Sunday, November 29, 2015

Alice's 150-Year Anniversary

As those who know when Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was published, it's the 150-year anniversary this year. On Thursday, ABC ran a piece during the exact publication date, including some beautiful pictures from the original edition in longhand. The pictures are beautiful, especially. As the story explains, quoting the British Museum,

"Alice Liddell kept the manuscript until 1928 when she was forced to sell it to pay death duties after the death of her husband," the museum explains, adding that, after the manuscript bounced around a bit,"it was purchased by a wealthy group of benefactors who donated the volume to the British people (and the British Museum) in 1948 in gratitude for their gallantry against Hitler during World War Two."

There was indeed an Alice, who was the protagonist of the book, and so on. Whether you accept Alice's Adventures in Wonderland as a children's book, as a fantasy/adventure book, as a cagily worded treatise on the leading mathematical theories of the day, or as something else entirely, you're almost certainly of the opinion that it is a classic.

Rather than simply re-post the news, which I try to avoid here (even if I have a thing for celebrating the holidays), I'll share two of my things from the book that have influenced my writing. I read it in 2011, so it unfortunately predates Book a Period-of-Time, but this blog is known for throwing literary tidbits at the audience regardless of what else is happening. Here they are, then, in the order they occurred to me:


I love the experimental writing style Carroll uses in the Alice books. As an author myself, and someone fond of innovation in the arts, I appreciated Carroll's willingness to break from literary tradition even as he advocated tradition in math. Carroll's inclusion of long parenthetical passages from the beginning onward is one example. Early passages like "(for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the school-room, and though this was not a very good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over)" (2-3*) demonstrate a very anti-show, don't tell way of inserting Alice's thoughts into the story, readable silently or aloud. I experiment with storytelling in ways that Carroll directly influenced.

I love the way Carroll presents the decisions Alice is forced to make. Tied to the above passage is the cold, almost inhuman analysis Alice makes in situations that would make anyone else faint. "The Pool of Tears", for example, is basically an entire chapter of this. Alice's body turns into, in her words, "a telescope", (7-8) yet she forgoes the expected terrified screaming for a surprisingly reasoned response: "And she went on planning to herself how she would manage [sending her feet boots for Christmas]. 'They must go by the carrier,' she thought; 'and how funny it'll seem, sending presents to one's own feet! And how odd the directions will look!" The insistence of breaking everything into its component parts has allowed me to think of story in terms of fractious perspectives, or even base an entire novelette on a single decision.

Carroll's legacy cannot be denied, in any genre fantastical, analytical or fun. Celebrate Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, then! I certainly am.

*This may not be the most definitive edition, but it provides what I use here well enough.

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