by Lewis Carroll




Alice Stories
Cover by Mervyn Peake

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Sitting next to me is an omnibus edition of two novels originally published in 1865 and 1871.  Neither book has been out of print since they were initially published, so my task, to write a review of them, seems rather pointless.  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There are well known to all and sundry and articles, books and courses have all dealt extensively with what Lewis Carroll wrote in them.

Except, of course, most people who think they are familiar with the books are not.  They are probably more familiar with the Walt Disney film “Alice in Wonderland,” which combined the two novels into one semi-coherent story (coherence is not highly valued in the world of Carroll’s novels), although Disney did remain true to what Carroll wrote.  Similarly, the images one associates with Carroll’s work is either the animations of Disney or the ink drawings by John Tenniel, which illustrated the first (and many subsequent) editions.  The current volume in questions is illustrated by Mervyn Peake, whose own sense of the absurd ranked with Lewis Carroll’s own.

The stories, of course, follow a young Victorian girl, Alice, as she explores worlds which seem utterly nonsensical, but to which Carroll has brought his mathematician's mind and had its own logic.  The first book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, is loosely based on a game of cards while the basis for Through the Looking Glass is a game of chess.  Against these logical backdrops, Carroll delights in a wide variety of wordplay.  Although Carroll, like his Humpty Dumpty, was very careful in his selection of words, he was also very much aware of how those words could be misinterpreted and played with that misinterpretation.

Although both of the novels are ostensibly children's books, most of the more clever details of the books can only be fully appreciated by adults and that is one of the reasons these books have managed to survive for nearly a century and a half.  At the same time, readers who enjoy linearity in their plots and strong characterization may find the novels a bit light, and those whose sense of the absurd is stilted will find them inane.  However, Carroll does have a method to his madness and the result is a set of books which not only entertain, but also make the reader think about the relationship of words/symbols to reality.

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