Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass

I always enjoy reading books that I remember watching as cartoons or movies when I was a kid. It is fun to consider the differences between them and why those differences exist. The motion picture is a vastly different medium than print and, even with CG, there are somethings that just work better in writing (and vice-versa).

One element that is difficult to reproduce in film is the internal dialogue of the characters. Camera angles and facial expressions can go a long way to revealing a character's internal state, but the detail pales in comparison to a three page internal conversation as a character wrestles with what is happening around them. This happens often in the Alice books as she wonders whether her change in size and haphazard memory might mean that she has suddenly become someone else. Children's books seldom deal with personal identity crises, but this is a major theme in Wonderland albeit jettisoned by the film adaptations.

Both books were dreams and, overall, this didn't work for me. Character's would appear and disappear, scenes and scenery would inexplicably alter and, especially in Wonderland, there was almost no progression of story to speak of. Yes, she does chase the white rabbit, but when she finally catches up with him nothing really happens. Carroll constantly fills your mind with questions that drive the plot forward, but in the end he never answers them. And these are not life's imponderable questions either. They are the types of questions an author could answer if he chose. Sometimes it felt like he delighted in tormenting the reader.

All that's not to say that the books were not enjoyable. Carroll had a knack for word games and poking fun at the arbitrariness of language and etiquette. His portrayal of Alice, the young girl who thinks she knows what it means to be an adult, feels authentic and is never strained or cutesy. He weaves famous verse and nursery rhyme throughout the books (some of which he wrote himself, only to become classics later) adding to its classic appeal. It was clear that Carroll was both a lover of language and a critic of it, whether poetical, logical, or plain, and this love-hate relationship added fun and life to his works.

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  • Brian

    Haha but the entire point of the book wonderland is language, not story or plot. He never answers any questions because if he did answer them, he would have gone against his assertions about language. The man was, and is still is, one of the most notably Logicians. He wrote the book trying to show the foolishness of arguing with only informal logic. I guess if you go into the book Wonderland expecting to come out with a knowledge of the story’s conclusion it would be quite a let down. However, if you read it enlightened of its actually point, you may find it to be quite spectacular.

  • I read an introduction that spoke of those things you mentioned, but sadly they were not enough to redeem the basic story. (As an aside, the introduction was so scholarly and opaque you would have needed to be an 18th century scholar, an expert in the disciplines of logic, etymology, psychology, and non-sense, and a ridiculous fan of Carroll to make any sense of it at all.) I felt like Carroll corrected some of his plot mistakes in the sequel The Looking Glass by having a definite goal to the book (her becoming a queen) and an organizing principle (the chess game). In the second book he was able to maintain all the word games and logical queries without making a muck of the story. Despite the obvious strengths you mentioned that have made the book a classic, the book is, at the end of the day, a story and as a story it was unsatisfying.

  • Amira

    Well at least now I don’t feel stupid. I NEVER got these books and I tried because it was kind of expected in the UK, but I got lost and gave up.