Children's Literature, Fairy Tale, Fantasy, Quest, Satire and Parody
The Alice books are children's literature by the strict definition – that is, they are literature originally intended for child readers and listeners. Of course, that doesn't mean that adults can't enjoy them, too, and they have since the first publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865. Even dignified Queen Victoria was reputed to love the tale of little Alice. Today, the Alice books are probably more popular with adult readers – who can appreciate all the subtle sarcasm, wordplay, and details of Carroll's clever writing – than with young readers. Still, the various film adaptations, picture-book versions, toys, games, and other tie-ins keep the classic story alive for even the youngest children.
In a broad sense, the Alice books are also fairy tales. While Shmoop defies to you find any actual fairies in them, the books present fantasy and adventure to a child audience in a way that we understand as the essence of the fairy tale. Lewis Carroll himself described Through the Looking-Glass as "a fairy-tale" in the poem he wrote as an epigraph for that book. While we know that authors aren't always the final authorities about the literary qualities of their own work, in this case, we're willing to take his word for it.
A better term to describe the genre of the Alice books than "fairy tale" is fantasy. Definition-wise, this makes a lot of sense. A world where playing cards come to life, animals can talk, and magic potions make you shrink is definitely fantastic. Calling the book a fantasy also allows us to put it into a category with other classic fantasies, such as the Chronicles of Narnia, the Harry Potter series, The Wizard of Oz, and Peter Pan, which seem like obvious points of comparison.
As you'll notice if you check out the "Classic Plot Analysis" section, both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are quest narratives. In each book, Alice is trying to get to a specific location – either the beautiful garden in Wonderland or the eighth square of the chess board in Looking-Glass World – in order to conclude her adventure.
Finally, we'll throw one more genre into the mix for you to think about in connection with Alice – satire and parody. Neither of the Alice books is a sustained parody of one specific thing, but there are definitely several moments where the books become highly satirical. For example, when Alice needs to get dry, the Dodo organizes a "Caucus-race," which is clearly a parody of the electoral process and politics. The satirical elements in the books give them a more adult feel and also suggest that there's more here than meets the eye – perhaps nonsense can be a kind of sense.