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Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There: 11/13/09

Growing up my best friend was Alice. Not the Alice created by Lewis Carroll or Alice Liddell, his inspiration, of course. But my friend Alice was a dead-ringer for Carroll's Alice and often dressed as her for Halloween. Her older sister took it as her business to make sure she and I knew who the fictional Alice was, as character beyond the Disney film version. I honestly can't remember when I first read both Alice novels: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking Glass And What Alice Saw There (1871). What I do remember is that I read the books back to back in the course of an almost all-nighter.

In college Lewis Carroll's Alice took on new importance for me. My boyfriend (now husband) adored the books and the poems from them. Our first year of exchanging gifts we gave each other books. Ian gave me a leather bound omnibus of Douglas Adams's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and I tracked down two beautiful used copies of the Alice books with the John Tenniel illustrations. This was before the ease of searching online for books; it meant a day long trip to Hillcrest (the place to buy used books in San Diego). It is his copies that we kept when we married and that I'm now reviewing

Since my husband's passion for Alice is the poetry, I tend to think now of the books in terms of their poems. The introduction to the edition we have says that everyone remembers "Jabberwocky", "Tweedledum and Tweedledee" and "The Walrus and Carpenter" is part of the "Alice book" not which one. They are all in Through the Looking Glass (and mashed into most of the film adaptations of Alice in Wonderland)

Through the Looking Glass takes the apparent chaos of Wonderland and maps it logically (more or less) against the grid of a chessboard. The moves of the game are outlined at the start of the book, right after the table of contents

Like many a modern fantasy novel, humble Alice finds herself crowned. Now her coronation is part of chess game. I can't call Alice the first fantasy protagonist to go from nobody to nobility; let's not forget Sancho Panza who in the second book of Don Quixote ends up the lord of an island

If you plan on reading Lewis Carroll's Alice, please get both books. Get them with the John Tenniel illustrations. Read them together. Read the poems out loud. Memorize them! They are quoted and paraphrased almost as often as much as Shakespeare's sonnets and plays are.

Comments (2)

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Comment #1: Friday, November, 13, 2009 at 16:20:45


I remember being surprised when I finally read Through the Looking Glass and realized the poems were from the second book, not the first (and better-known) one. Jabberwocky always gave me delicious shivers when younger. And I love the Tenniel illustrations!

Comment #2: Thursday, November 19, 2009 at 20:03:32


It's been so many years since I read both books I don't remember a time when I didn't know which character or which poem belonged to which book. They are also from a very short pile of books I re-read on a regular basis.

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