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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass Introduction

In A Nutshell

Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, are two of the most famous nineteenth-century children's fantasy novels. In fact, these books inaugurated a new era of children's literature in English: books that didn't have to be didactic or moralistic, that didn't teach children lessons. Books that simply created imaginative worlds in which children could let their minds roam free. The result was a style of writing that simultaneously embraced nonsense and logic. While other Victorian books for children – like Tom Brown's Schooldays and the works of Mary Louisa Molesworth and Mary Martha Sherwood – gave rules for living, these books simply provided space in which to live.

Without the curiosity, fantasy, and downright silliness of the Alice books, children's literature might not have branched out into the world of the imagination. Wonderland and Looking-Glass paved the way for many of the books that children and adults enjoy today – The Spiderwick Chronicles, the Harry Potter series, the Chronicles of Narnia, and so on.

The author of the Alice books, Lewis Carroll (the pen-name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) was a shy math professor at Oxford. To entertain three of his favorite "child-friends," he began telling the stories that eventually developed into the Alice books. Although one of the original audience members was the real-life Alice Liddell, the stories that Carroll composed for her (and her sisters') amusement have broad appeal for all readers, children and adults, from the nineteenth century until the present day.

The Alice books, sometimes combined or referred to with the abbreviated title Alice in Wonderland, have been adapted numerous times into films (both live action and cartoon), plays, and musicals. The books also provide a rich shared mythology for our culture. Because of the Alice books, Neo can "follow the white rabbit" to discover the truth about the Matrix, Jefferson Airplane can sing a psychedelic song about the White Rabbit, and we can all enjoy the strangely comprehensible nonsense of "Jabberwocky." Heck, anything that results in an amusement park ride where you get into a teacup is appealing to us.


Why Should I Care?

So you want to know why you should care about Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass? Well, hold on just a moment while we ask you some questions. Seriously – keep a tally of your answers for us. They're just simple yes-no questions. Here we go:

  • Are you glad that not every book you read has a moral at the end?
  • Do you want to understand the Matrix trilogy?
  • Have you ever felt like you were the wrong age or size or shape, or that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time?
  • Do you want listen to classic rock from the sixties and seventies and understand what it's actually about?
  • Has it ever felt like life is a big, complicated game being played around you, but that maybe some people aren't following the rules?

If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," then Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is for you. Why do we say that? Well, for one thing, it's because of the Alice books that authors were able to start writing (and selling!) children's literature that didn't have to make a Big Moral Point at the end.

And because of Lewis Carroll's smash-hit nonsense books, children's literature can be pure imagination and playfulness, without morals or platitudes. Of course, we're not saying that Carroll was the only author or even the first to construct an imaginative fantasy world, but he did break new ground by making the fantasy world marketable in the world of children's publishing. In fact, the Alice books made readers comfortable with the idea that children might want to read something just for fun. And now, we can all do the same – even if we're not children anymore.


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