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August 15, 2011

Rohit Reviews: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland

My summer binge of books continues unabated, it would seem. Today, I got through Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, or more precisely, Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland, the first of three stories published in the Norton Critical Edition I purchased in my ill-advised book-buying binge some weeks ago. The other two—Through the Looking Glass and The Hunting of the Snark—will have to wait another day, however, as the 99 pages of nonsense provided courtesy of Alice was quite enough for me for one summer.

I chose to pick up Alice in Wonderland last month for several reasons, but none of them were because I was particularly excited to read the book. Children's literature, as you might guess dear readers, is not and was never really my cup of tea. I did, of course, once upon a time read children's literature, given that I had little choice in the matter in my early years; and to this day have fond, if hazy, memories of the Berenstain Bears, Boxcar Children, Hardy Boys, and of course, most stories authored by the prolific Roald Dahl. But before I was ten, I had moved onto Crichton, Grisham, and Clancy—popular and contemporary stories, without doubt, but hardly children's stories. And in high school, college, and beyond, I would abandon contemporary fiction entirely for the classics—a trend from which I have yet to deviate even today.

What compelled me to pick up Alice, then, was a combination of feeling that this was a book I should read given its literary and cultural significance and wanting a change of pace from the melancholy of recent titles such as Interpreter of Maladies and The Idiot. And on those fronts, it did not disappoint—I can now say I have read it, and it certainly was not melancholy. I must admit, however, that ultimately I don't think I really got the book.

While many of the anecdotes were surely familiar, and some of the episodes even amusing (the tea party in Chapter 7 and the trial in Chapters 11–12 I found particularly hilarious), I was left at the end of the book not quite satisfied. Was this it? A few cute ditties (You Are Old, Father William), some (very) memorable characters, and a bunch of total nonsense?

Perhaps I am being unfair. This was and is, after all, a children's story. What was I expecting? Anna Karenina in 99 pages? But then, without the experience of having read this as a child, I am left to wonder whether children, who may very well revel in the nonsense more than I as an adult am able or willing, would get it any better than I did. Some of the logical games that Carroll plays are quite subtle, and I have my doubts that very young children would fully comprehend them. (Then again, I have really no basis to make that assessment; I don't know a damn thing about little kids.)

Regardless of my bewilderment, I'm glad I read this book, if for nothing else, than this quote:

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
That depends a good deal on where you want to get to, said the Cat.
I don't much care where— said Alice.
Then it doesn't matter which way you go, said the Cat.

Talk about a passage summing up one's entire (necessarily futile) existence. Three stars of five.


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