Thanks to Disney I am sure everyone knows the story of Alice in Wonderland whether it is through the 1950s animated version or the modern version starring Johnny Depp. Although Alice in Wonderland wasn’t my favourite Disney film I do remember watching it as a child, so imagine my confusion when I read the first part of this book a few years ago and noticed the absence of some of the more well loved characters from the animated film. When I initially read part of this book I remember feeling a little ‘what the hell?’ about the plot and just bemused in general. I decided to reread it mainly because I was debating teaching Alice in Wonderland although I have since changed my mind.
Whilst sitting under a tree with her sister, Alice spots a white rabbit hurrying by and she follows him down a rabbit hole and into a world of pure wonder. A world where you can grow or shrink in size just by eating a teeny bit of cake or having a sip from a bottle persuading you to ‘drink me.’ A world where animals talk, often in poems or riddles, where babies turn into pigs and where a tea party lasts forever. Perhaps most worryingly it is a world where the Queen of Hearts is constantly shouting ‘OFF WITH HER HEAD!’
Alice returns to Wonderland in Through the Looking Glass and it is here that she meets some of the more memorable characters from the film, such as TweedleDee and TweedleDum. This version of Wonderland is, as the title suggests, ‘through the looking glass’ and is all topsy turvy and back to front, as things in a mirror often are. Alice’s mission is to make it to the eighth square on the chessboard landscape and become queen and she is helped on the way by many bizarre characters.
If I had to sum up Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass in one word it would be surreal. They are just the most bizarre books and although there is some kind of narrative plot, it is more just a series of meetings Alice has with the strange inhabitants of Wonderland. They are certainly entertaining and memorable characters, which is why people who haven’t even read Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass know of The Mad Hatter or TweedleDee and TweedleDum. I think out of the two I prefer Through the Looking Glass, even if it has the dreaded Jabberwocky poem in it (I had to teach this and I absolutely HATED it!) I love the play on words throughout and the little riddles from the Wonderland characters and how they emphasise the double meanings and the difficulties of the English language, especially the following exchange about answering a door.
‘”To answer the door?” He said. “What’s it been asking of?” He was so hoarse that Alice could scarcely hear him.
“I don’t know what you mean,” she said.
“I speaks English, doesn’t I?” The Frog went on. “Or are you deaf? What did it ask you?”‘
I can certainly see how this would be an interesting book to teach, particularly for the wordplay, however I know the class I have to teach and I think a lot of this will go over their heads. I think I will certainly keep it in mind for next year and for other classes as I enjoyed reading it and it will make a creative class text.
My addition had fantastic illustrations by John Tenniel whose drawings clearly influenced Disney and our popular perception of what Alice and the characters and world of Wonderland looked like.