Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

"Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is 'Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle!"
Our ninth graders are reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and I've been spending time in one of the ninth grade classrooms, so I wanted to be able to keep up. I expected it to be weird, and my expectations were met and then some. If you've seen the movie or existed in the world, you know the vague outline: Alice follows a rabbit down a rabbit hole and finds herself in Wonderland. Bizarre adventures ensue.

The book (as is almost aways the case) is way darker and creepier than the movie. The inhabitants of Wonderland are all either vicious or so fully self-absorbed that they have no time to help Alice who spends the book lost and constantly changing sizes. Alice handles all this like a champ, only occasionally losing her cool. She deals gamely with endless nonsensical riddles and jibber jabber:
"I quite agree with you," said the Duchess; "and the moral of that is--'Be what you would seem to be'--or, if you'd like it put more simply--'Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it might appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been would have appeared to be to them to be otherwise.'"
"I think I should understand that better," Alice said very politely, "if I had it written down: but I ca'n't quote follow it as you say it."
She even handles her constant and dramatic changes in size gamely: "Curiouser and curiouser" seems to be the most extreme emotion she feels (in situations where I would be caught in a cycle of panic attacks).

In another time and place, I would have read this as a metaphor for that in between spot between childhood and young adulthood--where everything is always changing and the world is a puzzling landscape filled with seemingly unfriendly people. But I read this the weekend before Trump's inauguration, and it became instead a metaphor for a country I no longer recognize as my own filled with people I have trouble fitting into my schema of how Americans behave. Trump is the Queen of Hearts, shouting "Off with their heads!" at every perceived slight, and women like Alice no longer can control their bodies. Alice is the lucky one here; she gets to wake up and go home.


Brent Waggoner said...

Yeah, I read this a few years ago. It is much, much stranger than any of the adaptations I've seen. Funnily, the grittier people try to make it, the less genuinely creepy it is, I think. The book nails that line between whimsy and weird.

Christopher said...


-- The Mad Hatter