Alice in Wonderland turned 150 years old this year! Here are seven of the many reasons I believe Alice is worth celebrating with a tea party, an unbirthday party, or at least some of the Queen of Hearts’ jam tarts.
Lewis Carroll, a Victorian, was fond of a little girl named Alice Liddell and told this story to her and her sisters while they were boating on the river. It was meant to engage and delight child audiences, rather than sentimentally moralize .
There are many themes to Alice, but one could be described as the frustration of a little girl trying to make sense of the idioms of the adult world. Think about it—many things we take for granted just don’t make sense. My husband and I are planning to build a house on our road (on the lot next door), and my four-year-old son asked most sincerely “But then how will the cars get by?”
Some time ago I read (I’m sorry I cannot cite the source at this moment) that when Alice was published it was so popular that other writers thought that their books of nonsense stories would also sell, but they were disappointed. Random, chaotic nonsense is not thought-provoking, only exasperating. Alice is not random.
Lewis Carroll is the pseudonym of Charles Dodson, a mathematician who wove his apparent nonsense into a rational and complex story. The sequel, Through the Looking Glass, is based on a chess game.
A bright idea came into Alice’s head. “Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?” she asked.
“Yes, that’s it,” said the Hatter with a sigh: “it’s always tea-time, and we’ve no time to wash the things between whiles.”
“Then you keep moving round, I suppose?” said Alice. “Exactly so,” said the Hatter: “as the things get used up.”
“But what happens when you come to the beginning again?” Alice ventured to ask.
“Suppose we change the subject,” the March Hare interrupted, yawning.
(from The Annotated Alice in Wonderland by Martin Gardner, Wings Books, 1998. p. 99-100)
“I couldn’t afford to learn it,” said the Mock Turtle with a sigh. “I only took the regular course.”
“What was that?” enquired Alice.
“Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,” the Mock Turtle replied; “and then the different branches of Arithmetic—Ambition, Distraction, Uglification and Derision…”
“And how many hours a day did you do lessons?” said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject.
“Ten hours the first day,” said the Mock Turtle: “nine the next, and so on.”
“What a curious plan!” exclaimed Alice.
“That’s the reason they’re called lessons,” the Gryphon remarked: “because they lessen from day to day.”
(from The Annotated Alice in Wonderland by Martin Gardner, Wings Books, 1998. p. 128-9)
Try “Jabberwocky” just for the pleasure of delightful-sounding words that really don’t mean anything, even though the story is easy to follow anyway. Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice provides six pages of explanation for the invented vocabulary of “Jabberwocky.” “The Walrus and the Carpenter” is also delightful. (image from Wikipedia)
Betsy didn’t like the movie, but it worked for me. The book is still better!
(cover images from amazon)