Off With Her Head

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I finally finished a book from my ‘books I need to read list’! It’s a miracle.

 

Apologies for the delay – I read “Alice In Wonderland” a couple of weeks ago but just haven’t found the time to sit down and write the review.

Here’s some information about the book which you may or may not know. Thanks to Wikipedia for providing, as per. Alice in Wonderland was written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pen name of Lewis Carroll, and published in 1865. Seriously. 1865. He wrote it for his friends’ daughter, Alice Liddell, after she asked him to tell her and her sisters a story one lazy sunny afternoon on a boating lake.

 

The plot synopsis goes as follows: Alice is a young girl who falls asleep in the garden one sunny afternoon.  She follows a talking white rabbit down the rabbit hole, finding herself eventually at the bottom and after a small struggle, in Wonderland itself.

I had thought Wonderland (as in the place, not a ‘hip’ contraction of the title) to be quite fun and slightly strange, basing my knowledge on the Disney version, which I last saw a good decade (and possibly a half) ago. The book is very familiar as that adaptation is very faithful to the source material, but I was struck by how scary it is. Alice tastes food and drink which makes her grow and shrink in size. Perhaps when you’re a child that’s where imagination comes in, but to be honest I was a bit worried she’d never get back to her normal size.

I also found the Queen of Hearts and the Cook (as well as the trial at the end) to be less dream-like and more nightmarish. ‘Off with her head’ sounds hilarious until you stop to think about it, and realise it’s actually a petty dictator screaming for the execution of your subjects, who are merely a frightened pack of cards. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

Added to that though, the themes and ideas explored are very adult. Although it’s ostensibly a children’s book, Alice discusses and examines mathematical equations and ponders complex philosophical ideas throughout, based on cognitive understanding and existence. The fact that all of this may or may not take place in her mind, as a dream, adds a whole new level which probably got missed when read as or to a child. I think that’s part of the beauty of it – the story does have many layers and each time you read it, more things emerge. I read some information around the characters and how they’re based on notable people of the time. I won’t bore you with all of the theories now, but suffice it to say that the lizard is apparently Benjamin Disraeli. And the Dodo is Lewis Carroll, who was prone to a stutter and therefore sometimes pronounced his name as Do-Do-Dodgson.

This does rather neatly bring me on to my next point. As it was written nearly one hundred and fifty years ago, some of the in jokes of the day are somewhat lost. Alice spends a lot of time reciting poetry in an attempt to prove that she is still ‘she’ and not someone else. Most of the time she is admonished by whatever creature is listening for not getting the words quite right. This would be funny (or funnier, at least) if I knew what the words were meant to be.

Still, if that’s the only reason I can find for disliking it, it’s doing pretty well.

It was by no means an instant hit, perhaps for reasons I’ve touched on. That aside, the figure of Alice and the cast of anthropomorphic characters that she meets along the way in her Wonderland journey, have entered the collective unconscious the world over. She is instantly recognisable as a blonde haired, blue eyed girl in a blue dress, as is the Mad Hatter, the Queen of Hearts and the Cheshire Cat, among others.  There are literally countless adaptations of the story, found on the big and small screens and even onstage.

Phrases have found their way into our everyday conversation such as the aforementioned ‘Off With Her Head’ along with ‘Curiouser and curiouser’.  The sheer staying power of the story of Alice and the countless adaptations/parodies/slightly creepy spin off merchandise coming from it is testament to the complexity of what appears to be a simple story about a girl having a dream.

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