Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Off With Their Heads

Now that the title has your attention, on to the latest installment of the Bucks and Books blog over Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. As children, several of us had seen the Disney adaptation of Carroll's fantastical novels, but at the age of six, one's scope of criticism usually falls under "I love it" or "I hate it." Personally, I remember enjoying the movie, but I did not find that same sense of enjoyment when reading the text. I kept thinking to myself, "What is the point of all this?" and after our meeting on Saturday, I feel safe in saying that at times in our reading we all felt a bit like Alice as she struggled to make sense of the Wonderland world. In fact, most of us came to the table with the same sense of having missed out on something critical in the text, leading once again to the question of Carroll's authorial intent.

Perhaps as educated adults, many of whom make a living out of reading and analyzing texts in one way or another, we are handicapped by our expectations that our reading contains subliminal messages or critical commentaries. Maybe the rambling narration and often nonsensical plot can best be appreciated by children, Carroll's target audience, who revel in stories and the more ridiculous the better. The introduction and annotations in the copy I read, explored Carroll's life and his friendships with children, particularly Alice Liddell, the Alice of Alice in Wonderland. Supposedly, Alice in Wonderland was the expansion of a story Carroll made up for the amusement of Alice and her two sisters while they were on a rowing trip one summer day. If this is the case, then perhaps the stories are simply glorified children's tales, and we as adults are discounting their entertainment value by looking for something more imbedded in the text.

Interestingly, if one believes these stories were solely for the entertainment of children, then years later they do in fact inadvertently provide insight into the time period in which they were written. The Victorian period brought about the concept of a true and marked childhood. Prior to this children were viewed as miniature adults. Secondly, these stories provide a departure of the norm of children's literature as instructional tool. Rather than building a story around a moral lesson or virtue, the story serves little purpose aside from enjoyment and even escape, interestingly one of the chief reasons for popular literature today. In many ways our difficulty with the text may also allow it to be cast as a satire due to way in which the disconnect between the worlds of children and adults becomes painfully obvious.

Needless to say, there is much more I could have written from our discussion, but in an attempt to create a cohesive thread, some has been omitted. Also, this seems a fitting time to mention the fact that while we did not go into a Freudian reading of Carroll's friendships with and adoration for young girls, there is plenty out there to read on the topic if one so desires. Secondly, this book really forced us to look at the way in which the introduction and the point of view expressed by that author can color a reading of the book and the reader's attitudes toward the author, yet another excuse not to read those pesky introductions.

1 comment:

wordswordswords said...

Ha! Ha! Nancy, I love your "pesky introductions" comment. Along those lines, I feel like we spent a lot of time discussing Carroll's personal life, which I actually enjoyed more than discussing the book. Not counting autobiographies & memoirs, I'd say we spent more time on the author in proportion to the text than we've ever had.

I still don't know where I stand on Carroll's relationship w/ Alice Liddell & other children. I think if I did some in-depth research on him, it'd prove inconclusive. I think we were split as to what we thought about him.