In between things, I took some time to re-read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
I used to read and re-read this a lot as a teenager. Like so many, I’ve always been under its spell - Through the Looking Glass, too. But it had been some time since I’d read it and I was curious to see if it would have the same enchanting effect on me.
It did. Now that I am reading it as an adult, though, I can more easily see why this book delights kids. In telling a story to children, Carroll utilizes techniques I utilize with my own. Abundant magic and uncertainty is the first, although Carroll infuses his with a logical code that may help explain why the book remains appealing to adults. Another is talking animals - kids love animals - but also his use of other symbols, settings and characters familiar to children; gardens, cats, books, the hearth, the tea table, a chess set, playing cards, lawn games, &cetera.
Perhaps the biggest element of interest to children in these, however, is the mocking tone throughout. I’ve noticed with my own kids that if you take something they know and parody it, they are thrilled. Even my two year old thinks its funny when I sing “the poopy poopy diaper” instead of “the itsy bitsy spider.” This parodying effect must have been especially true for Carroll’s audience of Victorians, who encountered nothing but didacticism in the children’s literature of their day.
I think another reason it has remained popular through the ages, though, is its particular Victorian and Carrollian aesthetic. It is simply a fine piece of 19th century fantasy literature from one of the 19th century’s most inventive and artful minds. The Tenniel illustrations are part of that.
Incidentally, I also pulled out an old tome of Carroll essays. This wasn’t as fulfilling, as the book is from the 70s and a lot more Carroll scholarship has been done since then. This is an interesting field, although excessive interest in Carroll (Charles Dodgson) threatens to take the bloom off the Wonderland white/red rose. More reading here, but one current debate is over whether Dodgson was a pedophile who never physically realized his desires, instead expressing them in his art, or whether he has been vastly misunderstood by biographers. I have no opinion, but Dodgson, like his rabbit hole, pulls one in.