Sunday, January 11, 2009

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass

It's been a long time since I've read these two works, but our monthly Biblioholics Anonymous meeting is next week and this is our first selection for 2009.

The first time I read Lewis Carroll was my first year teaching A.P. English, about twelve years ago. At that time it was merely a book that some of my students were going to do a presentation on, and I didn't think much of Alice and Looking-Glass at the time. They were quaintly absurdist and clever, yet frankly I found myself more smitten with John Tenniel's illustrations than with the "story" itself.

But it's amazing how years and reading experience can change your opinion of a book.

Having immersed myself in more mainstream Victorian literature for the past four years thru my Newberry classes, I can only imagine how innovative the Alice books must have been upon their publication. Although they were considered children's books at the time, each book is replete with social commentary on Victorian-era education, social values and mores, taboos, and authority figures. The puns and wordplay -- not to mention the poems and illustrations -- must have made for fantastic fun amongst readers who were used to the likes of Dickens, Thackeray, and Trollope.

I don't know too much about the development of children's literature, so I am unfamiliar with the extent to which the Alice books maintained or introduced conventions of children's literature. But the matter-of-fact tone Carroll conveys when introducing absurd situations is something I've noticed in Tolkien's The Hobbit or the stories of A.A. Milne, and I wonder if that is a convention of children's literature that started with Alice. I'll have to look into that.

It was fun re-reading this twelve years and dozens of 19th century novels later. Very enjoyable!

1 comment:

James said...

This is one of my all-time favorites. I read it as a young boy and have reread it every few years finding that my appreciation and views change and it has become an "adult" book.