Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
“This book is over 100 years old, why are you writing a review on this?”
When times become tough, this is the work I always come back to reread. Some people have the Bible, The Harry Potter series, or The Office, but I always reread Alice in Wonderland.
A classic story that stood the test of time, public ridicule, and political oversights, this book remains conversation about curiosity in an ever-growing world. Alice descends into Wonderland, not quite knowing the rules of the world. A drink make her shrink, a cake to make her larger, and a fan to make her shrink again. Physics don’t apply. And since she’s now trapped in this new world, she’s only able to press on to discover more about this fantasy world. Amassed with riddles, puzzles, and challenging logic, Alice in Wonderland opposes and interprets normal societal rules. Through conversation with a Duchess and a mad queen set on chopping everyone’s heads off, we can see this universe that Lewis Carroll had lived in.
When I first read through Alice in Wonderland is still a mystery. Perhaps it’s always been a part of me, but I imagine the characters and places as home, providing comfort in an ever-changing world. When the global pandemic started I said, “I can’t wait to see what’s going to change after all this.” When the protests for George Floyd started I said, “I can’t wait to see what’s going to change after all this.” In my head the words are different, but I keep repeating, “Curiouser and curiouser.” I want to know things. I want to know what other people think. I want to know how one event is going to impact another. I want to be present in a commentary about the growing hostility between the Saami and the Finns during the 18th and 19th centuries. I want to be know what it’s like to be a drifter through Europe between the 5th and 9th century. There is a world of possibilities already made and already known. But for some reason, whenever the future is involved, it seems to frighten people. I think Alice represents the few of those excited for the future and the change that is ahead.
Curiouser and curiouser.
Between the two books (Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass), Alice returns home, realizing this has all been a dream. Many retellings have shown us that the world could be real and travelled to and from, but in the original, it was sadly just a dream every time. Within this dream, she meets a menagerie of characters (Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Queen of Hearts) that still live vibrantly in our literature history today. And even though they’re ever-present, are often invariably misunderstood.
The Mad Hatter is completely insane, but for understandable reasons (mercury in the materials for hats). The Cheshire Cat is always mysterious (disappearing and reappearing in order to hold the logic when she said, “Well! I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,’ thought Alice ‘but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!”). The Queen of Hearts is massively insane (but is most likely a caricature of Queen Victoria mixed with War of the Roses political fanfare).
One thing is for sure about this work. You’ll never truly guess what’s going to happen next (unless you’ve already been acquainted with its content). Words are jumbled, poems that aren’t poems, phrases that never existed, logic that doesn’t make logical sense, and talking animals! What an outrageous thought!
As our world changes again after several years of discontented submission, I believe this work will help us understand that we won’t really know what’s next until we approach it. Maybe we’ll see a tiny door with a beautiful garden on the other side, but we won’t actually get to it until we’re tiny enough for it. Maybe we’ll get swept away by our own sorrows only to meet a rat and caucus race.