Classic of the Month: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
As you probably recall, I started a new monthly series that will highlight a new "classic" every month. This month's classic is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Again I am very loosely basing my idea of classic's on this "A classic is a novel that represents a genre or a writing style, or it can be a novel that makes a contribution to literature. There are all kinds of classics, from horror classics to romance classics, from novels that sold millions of copies to a novel that changed how a genre was written." Due to the widely different views on what a classic is, these books may be considered classics by me but your opinion may be different.
What is Alice's Adventures in Wonderland?
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (commonly Alice in Wonderland) is an 1865 English children's novel by Lewis Carroll (a pseudonym of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson). A young girl named Alice falls through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world of anthropomorphic creatures. It is seen as a prime example of the literary nonsense genre. Its play with logic gives the story lasting popularity with adults as well as children. One of the best-known works of Victorian English fiction, its narrative, structure, characters and imagery have had huge influence on popular culture and literature, especially in the fantasy genre. The book has never been out of print and has been translated into at least 97 languages. Its legacy covers adaptations for stage, screen, radio, art, ballet, theme parks, board games and video games. Carroll published a sequel in 1871 entitled Through the Looking-Glass and a shortened version for young children, The Nursery "Alice", in 1890.
Plot Overview (Detailed)
Chapter One – Down the Rabbit Hole: Alice, a seven-year-old girl, is feeling bored and drowsy while sitting on the riverbank with her elder sister. She notices a talking, clothed white rabbit with a pocket watch run past. She follows it down a rabbit hole where she suddenly falls a long way to a curious hall with many locked doors of all sizes. She finds a little key to a door too small for her to fit through, but through it, she sees an attractive garden. She then discovers a bottle on a table labelled "DRINK ME," the contents of which cause her to shrink too small to reach the key which she had left on the table. She subsequently eats a cake labelled "EAT ME" in currants as the chapter closes.
Chapter Two – The Pool of Tears: The chapter opens with Alice growing to such a tremendous size that her head hits the ceiling. Unhappy, Alice begins to cry and her tears literally flood the hallway. After she picks up a fan that causes her to shrink back down, Alice swims through her own tears and meets a mouse, who is swimming as well. Alice, thinking he may be a French mouse, tries to make small talk with him in elementary French. Her opening gambit "Où est ma chatte?" (transl. "Where is my cat?"), however, offends the mouse, who then tries to escape her.
Chapter Three – The Caucus Race and a Long Tale: The sea of tears becomes crowded with other animals and birds that have been swept away by the rising waters. Alice and the other animals convene on the bank and the question among them is how to get dry again. Mouse gives them a very dry lecture on William the Conqueror. A dodo decides that the best thing to dry them off would be a Caucus-Race, which consists of everyone running in a circle with no clear winner. Alice eventually frightens all the animals away, unwittingly, by talking about her (moderately ferocious) cat.
Chapter Four – The Rabbit Sends a Little Bill: White Rabbit appears again in search of the Duchess's gloves and fan. Mistaking her for his maidservant, Mary Ann, Rabbit orders Alice to go into the house and retrieve them. Inside the house she finds another little bottle and drinks from it, immediately beginning to grow again. The horrified Rabbit orders his gardener, Bill the Lizard, to climb on the roof and go down the chimney. Outside, Alice hears the voices of animals that have gathered to gawk at her giant arm. The crowd hurls pebbles at her, which turn into little cakes. Alice eats them, and they reduce her again in size.
Chapter Five – Advice from a Caterpillar: Alice comes upon a mushroom and sitting on it is a blue caterpillar smoking a hookah. Caterpillar questions Alice, who begins to admit to her current identity crisis, compounded by her inability to remember a poem. Before crawling away, the caterpillar tells Alice that one side of the mushroom will make her taller and the other side will make her shorter. She breaks off two pieces from the mushroom. One side makes her shrink smaller than ever, while another causes her neck to grow high into the trees, where a pigeon mistakes her for a serpent. With some effort, Alice brings herself back to her normal height. She stumbles upon a small estate and uses the mushroom to reach a more appropriate height.
Chapter Six – Pig and Pepper: A fish-footman has an invitation for the Duchess of the house, which he delivers to a frog-footman. Alice observes this transaction and, after a perplexing conversation with the frog, lets herself into the house. The Duchess's cook is throwing dishes and making a soup that has too much pepper, which causes Alice, the Duchess, and her baby (but not the cook or grinning Cheshire Cat) to sneeze violently. Alice is given the baby by the Duchess and, to Alice's surprise, the baby turns into a pig. The Cheshire Cat appears in a tree, directing her to the March Hare's house. He disappears but his grin remains behind to float on its own in the air prompting Alice to remark that she has often seen a cat without a grin but never a grin without a cat.
Chapter Seven – A Mad Tea-Party: Alice becomes a guest at a "mad" tea party along with the March Hare, the Hatter, and a very tired Dormouse, who falls asleep frequently only to be violently awakened moments later by the March Hare and the Hatter. The characters give Alice many riddles and stories, including the famous "why is a raven like a writing desk?." The Hatter reveals that they have tea all day because Time has punished him by eternally standing still at 6 PM (tea time). Alice becomes insulted and tired of being bombarded with riddles and she leaves, saying it is the stupidest tea party that she has ever been to.
