Friday, April 20, 2012

Revisiting Classics: Alice In Wonderland

I had been vacillating over whether it was worth my purchasing a Kindle.  I tried my wife's Kindle on vacation and found it pleasant enough to use on a plane.  Not sure I really wanted to spend the money on it (being inclined towards frugality in some areas), I was, however, attracted by the Kindle convenience and the huge library of free books.  My lovely and talented wife put an end to my vacillation by giving me one.  Thanks Hon!

So on our most recent overseas trip I put a bunch of free books on my Kindle.  One of them was Alice In Wonderland.  Like many folks I have seen many characterizations of the Alice story, and seen a fair number of movie versions, both animated and populated with actors.  I figured I was long overdue in actually reading the story.

The free versions of classics in the Kindle library sometimes have editing errors and may be missing other elements.  In the case of Alice, it did not have the artwork.  I know many people would claim the book is not the same without the original pen and ink drawings.  I will not contest that view point, but say for my purposes I think I have probably seen all the original artwork over the years splattered here and there.  I did not notice many editing problems in the free Alice.

It was a quick read, and with very few surprises.  The differences between the book and the many characterizations and movies is subtle.  For example I think Alice comes across as less impertinent that in most characterizations, and more like a normal young girl who is not afraid to speak her mind.  One of the more interesting points is the assertion in the forward declaring Alice is just a fun story with no intent to have high morals; it is meant as purely entertainment.  Further the claim is there are plenty of other methods of providing moral teaching in this age (when the book was written) so there is no need to impart any morality training in this story, it is simply meant to be a fun imaginative romp.

The whole whether morality is useful or needed in a children's story like Alice could spawn some lengthy blog posts and much debate.  I'll pass on that.

If there are not morals within Alice, and I am not sure there are not and the Duchess would agree with me,

"Tut, tut, child!" said the Duchess. "Everything's got a moral, if only you can find it."

the book is certainly full of sage advice and lessons to ponder.  For example this famous exchange with the Cheshire Cat:

"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.
"--so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you’re sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."

 Or how about the almost Groucho Marx like follow on exchange with the Cheshire Cat:

"But I don't want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can't help that," said the Cat: "we're all mad here. I'm mad. You're mad."
"How do you know I'm mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn't have come here."

 And what about the bit of philosophical dialog at the tea party:

"Then you should say what you mean," the March Hare went on.
"I do," Alice hastily replied; "at least--at least I mean what I say--that's the same thing, you know."
"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Hatter. "You might just as well say that 'I see what I eat' is the same thing as 'I eat what I see'!"
"You might just as well say," added the March Hare, "that 'I like what I get' is the same thing as 'I get what I like'!"

Even the befuddle King does have a modicum of  common sense:

The White Rabbit put on his spectacles. "Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?" he asked.
"Begin at the beginning," the King said gravely, "and go on till you come to the end: then stop."

The book is literally littered with poking fun at Victorian society and education, and instead favors common sense and imagination.  Just because the book does not take itself too serious does not mean there is not seriously good advice contained within.  Just ask the Libertarian minded Duchess who says:

If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.

Lastly the book ends on a different tone than most characterizations as well.  Alice's sister wakes Alice from her dream, and after sending Alice to her tea muses on Alice's wonderful adventure.  There is no suggestion that this was more than a dream, and no hint that Alice's lively imagination is anything but good.

....she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in the after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of her childhood: and how she would gather about her other little children, and make THEIR eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago: and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days. 

Later this summer I'll have to read Through The Looking-Glass and see if my observations hold in that story as well.

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