July 14, 2010
I think I must have read Lewis Carroll’s classics at some point in my early childhood, but I honestly don’t remember doing so. In many ways, I feel like my knowledge of them is more piecemeal, picked up from the many references to them in other literature and art. So I never really expected Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass to become major players in bedtime reading with my kids.
But my five-year-old, Dash, saw some of those amazing original John Tenniel illustrations from the book on some wallpaper or something, and took to them immediately. (I think it was the Cheshire cat that initially drew him in.) That led to our picking up a copy, and eventually the book made its way to his nightstand.
And he loves it. The delightfully light tone; the surreal...well, lack of plot; the offbeat characters—all of it’s very much his cup of tea. (Sorry.) He enjoys the way the narrative just abruptly breaks off into a random, probably nonsensical poem from time to time. Some of the puns and wordplay are a little over his head right now, but there’s not enough of that to bother him. Having recently also seen the old Disney adaptation of the story, Dash has gone back to the original and is having a lot of fun seeing what was changed for the movie and what was not.
It’s also been an education to me, since my memories of the book were so hazy; seeing it through Dash’s eyes as we read it together has been a great experience. I’ve had two separate revelations. First, just how very weird these books are! I’d forgotten how boldly Carroll takes the story every which way he pleases, disregarding tropes of linear narrative and story structure entirely when he wants to. It’s still a breath of fresh air, frankly, even all these years after it was written.
Second—and this shouldn’t really have been a revelation, since there had to be a reason his books have been so beloved for so long—I was taken aback by, simply, how well-written these stories are. In what must be no surprise to many parents who were more familiar with Carroll than I’d been, they are truly a great pleasure to read. I’m really glad Dash saw the Cheshire cat on that wallpaper.
As a side note, another nice thing about Carroll’s work, for the busy and/or vacationing parent, is that it’s completely out of copyright. In practical terms, this means you can download a copy onto your laptop or phone right now for free, or pay less than the cost of one printed book to get a more aesthetically pleasing version of the text of this book (with many other classics) for your iPhone.
[Image: Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons.]