Chapter Eight – The Queen's Croquet Ground: Alice leaves the tea party and enters the garden where she comes upon three living playing cards painting the white roses on a rose tree red because The Queen of Hearts hates white roses. A procession of more cards, kings and queens and even the White Rabbit enters the garden. Alice then meets the King and Queen. The Queen, a figure difficult to please, introduces her signature phrase "Off with his head!" which she utters at the slightest dissatisfaction with a subject. Alice is invited (or some might say ordered) to play a game of croquet with the Queen and the rest of her subjects but the game quickly descends into chaos. Live flamingos are used as mallets and hedgehogs as balls and Alice once again meets the Cheshire Cat. The Queen of Hearts then orders the Cat to be beheaded, only to have her executioner complain that this is impossible since the head is all that can be seen of him. Because the cat belongs to the Duchess, the Queen is prompted to release the Duchess from prison to resolve the matter.
Chapter Nine – The Mock Turtle's Story: The Duchess is brought to the croquet ground at Alice's request. She ruminates on finding morals in everything around her. The Queen of Hearts dismisses her on the threat of execution and she introduces Alice to the Gryphon, who takes her to the Mock Turtle. The Mock Turtle is very sad, even though he has no sorrow. He tries to tell his story about how he used to be a real turtle in school, which the Gryphon interrupts so they can play a game.
Chapter Ten – Lobster Quadrille: The Mock Turtle and the Gryphon dance to the Lobster Quadrille, while Alice recites (rather incorrectly) "'Tis the Voice of the Lobster". The Mock Turtle sings them "Beautiful Soup" during which the Gryphon drags Alice away for an impending trial.
Chapter Eleven – Who Stole the Tarts?: Alice attends a trial whereby the Knave of Hearts is accused of stealing the Queen's tarts. The jury is composed of various animals, including Bill the Lizard, the White Rabbit is the court's trumpeter, and the judge is the King of Hearts. During the proceedings, Alice finds that she is steadily growing larger. The dormouse scolds Alice and tells her she has no right to grow at such a rapid pace and take up all the air. Alice scoffs and calls the dormouse's accusation ridiculous because everyone grows and she cannot help it. Meanwhile, witnesses at the trial include the Hatter, who displeases and frustrates the King through his indirect answers to the questioning, and the Duchess's cook.
Chapter Twelve – Alice's Evidence: Alice is then called up as a witness. She accidentally knocks over the jury box with the animals inside them and the King orders the animals to be placed back into their seats before the trial continues. The King and Queen order Alice to be gone, citing Rule 42 ("All persons more than a mile high to leave the court"), but Alice disputes their judgement and refuses to leave. She argues with the King and Queen of Hearts over the ridiculous proceedings, eventually refusing to hold her tongue, only to say in the process, "It's not that I was the one who stole the tarts in the first place." Finally, the Queen confirms that Alice was the culprit responsible for stealing the tarts after all (which automatically pardons the Knave of Hearts of his charges), and shouts, "Off with her head!", but Alice is unafraid, calling them just a pack of cards; although Alice holds her own for a time, the card guards soon gang up and start to swarm all over her. Alice's sister wakes her up from a dream, brushing what turns out to be some leaves and not a shower of playing cards from Alice's face. Alice leaves her sister on the bank to imagine all the curious happenings for herself.
What is the Genre of this book?
This book's genre's are Children's literature, Literary nonsense, Fantasy Fiction, Absurdist fiction, Fantastique.
Was this book ever banned?
In 1900, New Hampshire banned Alice In Wonderland from all public schools, accusing the novel of promoting masturbation and sexual fantasies. These accusations were based more on the life of the author and not on the novel’s content itself. This was an unfair decision made by this state because they’re banning a book without an actual reason. The assumption that this book would have sexual references based on the author’s life is wrong, and it just deprives people from reading a good story.
In 1931, a government censor in the Chinese province of Hunan, General Ho Chien banned the book because of “its portrayal of anthropomorphized animals acting on the same level of complexity as human beings.” Ho Chien believed that portraying animals and humans in the same level was “disastrous” for the children and extremely insulting to humans overall. As this is a fiction novel in the genre of literary nonsense, it is completely normal to exaggerate the attributes of certain characters, in this case, animals. With this being said, the statement made of being called “an insult” to humans is completely irrelevant and not a sufficient reason to ban this book, in my opinion.
In 1960, because of the cultural changes happening in America, parents believed the book along with the movies encouraged the use of drugs by showing characters who were openly using them and hallucinating scenarios. Parents also argued that the “trippy” backgrounds used in the illustrations also promoted the use of psychedelic drugs like LSD and Mushrooms.
Why is it considered a classic?
Lewis Carroll’s, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, is most definitely a classic novel of children’s literature. Some may even argue that it is the epitome of the Golden Age. Not only did it receive huge popularity shortly after its publication over 100 years ago, the book has remained successful and continues to be read by children of today. For one, this novel is so different than other children’s books of the era. Carroll’s style of nonsense is very innovative and ingenious. He combines reality, fantasy, and nonsense in a manner that brings the reader into a whole new world. Wonderland, although extremely bizarre and random, somehow makes sense. There are rules and explanations to all the weirdness which readers are amused and entertained by. Another factor that has made Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland a classic is the fact that it is adored by both children and adults alike. The style and tone of the text is very reminiscent of a child’s imagination. For children, they are mesmerized and enthralled by the mysteries of Wonderland and the magical creatures. For grown-ups, rereading Alice brings back sentimental memories and feeling of nostalgia. They are transported back to their childhoods and to a world full of creativity, dreams, and imagination. As a results of this popularity by both children and adults, Alice has continued to survive through many generations of readers and remain a classic. Another reason why Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is classified as a classic is the unique manner in which Carroll plays with the text along with the illustrations. Never before, have we seen the actual physical words of a novel intertwine with pictures or incorporate playful pieces. For example, the poem of the mouse’s tail is actually written in a spiral pattern, like that of a tail.
There are way to may adaptations to list them here but in summary there are many TV and movie adaptations, comic strips and book adaptations as well as live performances.