May 3, 2013

Reading Alice Aloud

        Tomorrow is Alice's birthday, and the last read-aloud we completed was Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, so this is clearly the time to post our reactions.  I don't remember how old I was when I first read Alice, and I've read it so many times as a high-schooler or older that my adult response has completely overlaid whatever reaction I might have had when I was younger.  I love the book, but I love it for its funny moments and clever quotations rather than for the plot or characters as such.  That's a distinction that was significant for P and T.  As I read, they laughed at the absurdity, enjoyed the poems and the convolutions of logic, and were entertained by the strange and original characters… but they did not find the story satisfying.
        First of all, they didn't like Alice.  They thought her rude and unsympathetic, and indeed when you think about it, she is self-centered, often short-tempered, and often unappealingly eager to make herself look smart.  (After all, the book is set on her birthday and she's only just turned seven!)  And they simply could not forgive her gratuitous unkindness to the poor, inoffensive lizard Bill.
        As for the plot, there really isn't any arc to it.  It's so episodic and so random that things don't really build up and there seems to be little cause and effect.  Then when the denouement arrives that the entire thing had been a dream -- well, that was the lamest thing ever!  And I really have to agree with them on that.  I don't know whether Carroll was the first to play the "It was all just a dream" card, in which case perhaps it seemed clever at the time.  But to us it just seems like a pathetic cop-out.  When I suggested we could read Through the Looking Glass next, P and T declined.
        Yes, I'm a bit disappointed that they weren't as enthusiastic about Alice in Wonderland as I am, but I have to admit that when I look at it through their point of view, I can't blame them.  My primary source of fantasy as a child was fairy tales, a genre that's full of stock cardboard characters, episodic plots, and people behaving in ways that would be odd,
to say the least, in the real world.  My children are lucky enough to have had a steady supply of books with fully developed, sympathetic characters, and intricately crafted plots in which the only ends left untied are those that will lead to the sequels.  Lucky them!  And yet, it is a little sad that they can't appreciate Alice.  Perhaps they'll read it again on their own when they're older and learn to love it as I do.

        PS. For anyone in the greater Boston area, this weekend is Needham Open Studios.  I'll be manning my display and carving a block, so come by tomorrow or Sunday, say hello, and see amazing art by artists all over town!

[Pictures:  Alice at the mad tea party;
Bill comes out the chimney;
The Cheshire Cat fades away, all illustrations by John Tenniel (reproduced as wood engravings for printing), 1865.  (Images from Wikimedia Commons.)]


JFDurante said...

I, too, am fond of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, but I've heard similar responses from children. I remember first reading it at age 10 and liking it well enough, but when I reread it 5 years later, I fell in love with it and went on to read most of Carroll's other quirky literature. I'm guessing his cerebral humor might really appeal more to us adults than to children.
Thanks for another interesting post!

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Yes, I think there's definitely still hope for my kids and Alice. Thanks for the encouragement!