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Book Review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


I wonder how many of those queueing for the premiere of Tim Burton’s Through the Looking Glass this weekend can say they have read the 1871 original novel? How many are aware that its full title is Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There? Indeed, would it be unfair to assume some moviegoers may not know the novel even exists? Perhaps so, but regardless, it is a striking thought.

Lewis Carroll’s novels (the aforementioned and its more famous predecessor, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland) have been somewhat eclipsed by Walt Disney’s cinematic adaptations; first in 1951 with an animated feature film, and in recent years by Burton’s live-action duo. This is a tremendous shame, as the book which started it all is a compelling read. Although officially a work of children’s fiction, it has found favour with young and adult readership alike; resonating with its immersive imagery, peculiar protagonist and nonsensical narrative.

Tired of her sister’s pictureless books, young Alice sits musing on the riverbank when a white rabbit with a waistcoat and pocket watch scurries past. Ablaze with curiosity, she pursues him, unaware the chase will plunge her into a mysterious world beyond all rationality. The story unfolds over twelve short chapters, keeping pace with Alice as she traverses the absurdities of Wonderland. Acquiring an assembly of anthropomorphic associates, she employs a certain warped logic as her guide to navigate the endless stream of oddities which befall her; to quote the book, “She generally gave herself very good advice, though she very seldom followed it”.

Never pausing for breath, the tale has a distinct fluidity that makes it an easy read; one never quite understands what is happening, nor has any hope of guessing what is to come; yet the pages are eagerly turned. Alice, who finds her own way through the many predicaments in which she finds herself - from growing a mile high to shrinking to the size of a dormouse - is entirely dissociated from the damsel in distress persona afflicting so many fairy-tale females. Her adventures read as a journey of a pioneer of fantasy realms; paving the way for the likes of Narnia and Neverland. Interspersed with the beautiful illustrations of John Tenniel, it experiences occasional shifts from prose to poetry that make for a multi-dimensional read.

Arguably, one of its greatest assets is that the story may be adapted to the reader’s needs; whether they be recreational or analytical - to escape reality or to critique it. As such the book is set apart from its neighbours on the shelf and is perfectly at home beside J.M. Barrie and J.R.R. Tolkien. For those who know Alice only from her wide-eyed appearances on the big screen, I would highly recommend re-acquainting yourself with her on-the-page fall down the rabbit hole, as it were.

Written by Ellie Boland 

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