Monday, September 15, 2014

Classics Review: Alice in Wonderland

Premise: After following a strange rabbit down a super-deep hole, Alice finds herself in a magical land. During her time there, Alice interacts with a variety of strange creatures.

Title: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Author: Lewis Carroll
Length: 92 pages (depending on the edition)
Genre: Fantasy
Series or Stand Alone: Book 1 of 2
Content appropriate for: Grades 6-8

Three adjectives that describe this book: strange, challenging, confusing

I am in the middle of the Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics books in 5 years. My list is comprised entirely of children's books. I really enjoyed The Wizard of Oz, and for some reason I expected Alice in Wonderland to be a similar experience. Wrong Wrong Wrong. So hold onto your hat, because I'm about to get very blasphemous.

Okay, enough stalling - here's my review:

Alice in Wonderland is strange. That's the main thing. Over the course of 100ish pages weird things happen. It almost reads like Lewis Carroll was just trying to figure out what the weirdest things were that could happen, and then he put those exact things all together in a book with absolutely no sense-making. Case in point:

List of Weird Things in the Book
* Swimming in a lake made of your own tears
* Rocks become cakes
* Dancing with lobsters
* Dancing with lobsters actually means throwing them in the ocean
* A baby that's really a pig
* Everything you eat or drink makes Alice (no one else...) grow or shrink over and over again

Apparently Alice in Wonderland is actually an example of a genre called Literary Nonsense. Maybe if I had known that, I would have been prepared for the insanity and lack of plot. But I, erroneously, expected a great story. Instead, it's just a collection of weird characters and strange events.

Most frustrating for me, was that large chunks of the story consisted of poems which Alice tries to recite. She makes mistakes each time, which she sees as proof that she must have changed. These pieces would make more sense if I actually knew the original poems. That way I would be able to spot the mistakes that Alice makes.

Ultimately, I'm not sure how to rate Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It's a classic. Lots of people love it. It is a shining example of Literary Nonsense. But it is also bizarre, with no plot and almost no coherent world-building.


  1. It was all a dream, you know. Many of my students have the same reaction. Expecting the book to make sense is a mistake. It's doesn't make sense in the way we want it to. That's what makes those of us who love it, love it.

    I've argued that you have to be just the right age to love Alice. Younger than nine, probably, or in your late thrities at least. People between those ages still expect things to make sense. The rest of us know that we're all living down the rabbit hole.

    I suggest you give it another go in 20 years. Don't even try Looking Glass. That thing is really crazy.

    1. James -
      Thanks for the comment. Believe it or not, I'm already in my 30s so I don't know if waiting 20 years is going to do it for me!

      I did notice that it was all a dream, but that reveal in the last 2 pages just frustrated me. Rather than making me accept all the craziness in the first 90+ pages, it just made them feel even more ridiculous.

      I will say, though, that I enjoyed The Looking-Glass Wars by Frank Beddor - an Alice inspired novel.