Adventures in Bookland: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
A minor disadvantage of growing up as the child of immigrant parents for whom English was not a first language (well, it ranked equal with Sinhala and Tamil for my father), is that there is no familial list of children’s reading classics to go through. I learned to read young, got a library ticket, and was set loose. My reading reflected the magpie tendencies and path following of a child: Enid Blyton (all the Famous Five and Secret Seven, plus the Adventure series); The Wind in the Willows; Dr Doolittle and his many adventures. But it missed out many books that a familial familiarity with English would have presented to me: Winnie-the-Pooh, Narnia, Treasure Island, Middle-earth. Some of these I caught up with as a teenager (there’s no better age to enter Middle-earth for the first time than when you’re fourteen years old), but the others I’ve been working through as an adult. Narnia saw me through my university finals. Nephews and a niece provided the chance to read Winnie-the-Pooh for the first time (the first chapter left me limp upon the sofa, as my nephew tried to figure out why Pooh Bear, hanging from a balloon and attempting to impersonate a small black cloud so that he could raid a hive for honey, should leave his uncle wheezing and unable to move for laughing). Treasure Island was marked out on the map of a fortysomething. And, finally, fifty two year-old me followed Alice down the rabbit hole.
It’s pretty weird down there.
I’d say the book has the logic of dreams, apart from the fact that I have the most boring subconscious known to man. Do you want to know how boring it is? My recurring childhood nightmare was falling from our bathroom window. Do you want to know how boring it is? I’ve dreamed of VAT rates. Do you really want to know how boring it is? When I have sexual dreams, I dream of having sex with my own wife. So, whatever logic the book has, it certainly isn’t the logic of my dreams. But it does make sense: non-sense. And, as such, I was really getting to like it, until I came to the end.
No, no, no, no!
And again, no, no, No, NO!
Lewis Carroll, how could you?
If there is one ending I hate above all others in stories, it’s the and-then-he-woke-up-it-and-it-was-all-a-dream ending. In this case, the he is a she – Alice – and it was all a dream. I mean, why should a homicidal Queen of Hearts be a dream? Let alone a white rabbit, or an alternately elongating and shrinking Alice? All sounds quite sensible to me, particularly a century and a half since first publication (1865). Better for Alice to have been kidnapped by the Cheshire Cat than for it all to have been a dream.
So, Lewis Carroll, aka Charles Dodgson, I ask again, how could you?