I can’t even remember why, but for some reason recently I had a desire to read Lewis Carroll‘s Alice in Wonderland. I pulled up a copy of the e-text from Project Gutenberg. I hadn’t read the little volume in years. How had it become a classic piece of literature? From all I could remember as a pre-teen it was dreadfully boring and strange.
Surprisingly, I found myself enthralled. Carroll wrote in a fashion that seems so familiar to us today but which would have been so foreign to the style of so much in print at that time. The fantastic illogic of his writings are something we have come to expect with out abstract artists and post-modern writers, but at that time it must have been stunningly new, fresh, and bold. I must note that I am not a fan of much of post-modern writing or abstract art. I tried Donald Barthelme‘s The Dead Father, I really did – but gave up. Perhaps it has worth, but not to me. Nor has my appreciation for many pieces of abstract or contemporary art increased. Carroll walks into this world but mains a sense even in the fantastical that makes his work readable and meaningful. The light humor contained throughout and the wonderful rhythm and pace of the story keeps one going.
Carroll wrote the volumes for children, but I think one must have an adult to read the volumes. It is only when one inflects as one can expect Carroll would have inflected, pause as Carroll paused, and emphasize as he would have emphasized that a child can begin to understand the hilarity and craziness of the Wonderland world.
So, go take a read. The entire first volume is less than 50 pages long. You can get it for free online or go to a local library. Its amazingly fresh. Spark Notes has some fascinating background and analysis materials. Wikipedia’s article on Alice in Wonderland shows where many of the poems and sayings are plays on then-contemporary songs and individuals. So sit down, read and laugh – and remember as you read, Carroll is actually a pseudonym – the real man was a logician and math professor (and wikipedia discusses some of the mathematical concepts that underlie the volume)!