scar them for life.  There is clever wordplay and interesting characters.  It was absolutely delightful to read.  Just not genius.  If you’ve never read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, you definitely should.  It has become part of our culture, and you will appreciate all of the adaptions, offshoots, and references so much more.  And you will enjoy reading it.  You really will.  Just . . . don’t expect too much.

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