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

Second paragraph of third chapter of Alice in Wonderland:

The first question of course was, how to get dry again: they had a consultation about this, and after a few minutes it seemed quite natural to Alice to find herself talking familiarly with them, as if she had known them all her life. Indeed, she had quite a long argument with the Lory, who at last turned sulky, and would only say, `I am older than you, and must know better’; and this Alice would not allow without knowing how old it was, and, as the Lory positively refused to tell its age, there was no more to be said.

Second paragraph of third chapter of Through the Looking Glass:

However, this was anything but a regular bee: in fact it was an elephant — as Alice soon found out, though the idea quite took her breath away at first. `And what enormous flowers they must be!’ was her next idea. `Something like cottages with the roofs taken off, and stalks put to them — and what quantities of honey they must make! I think I’ll go down and — no, I won’t just yet,’ she went on, checking herself just as she was beginning to run down the hill, and trying to find some excuse for turning shy so suddenly. `It’ll never do to go down among them without a good long branch to brush them away — and what fun it’ll be when they ask me how I like my walk. I shall say — “Oh, I like it well enough — “‘ (here came the favourite little toss of the head), `”only it was so dusty and hot, and the elephants did tease so!”’

Of course, I knew these two books very well at one stage of my life, so this was a case of revisiting an old friend who hasn't changed as much as I have since our last encounter. I was very glad that the Puffin edition that we got for F a long time ago has the original Tenniel illustrations; I can't think of Alice in any other way. (Despite the efforts of, inter alia, Tove Jansson, Salvador Dali and Ralph Steadman.) It was also a nice coincidence to come to it so soon after watching Jane Seymour in her first television role as Alice in an episode of Here Come The Double Deckers.

It's striking just how charming and engaging the story is, despite the fact that it makes very little sense. Any child can identify with Alice; for the time of writing, there’s surprisingly little gendering of her behaviour and attributes. The stories explore some quite deep questions of logic and language, which may be lost on many readers but still make some think. Through the Looking Glass is better structured as a story, thanks to the framing chess game, but that may actually work to its own detriment; there’s something charmingly spontaneous about Wonderland. Anyway, very interesting to retread both after many years.

I had thought of getting hold of Martin Gardner’s Annotated Alice, which I read as a teenager, before writing this up, but it’s actually quite expensive!

Alice came to the top of my reading list as the book in my catalogue with most LibraryThing owners that I had not yet reviewed online (not counting Watership Down, which I am currently reading at a chapter a week). The Count of Monte Cristo has just nipped ahead of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to be next in the list.

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