I’m working on a lot of things these days. Between two school programs and a novel, ARG plans and work, life is certainly busy enough — but it’s all lots of fun. 🙂
At school I study genre fiction and the evolution of texts in today’s technology-driven world. Though they’re separate programs, much of what I learn in each class overlaps with the others and helps me address my own goals and interests.
One of my favorite classes is a course in which we read and analyze several titles from the fantasy genre to see what its core elements are. The first text we explored was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll. Has anyone else read this recently? I was a little disappointed, actually. Not terribly disappointed; it’s a fun story. But I was somehow expecting more.
Being a big fan of Carroll’s poetry, I assumed I was also a fan of Alice, though admittedly I’d never read her story before. (that’s a pretty big admission coming from a puppet master, I realize). It’s true; I’d only seen the films and TV adaptations, though I had read a few of the poems from the novels. Now that I’ve read the original text, I’m feeling a bit deflated, and I hope someone can help me out. I know there are important layers to this story that I’m missing or failing to appreciate after only one read.
Here is (some of) the paper I submitted for my class. I’d love to know whether others think I’m off the mark. If I am, please pick me back up and put me on track. 🙂
Lewis Carroll is a wonderful poet. Long ago, I memorized “Jabberwocky” just for fun, and I laugh every time I read his version of “Father William.” Those casual fan activities do not make me, however, an expert on Lewis Carroll.
That said, I must admit I did not enjoy Alice’s story as much as I thought I would. While the world he created was funny, interesting, and weird, I kept encountering other problems that lessened my appreciation.
Throughout the story, Alice exhibits what I took to be two important personality flaws: she is passive beyond what can be considered normal, and she is rude to the other characters.
Alice’s passivity can obviously be attributed to the fact that her entire experience is a dream. Few dreamers, after waking, can explain logical motivations for their imagined actions, and I don’t expect them to. However, as a reader, I am expected to go along with Alice’s adventures in Wonderland for a total of twelve chapters, never questioning why she isn’t terrified at being trapped inside a house or why she eats and drinks nearly everything she sees, or why she doesn’t feel the least bit frightened at not knowing her way home. Dreams may be illogical, but action and fear still exist in them.
Her rudeness is another flaw that unfortunately stood out as one of her truly memorable qualities. Time and time again, Alice makes the mistake of frightening animals with talk of her cat hunting them, or with talk of Alice herself cooking and eating their young. This is, of course, a joke from Carroll, who is pointing out the absurdity of the situation. However, it was also an introduction to a protagonist who was impolite to the point of being cruel.
It is important for characters to experience personal growth throughout stories, and so Alice’s flaws seem well placed at the start. She is positioned to learn to take control of her own life, all the while getting a handle on her manners. And yet, I saw very little change in Alice as the story progressed – and then ended abruptly with her waking up. Toward the end of the story, the reader is meant to be surprised that Alice is called to the witness stand (judging from the dramatic break at chapter 11), but Alice readily takes her seat, though she knows “Nothing whatever” about the case.
I do not wish that Carroll had provided us with a heavy-handed lesson on morality; I simply would have liked to see the protagonist gain something from her journey. Her lack of growth left me feeling that the entire adventure had been pointless, which, of course, many dreams are. And yet, I assume upon picking up a book that there is a purpose to the story I am reading, whether it is a dream or not.
This leads me to my other problem with the novel, which was the lack of any logical connection among the various events. Alice simply goes from one location to another, encountering odd creatures and learning strange information, and though some characters reappear later on in the text, none of their stories hold any importance, and none of Alice’s experiences prove useful (apart from her ability to grow and shrink at will, the logical rules of which are completely thrown out the window by the story’s conclusion).
Again, I want to clarify that I like Lewis Carroll, and that I recognized his humor throughout the story. I also understand that the book is meant to be surreal and dreamlike. In this, I believe the author succeeded. Alice’s inability to properly recite any of her lessons felt very true to dreams.
That’s the basic point of what I wrote. I got some feedback in class, but I’d love to hear more from Alice fans (or haters!) about this story.
The next book we’re exploring is Titus Groan, and I’m nearly done with that. So far, I absolutely love it. In fact, it was difficult to make myself put it down to write this blog.
Actually, come to think of it, I need to go. Gormenghast is calling me. 🙂