Books That Shaped Me: Alice in Wonderland

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol, art by Sir John Tenniel

Alice in Wonderland has a special place on my bookshelf. The faux leather bindings of the copy that I used to read with my mother are loosely repaired with tape that has lost much of its stickiness. It is part of the same collection of classics that contained Gone With The Wind, the second book, turned movie, that shaped me. But Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass are the big girl stories my mom let me read first. Apparently, according to some, in 1865 when Lewis Carroll (born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) wrote this book full of anthropomorphized animals, he was alluding to various political and personal issues of his time.

Alice in Wonderland (1951) Disney
The Cheshire Cat

I really only cared about the nonsense then, and still love it now. I don’t want to find a deeper meaning beyond a young girl who wants to escape her dull life, and ends up tumbling down a rabbit hole into a a magical world where imagination–and more than a little madness–reigns. I like to think that’s the story of my life. I’d be okay dropping by a world of silliness once in a while, especially if it offered yummy treats and drinks just waiting for me to have a little taste. Sure, I grew up being told not to take candy from strangers or eat food I find lying around, but stick a quaint “eat me” sign on a bunch of french fries and I might forget the rules.

Reading with my mother, and now with my kids, has always been so important to me. I love reading. I love sharing the books I love. Reading Alice in Wonderland never meant more to me than in my grade twelve reading tutor class. Each of the students provided reading mentorship to basic level grade nine students. But my student, Amber, was only basic because she believed what people–family, teachers–said about her. That basic was all she could be. The books that our class offered for our mentees were at a grade three or four reading level, but I quickly discovered that Amber could do better. So I loaned her my precious copy of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. She finished it within a week and we spent our next few classes talking about the story and at the end of our time together, she gave me the sweetest handmade card, thanking me for believing in her and for sharing Alice.

I’ve seen the 1951 Disney movie many, many times. The last few hundred times were due to my daughter’s discovery of it, though there have been many television, film, and theatrical versions of Carroll’s work before Disney’s animated feature, and many more since. I have not yet seen the 1976 porn musical, but I did love the 1985 two-part television series starring Natalie Gregory as Alice, and featuring wonderful performance from the likes of Red Buttons, Carol Channing, as well as the great Sammy Davis Jr. playing the role of the caterpillar and Father Williams. He performed one of the many poems that appears within the book, all of which I have memorized. “You Are Old, Father William” is a favourite and I may, from time to time, jokingly threaten to kick my kids downstairs a la Sammy Davis Jr. in this video.

Sometimes I’ll sing of cabbages and kings, from “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” or wish people a very merry unbirthday. But more often than not, it is the Jabberwock that creeps into my quiet moments….

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carrol, art by Sir John Tenniel
The Jabberwocky by Sir John Tenniel

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
“And, hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy
Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

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Wendy Browne

Wendy Browne

Publisher, mother, geek, executive assistant sith, gamer, writer, lazy succubus, blogger, bibliophile. Not necessarily in that order.

6 thoughts on “Books That Shaped Me: Alice in Wonderland

  1. I love Alice in Wonderland too! Maybe it strook me ‘coz my grandmother is also called Alice. I’ve always loved it, and I ended up collecting different printed editions of it. It’s lovely to re-read the book again and again. It always brings back so many good memories and you end up finding something new.

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