Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Alice in Wonderland was first published in 1865, a year that saw Charles Dickens survive the Staplehurst rail crash and the foundation of The Christian Mission (later to become the Salvation Army). At the other end of the scale, neither being saved nor salvaged, were the 400 rebels who were executed following an unsuccessful uprising against British rule in Morant Bay, Jamaica. Across the Atlantic Ocean the American Civil War was drawing to a close. Three days after the publication of Alice In Wonderland, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and just before the end of the year, the Klu Klux Klan were formed.

Strange times. Harsh times. If ever there was a time for an escape into ‘Wonderland’ then certainly 1865 was as good a time as any.

Up until recently, Alice in Wonderland had lain dormant in my conscience, planted there by Walt Disney, Online Slot Machines and Tom Waits. It was only when somebody who reviewed Tollesbury Time Forever compared parts of it favourably with Lewis Carroll’s book that I thought, in deference to that reviewer, I should probably read it.
The first thing I will say is that I am amazed this book has stood the test of time. It is wonderful that it has done, but amazing all the same. Not because it’s not good, but purely because it is almost entirely insane! At the height of Victorian stoicism and the dour industrialisation of England, Reverand Charles Dodgson decided to write, under the pseudonum Lewis Caroll, a short novel where the main characters are a talking rabbit, a vanishing cat, a deck of playing cards and a depressed turtle – not to mention a smoking catterpillar and a lizard called Bill. Oh and then there is a tea party that never ends because it is always six o’clock, a game of croquet played with flamingoes for sticks, hedgehogs for balls and soldiers for hoops. And the Caucus Race, well…
Although this novel was written by the author for the young daughter of a friend, there is no doubting that it is also for adults. Some of the conversations, particularly involving the Mock Turtle have the same madness about them as do Yossarian’s conversations with Clevinger in Catch-22. The puns are superb and the situations entirely Pythonesque. The Mighty Boosh would be a lot less mighty were it not for Alice In Wonderland and you have to wonder at the influence on the likes of Terry Pratchett and Tim Burton. And all done without drugs!

But for all the madness there is at its heart a paen to the loss of childhood innocence. The last couple of pages of the novel are almost heartbreaking in their poignancy as Alice’s elder sister looks down upon her whilst she sleeps so sweetly. She is almost willing her not to cross that threshold into adolescence and then onto adulthood – a land with more war than wonder.
Alice sums it all up when she says:

I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think. Was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I’m not the same, the next question is ‘Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!

Has there ever been a better definition of adolescence than that?

The fact that more than one reviewer has mentioned some similarity in Alice In Wonderland and Tollesbury Time Forever has, having now read the book, given me a profound sense that my book has half a chance – madness, made up words, puns, songs, poems and all.

Just as one of the characters in Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone continually refers to Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe for the answers to life’s predicaments so I think I will always keep Alice in Wonderland handy. For these are Strange times. Harsh times. If ever there was a time for an escape into ‘Wonderland’ then certainly 2012 is as good a time as any.

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