Never imagine yourself to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to them to be otherwise.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Pg.79
After perusing the exhibition at The British Library in celebration of 150 years of Alice in Wonderland, I came to the horrifying realisation that I had never read Alice as a child (at least, I have no recollection of it). It was with regret that my only familiarity with the story actually came from Disney! As I was leaving the exhibition I popped into The British Library shop and snapped up a copy of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s novel and started reading straight away.
I was immediately drawn into the rabbit-hole that Alice unsuspectingly falls into as she is following the white rabbit in her dream-like imaginings, and in just a couple of sittings had read both Alice’s Adventures and Through the Looking Glass with nothing but a sense of enjoyment. Lewis Carroll had me laughing out-loud at some of the ridiculously over-wrought and confusing sentences (like the one quoted above) and then drew me in, pensively, to some of the profound words of wisdom I found there. Oh, how I wish I had read Alice In Wonderland as a child, there are so many things to learn in this wonderful story about self-acceptance and the uselessness of worrying over the past!
‘[…] it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then’.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Pg.90
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass both have a tremendously impressive line-up of characters. From the White Rabbit who, dressed in a waist-coat, is constantly checking his pocket-watch in a rush, the Mad Hatter who is just that – ‘mad’, the moralising Duchess, the grinning Cheshire Cat who can disappear at whim, the Hookah-smoking Caterpillar, the Gryphon, the Mock Turtle and the ruthless Queen of Hearts whose favourite phrase is ‘Off with their head!’, there is a colourful array of characters that are entertaining and unforgettable. Despite no seemingly clear plot, Carroll’s story revels in the chaos of this imaginary Wonderland and the events that occur as a result. However, Alice as a leading character – and a child no less – was the real star of this narrative. Defying the expected image of a young female in Victorian England, Alice is instead curious and unafraid to ask questions or disagree with her elders. She is a strong and confident person who isn’t discouraged by other’s opinions of her.
‘When we were little,’ the Mock Turtle went on at last, more calmly, though still sobbing a little now and then, ‘we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle – we used to call him Tortoise – ‘
‘Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?’ Alice asked.
‘We called him Tortoise because he taught us,’ said the Mock Turtle angrily. ‘Really you are very dull!’
‘You ought to be ashamed of yourself for asking such a simple question,’ added the Gryphon.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Pg.82
Following on in a similar vein to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass follows Alice’s journey in this surreal and dream-like world where anything is possible. However, instead of falling down a rabbit hole, Alice finds her way to this other world though a mirror. As she passes through the looking glass in the living room of her house, she finds herself in an exact replica except that everything is the inverse of what she is used to.
In some ways Through The Looking Glass is a bit darker than Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and has been described as such by some critics. One interpretation is that the first story chronicles the 12 daylight hours, whilst the second story concerns itself with the nighttime. There is a sense, in Through the Looking Glass, of an impending darkness about to engulf Alice and the colourful characters of this latter story. Alice constantly seems to be racing against the clock to complete a confusing game of chess to be crowned Queen and this could be the inevitable night that is about to fall. However, these dark undertones are often fleeting; what matters more is Carroll’s striking ability to entertain the reader. From giving animals voices to changing recognisable nursery rhymes of the time and including many pictures to engage the reader, Carroll is a master of children’s literature.
‘There’s no use trying’, she said: ‘one ca’n’t believe impossible things’.
‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice’, said the Queen. ‘When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast’.
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, Pg.175