Notes on Literature: Curiouser and Curiouser: Reading Alice at 25

It’s probably a curious thing, but I’m 25 and I just finished reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass for the first time. It was an absolute pleasure to read Martin Gardner’s definitive edition in the form of the single volume Annotated Alice. I don’t regret having put off reading Lewis Carroll’s masterpieces until now. While she may not be beyond the ability of today’s children to understand and appreciate, I’m pretty sure well read adults with a childish sense of curiosity enjoy Alice’s company better. I can’t agree more with Gardner when he says

Children today are bewildered and sometimes frightened by the nightmarish atmosphere of Alice’s dreams. It is only because adults — scientists and mathematicians in particular — continue to relish the Alice books that they are assured of immortality.

Having read the Alice books at last, I’ll definitely reread them all my life. As stories, they form an infinite and endlessly diverting network of word play, semantic puzzles, linguistic riddles, and mathematical paradoxes which, for me, represents pure art. And most compelling of all, there are the unforgettable images: Alice falling down a seemingly bottomless pit wondering what it would be like to fall right through to the other side of the Earth; the Mad Hatter’s tea-party; the Cheshire Cat; the shape shifting shop; the conversation with Humpty Dumpty; the ever sleeping, ever dreaming Red King. Precisely because of the infinite nature of the network that is Alice’s dream, some of the lines in the books have percolated into popular culture and literature, having acquired myriad connotations. I’ll cite two examples, both from the Mad Hatter episode

“Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”

“I want a clean cup,” interrupted the Hatter: “let’s all move one place on.”

The first one is a riddle; arguably the most devious riddle ever conceived. Gardner gives several possible solutions, including the one published by Carroll himself. In my opinion, the best and cleverest is Carroll’s.

For the first time reader, the annotations, which have a tendency to grow into mini-essays, tend to distract from the flow of Carroll’s engaging narrative. To get an unadulterated feel for the books on the first reading, I skipped most of the annotations and would in fact venture to suggest that all first time readers do so. Read separately, the scrupulously researched annotations are lively, entertaining (endlessly diverting? yes!) and a great source of indispensable information.

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2 Responses to Notes on Literature: Curiouser and Curiouser: Reading Alice at 25

  1. Vinod Mohan says:

    Hi da. This is the first time I’m reading your posts. I must say you’ve got a great skill of writing. I may not be a judge or a critic to acclaim your writing. But as you’d say I’m just a reader. My construal (well, it may be subjective!) of your writing and its sense exhilarates me to read more even if the topics you choose are not in line to my knowledge and definitely above comprehensibility of my woefully unqualified intellect. This is not just about this blog. I ran through other blogs of yours as well.

    I’m not a blogger or a computer savvy. But I’ll make it a point to read through your blogs. Your writing is awe to me. Keep it up – your writing and your reading habit.

    • Surendran says:

      Hi Vinod! Thanks for your comment. This is the first time that a real, not just virtual, friend or aquaintance of mine has commented on any of my blogs. I should say you’ve been very generous in praising my writing. The fact that someone is following my blog will definitely go a long way in ensuring that I continue to delve deep and keep reading and writing on a variety of different subjects. So keep reading!

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