“If there’s no meaning in it,” said the King, “that saves a world of trouble, you know, as we needn’t try to find any.” – the King of Hearts to Alice.
Like most books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland can be read on many levels. A lot of people read this book first as a child then return to it as knowing, learned grown-ups. They laugh and shake their heads at the misapprehensions of their youth: “Ahhh,” they say, “now I see what he meant.”
I first read it four months ago on a flight from Portland to New York and I read it very much like your average child: speedily, hungrily, with no need for hidden meanings and intellectual interpretations, briefly believing I was reading a story just as it happened, just so. A little girl by the name of Alice has a very strange and marvelous adventure when she follows a white rabbit with pink eyes and a pocket-watch down into a rabbit-hole beneath a hedge.
That could and maybe should be enough.
My reading was a product of my circumstances, though. I was trapped – internetless, encyclopedialess – in a metal-winged tube for seven hours. With no wiki or footnotes to tell me any different, I had no choice but to suspend disbelief and my desire to get what Carroll was ‘really’ talking about. Like a child, I took it at face value and invested completely. Like a child.
The hours flew as I did through the sky (magical when you think about it) and soon I reached the final pages. While the nine year old in me was disappointed by the ending (it was all just a curious dream after all), my sensible adult self was satisfied by the rational – if cliched – awakening from wonderland to dull reality. Like so many childhood experiences, it was a dose of cruel truth but I accepted its narrative necessity and neat explanation:
“Off with her head!” the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
“Who cares for you?” said Alice… “You’re nothing but a pack of cards.”
At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.
This is meant to make me very sad, I suppose. I should mourn the loss of my innocence and the simple, uncynical faith of the child in unicorns and wonderlands. The thing is, I was never that child even when I was a child. I was that kid who couldn’t wait to be the knowing, learned grown-up. Whether that’s something to mourn in itself is a pondering for another day but for now I’m delving into deeper meanings and analysis, into philosophy and parody and portmanteau, symbolism and even psychosis.
I may not surface for some time. The internet and books are my rabbit-hole and, right now, I’m tumbling through the following:
Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland site: One Dutch-woman’s obsessive fascination is our easily accessible gain. Resources include in-depth background information, lost chapters, the original manuscript and the original poems that were parodied by Carroll in the novel.
Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser: Seek beyond the surface with a feminist perspective, a Nietzschean interpretation, some insights on temporality and an essay on the philosophy of memory.
Philosophy of Nonsense: The Intuitions of Victorian Nonsense Literature: Nonsense as a conservative-revolutionary genre. The author’s thesis is that Carroll’s comments on points of grammar can only be fully understood in the light of Chomskyan linguistics. Tough stuff. Love it!
See you on the other side!