The week before reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland I read The Migraine Brain in which I learned that Lewis Carroll was a migraine-with-aura sufferer. Migraines muddle thinking and reduce concentration. And for him, a migraine meant distorted vision. Disproportional Alice. Tall and small Alice. Strange tastes. Odd sights and sounds. Mixing up words. All inspired by migraines. Without knowing this, my experience of his most famous work would have been very different.
Carroll’s preface is illuminating. The Mad Hatter’s riddle has no answer. And he was quite generous, practically paying the public to read his story.
‘Four shillings was a perfectly reasonable price to charge, considering the heavy initial outlay I had incurred: still, as the Public have practically said “We will will not give more than a shilling for a picture-book, however artistically got-up”, I am content to reckon my outlay on the book as so much dead loss, and, rather than let the little ones, for whom it was written, go without it, I am selling it at a price which is, to me, much the same thing as giving it away.
I found this line from the introductory poem to be a highly accurate assessment of the story: “There will be nonsense in it!” Yes, lots and lots of nonsense. Most of it utterly boring. Skimming is the last resort of the desperate, and I was desperate. But I was thoroughly entertained by the rhyming poetry scattered throughout.
‘I passed by his garden, and marked, with one eye,
How the Owl and the Panther were sharing a pie:
The Panther took pie-crust, and gravy, and meat,
While the Owl had the dish as its share of the treat.
When the pie was all finished, the Owl, as a boon,
Was kindly permitted to pocket the spoon:
While the Panther received the knife and fork with a growl,
And concluded the banquet by–“
You can guess what the next three words are. LOL.
I also enjoyed the occasional play-on-words.
“We called him Tortoise because he taught us.”
And of course, the most famous quote of all:
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be, said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t gave come here.”
On why cats are the opposite of dogs:
“Well, then,” the Cat went on, “you see a dog growls when it’s angry, and wags its tail when it’s pleased. Now I growl when I’m pleased, and wag my tail when I’m angry. Therefore I’m mad.”
The Queen of Hearts is a figure of fun. Who hasn’t wished to wield the power of the throne to eliminate those who’ve slighted us?
“Collar that Dormouse!” the Queen shrieked out. “Behead that Dormouse! Turn that Dormouse out of court! Suppress him! Pinch him! Off with his whiskers!”
On the prospect of decapitating a body-less Cheshire Cat:
‘The executioner’s argument was, that you couldn’t cut off a head unless there was a body to cut it off from: that he had never had to do such a thing before, and he wasn’t going to begin at his time of life.’
The Queen of Hearts indulging in her favourite sport isn’t as lethal as one would think, which is a good thing because if every man, woman and animal she condemns to the guillotine were to really go to their deaths, there’d be no one left in Wonderland but the Queen herself.
Gryphon: “It’s all her fancy, that: they never executes nobody, you know.”
Alice has never intrigued me. I did hope reading the original would endear me more than the countless TV and movie adaptions. Poetry aside, it didn’t. However, I do take pleasure from viewing the tons of gorgeous artwork inspired by Carroll’s story.
* I read the 1920 edition illustrated by John Tenniel available for free on Google Play.