The Mad Hatter, The White Rabbit and a little girl called Alice – three of the many fantastical characters created by Lewis Carroll in his 1865 masterpiece ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, characters loved by generation after generation of children the world over. 2015 is the 150th anniversary of its publication and there are Alice in Wonderland events happening all over the place and a whole new generation is being introduced to the little girl who fell down a rabbit hole and tumbled into another world.
I adored reading Alice in Wonderland as a child. I spent quite a lot time looking for a rabbit hole large enough to fall down because I was convinced I’d have the same adventures if I did and I longed to meet the White Rabbit and the Cheshire Cat. The book manages that magical mix of humour, fantasy and a little bit of fear – would the Queen of Hearts cut off your head? Would you be trapped forever always too big, or too small, to escape from the endless passage and through one of the enticing doors?
Little Alice Liddell was the real-life Alice who inspired Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll was his pen name), to write the novel when she asked him to tell her a story on a boating trip down the Thames in Oxford. Even when I have re-read it as an adult, I have found it entrancing and dream-like. There are so many character and phrases that crop up in modern culture and many plays and films and other books have been made about it or been inspired by it.
Charles Dodgson was an English writer, mathematician, Anglican deacon and photographer. After Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, he wrote Through the Looking-Glass, which includes the poems Jabberwocky and The Hunting of the Snark both wonderful examples of fantastic nonsense!
But is it really a children’s book? The story plays with logic making it as popular with adults as with children. It is one of the best examples of the literary ‘nonsense’ genre popular in the Victorian era, with one of the other most famous ‘nonsense’ writers being Edward Lear, he of ‘Owl and the Pussycat’ fame! Goodness, can you imagine being at a literary lunch with those two authors!
I often find myself thinking of particular ‘Alice’ phrases – I think one of two have even slipped into my own books! Here are a few of my favourites:
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
“If everybody minded their own business, the world would go around a great deal faster than it does.”
“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”
One of the things I loved most about Alice in Wonderland was the illustrations. The version I had featured the beautiful Art Nouveau images created by Arthur Rackham, but the original book featured the work of John Tenniel. Both of their illustrations are stunning and so very ‘of the era’.
And what of the book when it was first published 150 years ago? The entire print run sold out quickly – Alice was a publishing sensation, beloved by children and adults alike. Among its first avid readers were Queen Victoria and the young Oscar Wilde. The book has never been out of print and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been translated into at least 174 languages.
“Couriouser and curiouser,” as Alice would have said!
Did you read it as a child, or an adult? Did you like it? Which was your favourite character? I think I’ve got to choose the White Rabbit!