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October 10, 2018

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - a #GreatReadPBS

By Alison DeLuca

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a great American Read even though the book is British. We're all familiar with the characters: Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, and Alice herself.

cover of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Ooh, look at this gorgeous edition by Penguin books

When I was four, we weren't allowed to watch more than 30 minutes of television a week. Instead, I listened to books on records (real records, the kind you had to turn over and restart) including Peter Pan, the Odyssey, and Alice. I listened to Wonderland and Looking-Glass so many times I could recite lines of dialogue, intriguing tidbits about riddles, ravens, writing desks, and the iconic 'Off with her head!'

Years later I read the book to my daughter. I realized then there was no real story in the traditional sense. There isn't a mystery, or growth, or even much plot. Unique characters appear and disappear at the whim of the author, all with intriguing and illogical insights: 'We're all mad here.'

Alice attacked by a pack of playing cards
Alice being attacked by a pack of cards, by John Tenniel

Indeed, reading Alice is curious and curiouser.

Why is this book a Great American Read, since it doesn't fit the idea of a novel, or even a children's book? For one thing, Alice has been around for over a century and never gone out of print. Again - why?

As a child, I remember loving its illogic - and logic. There was problem solving throughout the book, of a surreal sort you might find inside an Escher drawing. It was as though a deck of cards came to life along with White Rabbits and a sleepy dormouse.

In college I reread the book on an entirely different level, that described by Jefferson Airplane. Then I realized just how hallucinogenic Carroll's book was, giving wild new meaning to scenes I'd read with complete gravity as a child.

And when I read the book out loud to my daughter, its sly humor struck me. The scene when Alice grows as large as a house and kicks poor Bill out of the chimney is just so - satisfactory. What child wouldn't love to control an entire household? Who wouldn't want to shrink or grow at will?

Alice being as large as a house
Just LOOK at the expression on Alice's face. 

But there are elements of horror as well - that feeling that anything could be around the corner, that everyday items might get up and walk around or talk to you.

And then there are the poems, Father William and How Doth the Little Crocodile. And the illustrations are perfect, little etched views into an alternate universe.

It strikes me that Alice can be what you want it to, not just a child's story. Each time I've read it the book is completely different, depending on my mood and situation. In a way, Alice's Adventures is a looking-glass, reflecting what we bring to the book.

It is this, therefore, that makes Alice a Great American Read. President Teddy Roosevelt loved Carroll's writing and quoted The Hunting of the Snark to a bewildered Cabinet: "What I tell you three times is true." If you haven't read it, do get a copy and give Alice a try - and Audible is a great way to experience the book.



Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.
Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.


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