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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is one of the most famous and enduring children's classics. The novel is full of whimsical charm, and a feeling for the absurd that is unsurpassed. But, who was Lewis Carroll?
Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) was a mathematician and logician who lectured at Oxford University. He balanced both personas, as he used his study in the sciences to create his eminently strange books. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a charming, light book, that reputedly pleased Queen Victoria. She asked to receive the author's next work and was swiftly sent a copy of An Elementary Treatment of Determinants.
The book begins with young Alice, bored, sitting by a river, reading a book with her sister. Then Alice catches sight of a small white figure, a rabbit dressed in a waistcoat and holding a pocket watch, murmuring to himself that he is late. She runs after the rabbit and follows it into a hole. After falling into the depths of the earth, she finds herself in a corridor full of doors. At the end of the corridor, there is a tiny door with a tiny key through which Alice can see a beautiful garden that she is desperate to enter. She then spots a bottle labeled "Drink me" (which she does) and begins to shrink until she is small enough to fit through the door.
Unfortunately, she has left the key that fits the lock on a table, now well out of her reach. She then finds a cake labeled "Eat me" (which, again, she does), and is restored to her normal size. Disconcerted by this frustrating series of events, Alice begins to cry, and as she does, she shrinks and is washed away in her own tears.
This strange beginning leads to a series of progressively "curiouser and curiouser" events, which see Alice babysit a pig, take part in a tea party that is held hostage by time (so never ends), and engage in a game of croquet in which flamingos are used as mallets and hedgehogs as balls. She meets some extravagant and incredible characters, from the Cheshire Cat to a caterpillar smoking a hookah and being decidedly contradictory. She also, famously, meets the Queen of Hearts who has a penchant for execution.
The book reaches its climax in the trial of the Knave of Hearts, who is accused of stealing the Queen's tarts. A good deal of nonsense evidence is given against the unfortunate man, and a letter is produced which only refers to events by pronouns (but which is supposedly damning evidence). Alice, who by now has grown to a great size, stands up for the Knave and the Queen, predictably, demands her execution. As she is fighting off the Queen's card soldiers, Alice awakes, realizing she has been dreaming all along.
Carroll's book is episodic and reveals more in the situations that it contrives than in any serious attempt at plot or character analysis. Like a series of nonsense poems or stories created more for their puzzling nature or illogical delightfulness, the events of Alice's adventure are her encounters with incredible but immensely likable characters. Carroll was a master of toying with the eccentricities of language.
One feels that Carroll is never more at home than when he is playing, punning, or otherwise messing around with the English tongue. Although the book has been interpreted in numerous ways, from an allegory of semiotics theory to a drug-fueled hallucination, perhaps it is this playfulness that has ensured its success over the last century.
The book is brilliant for children, but with enough hilarity and joy for life in it to please adults too, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a lovely book with which to take a brief respite from our overly rational and sometimes dreary world.