Rediscovering Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

When I was reading Room, by Emma Donoghue, I came across a few references to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Like Jack, in the book, as a child, I was fortunate to have read the abridged version of the book – Alice in Wonderland. It stimulated my imagination and transported me to a world away from the mundane and every day. Very few books for children at that age take the reader from the world as they know it (in Alice in Wonderland, it was the garden where Alice and her sister were resting), and rabbits you away into another place. Peter Pan is one such book.

As a result, to me, the events in these books seemed so much plausible. Yes, there was an (itsy bitsy teeny weeny) chance in heaven that I just might slip down a hole and discover a new and enchanting world, where I’d get to meet the interesting Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar and Queen of Hearts, and watch the game of golf (it’s equivalent in Lewis Carroll’s imagination) played with flamingos, and packs of cards running around. How exciting!

However, as I said before, I was fortunate to have read the abridged version of Alice in Wonderland. That’s what I meant to emphasize on. Last year, I reread a few Grimm’s Brothers’ tales and was quite happy and motivated to revisit a few more children’s tales. This time, I was determined to read only the complete versions of the book. I started with Alice in Wonderland, and just a few pages down, I was beginning to feel uneasy – like when she is sliding down the incredibly lengthy tunnel, having strange conversations with herself, and being unbelievably meticulous for a seven year old (wanting to place the jar of orange marmalade in a shelf, even as she falls down, for fear of hurting someone below. This for me was the beginning of a slightly disturbing and emotionally tumultuous journey through Wonderland, with Alice.

Of course, nothing is normal in Wonderland, duh. It’s in fact unsettlingly abnormal. And this would be perfectly fine, if it were a book for teens or even adults (I know, it’s possible then that the whole point of the plot may just be moot). Teen or adult readers can be expected to be okay with the abnormal in literature. But, it definitely was not what I expected from a children’s storybook. It so was not. While one “off with his head” remark itself would have sufficed, the multiple “off with his head” statements were too much, I felt.

It’s not that other children’s storybooks (or even nursery rhymes) do not have similar events, but just not so many in one book. It’s just that Wonderland seemed more like Melancholyland, where there’s more angst, turmoil, sadness and confusion, than there are things of wonder (the meaning of which I thought would be more along the lines of admirable and marvelous). What’s also a little more unsettling for me, is that apparently, some of the confusing conditions that Alice and other characters like Mad Hatter experience in the book, are actual neurological conditions that are now referred to as “Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.”

It’s not the fact that these conditions exist that I find upsetting. It’s just the fact that the book, which is meant for children, who get perhaps 5-8 years of what I hope is a blissful childhood detached from grown up troubles (if they are lucky), has opened their eyes to medical issues that are very real. I believe it is sensory overload for young minds. Anyway, take away my discovery of the Alice in Wonderland Syndrome part, and I still think that the book is great for children’s imagination (reiterating all the points I made in the opening paragraphs of this post). No wonder the book celebrated 150 years on shelves last year. I just think that the complete unabridged version should be more of a good read for adults.

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