This year is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (often known as Alice in Wonderland), and it coincides with the release of the second of Tim Burton’s loose adaptations of Alice’s adventures, this time of Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Alice’s adventures have provided inspiration for loads of writers, film-makers and artists to recast, rewrite and adapt them. From American McGee’s computer games depicting Alice’s Wonderland as a dying land populated by horrific monsters to Tom Waits’ album Alice, there have been so many interpretations that lots of people don’t remember what happened in Lewis Carroll’s original books.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the surreal story of a girl called Alice (thought to be based on a real girl called Alice Liddell) who follows a white rabbit with a pocket watch down a rabbit hole and into a magical world. Wonderland is filled with talking animals, magical potions and, most frightening of all, the terrifying Red Queen and her guards (who are playing cards). We all know the Mad Hatter and his tea party, and the frightening Jabberwock (who both feature heavily in Tim Burton’s re-interpretation) but the Mad Hatter was never named in the book and the poem Jabberwocky, which is the basis for the Jabberwock, only appeared in the sequel, Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.
To describe the bizarre things that happen to Alice across the book would spoil it, but Carroll (real name: Charles Dodgson) was a master of nonsense rhymes and riddles (‘Why is a raven like a writing desk?’) and adventures that manage to confuse and delight in equal measure. Find out what a Caucus-Race is, and learn what happens when you drink from a bottle labelled ‘Drink Me’, and how do you even play croquet with flamingos and hedgehogs, anyway? Will Alice escape the decapitation-obsessed Red Queen with her head intact? I’d say that you’ll find the answers to these questions in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, but Carroll enjoys befuddling readers with answers that don’t really make sense. Like Roald Dahl, Carroll understood how to write for children, carefully treading the line between what would horrify adults and what would amuse children.
People have interpreted Carroll’s books in many ways over the years: as a bad drug trip, a satire on society and a discourse on the philosophy of mathematics. However, like the best stories, Alice continues to delight and provide plenty of food for thought even after a century and a half.
Whether you’ve watched the Disney adaptation (which included parts of both the book and its sequel), are excited about the upcoming Tim Burton film, or just want a story that will twist your brain and fill you with wonder, read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to celebrate the publication of a classic.
If you want more wondrous adventures…
Read the sequel, Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There (NORFOLK HOUSE 823.8), in which Alice climbs into the world behind a mirror, and encounters human versions of chess pieces, twins called Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and a poem about a Walrus and a Carpenter. Carroll certainly managed to make a sequel that lived up to the original, and if anything, it is weirder and more nonsensical than ever!
If you like your Carroll bizarre, watch Czech animator Jan Švankmajer’s animated film Alice (NORFOLK HOUSE 791.433). Beware, though: this adaptation is strange and frightening, even for Wonderland!
You can also read the graphic novel adaptation (QUICK READS 741.5973), an e-book version or listen to an audiobook (NORFOLK HOUSE 823.8).
Learn 10 things you didn’t know about Alice from the Guardian here.
Carroll, Lewis & Robinson, Charles (1907) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Available at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alice%27s_Adventures_in_Wonderland_-_Carroll,_Robinson_-_S001_-_Cover.jpg (downloaded 12/11/15)