Sunday, January 19, 2014

C is for Carroll

Ah, such gibberish this book is. Half of the time, I couldn't figure out what the hell was happening. My edition actually contains two works by Lewis Carroll—Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Though the Looking Glass. I wonder why Penguin chose to just go with the first novel as the book's title. Ah, such is the mystery of life!

To say that both works are novels is like saying that a fruit cup is a dessert (oh, the humanity!) or that raisins are candy (no, just no). A friend on Facebook mentioned that one should read Carroll expecting to find a puzzle and not a story. Yes, there isn't a clear plot to the novels. What I felt as I was reading Carroll was that he was making things up along the way. Hmmmm. . . I wonder if there's any truth to my theory. I've read somewhere that Carroll made up these stories for the daughter of the dean of his college. That daughter's name? Alice.

But what glorious imagination Carroll has! I must give him that. I guess when you rid yourself of the stress of thinking up a plot, it frees up brain space so you can think of very inventive characters, yes? I love the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, Tweedledum and Tweedledee, the grinning Cheshire cat, the Duchess, the Mock Turtle, the Caterpillar and the March Hare! I'd love them more if I knew what they were all about though. But, as always, I take what I can get.

I play the Mad Hatter.
Actually, the hats prevented me from scratching my head.
Another thing I was surprised about this book was how Carroll is a genius when it comes to word play. His prose is richer for it, and it makes the dialogue between the characters funny. The word play distorts your sense of logic but in a good way. It's as if Carroll is poking fun at the reader if he'll get the humor.
'I quite agree with you,' said the Duchess; 'and the moral of that is – "Be what you would seem to be" – or, if you'd like it put more simply – "Never imagine yourself not 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." '
–page 79, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland  
'You couldn't have it if you did want it,' the Queen said. 'The rule is jam to-morrow and jam yesterday – but never jam to-day.'
'It must come sometimes to "jam to-day",' Alice objected.
'No, it ca'n't,' said the Queen. 'It's jam every other day: to-day isn't any other day, you know.'
–page 172, Through the Looking Glass
I play the Mad Hatter, again.
Because green is my color of the moment.
Also, wouldn't you know it, some of the poems Carroll included in this book is gibberish as well. But, what the hell, I just went along with it. And I found out that it could be terribly fun if you read some of these poems aloud. Just make sure you're alone though. Otherwise, people would just think you're on meth. Just a touch of meth, just a touch.
'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogroves,
And the mome raths outgrabe. 
'Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!'
–page 131, Through the Looking Glass
And yet again, I play the Mad Hatter.
I'd do anything to ham it up with a fez.
What on earth is a "brillig"? How can one do an "outgrabe"? And what makes a Bandersnatch "frumious"? Or, more to the point, what the devil is a "Bandersnatch"? Madness, I'm telling you. (Although, in the latter part of the story, there is some attempt to explain this bit of a poem.)

All right, I didn't find Carroll as enjoyable as I hoped he would be. As children's stories, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are puzzling to say the least. The characters though, they're another matter. They're the stuff of wonderful childhood dreams.

Read this book if:
  1. You like a little bit of gibberish every now and then.
  2. You love all the Alice movies.
  3. You fell through a hole at one point in your life.


Ruth O'Leary said...

I'm an 'Alice' fan myself so great to see you reading it!

While it is obviously fantasy, there's more going on under the surface than you might think at first glance. Huge quantities have been written on this, but I really would recommend 'Alice in Sunderland' by award-winning comic artist Bryan Talbot (UK version here:

As a graphic novel fan, I'm sure you'll appreciate his graphic non-fiction just as much!

Peter S. said...

Hello, Ruth! Oh, I saw that graphic novel! I should've bought it! Many thanks for bringing it to my attention.

James Chester said...

I loved this post. I'm a big fan of Carrol, I've taught him to my seventh graders many times, but it was fun to read the reaction of someone who made it to adulthood without knowing all that much about the Alice books.

Now that you know there is no plot, and that he basically made it all up as he went along, you'll have to re-read them sometime. They are both books that get better with age, I think. You have to be old enough to reach a second childhood to really appreciate them.

Peter S. said...

Hi, James! Oh, definitely! One of these days, I'm going to reread Alice.

Kaz said...

SUCH a funny post, Peter. What I want to know is how anyone manages to reach adulthood without encountering this book - and I can't even begin to imagine how it would be to read it for the first time as an adult - although your post goes someway to explaining that! I grew up on Alice, so did my boys. The madness, the wordplay, the poems (LOVE Jabberwocky)and the utterly crazy characters. I'd go with James on this - you definitely need to approach these books with a child's appreciation of fantasy, rather than a critical adult-style analysis.

Peter S. said...

Hi, Kaz! I know, right?! It took me this long! Hehehehehehe.

I guess a reread is definitely a must!

Monique said...

Where'd you get the hats? I love them all! :)

Oh and I haven't read Carroll. Someday, I hope. :)

Peter S. said...

Hello, Monique! The hats are all from R.!

Anonymous said...

Whoops! I picked this in our book club's "I Dare You to Read" year-long activity (title is mine). I thought it's going to be easy, but I have to rethink that based on this post.

Peter S. said...

It would be interesting to hear what you think of this book, Angus!

ram said...

nice hat's...

Peter S. said...

Thanks, ram!