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Alice is sitting on a riverbank with her sister feeling bored when a White Rabbit runs by, checking its pocket-watch and announcing that it's late. Alice leaps up, follows it down an enormous rabbit hole, and embarks on a series of wild and wacky adventures in a world known as Wonderland.
At first Alice is trapped in a hall of locked doors, unable to go through the only door to which she has a key because it's tiny and she's too big. She decides to make it her goal to find a way to get into the beautiful garden that she sees through the tiny door. Unfortunately, before that can happen, she undergoes a series of changes in size caused by eating and drinking mysterious substances she finds in the room. While she is a giant, she cries a pool of tears; then she shrinks again and almost drowns in it. After swimming out of the pool, she joins a group of animals that all fell into the water, and they embark on a strange exercise called a "Caucus-race" to dry themselves. Unfortunately, Alice alienates her new friends, most of whom are birds or other small animals, when she describes the exploits of her cat, Dinah.
Left alone, Alice begins to cry, but then she sees the White Rabbit run by again. The Rabbit mistakes her for his servant and sends her on an errand to his house, where she is tempted into drinking another mysterious cordial. (In this case, a "cordial" is a syrupy fruit drink, like a thick lemonade.) After drinking this cordial, Alice inflates to an enormous size and gets stuck in the house. The Rabbit and his friends try several methods of getting her out; eventually they settle on throwing a handful of pebbles in the window. These pebbles turn into cakes, and Alice eats a few and finds herself shrinking. She rushes out of the house, away from the angry mob waiting outside, and finds herself in a wood.
In the wood she meets a Caterpillar smoking a hookah (an Indian water pipe). Although the Caterpillar is a bit vague and more than a bit rude, he teaches Alice to eat different pieces of the mushroom in order to control her changes in size. After a few mishaps, in which she shrinks until her head hits her foot and expands until her head soars above the treetops on a long neck, Alice gets the hang of using the mushroom. Armed with this new knowledge, Alice continues her journey through the wood.
In a clearing at the edge of the wood, Alice sees a house. Approaching it, she watches two footmen (who resemble a frog and a fish) exchange an invitation: apparently the Queen is inviting the Duchess to play croquet. Despite the rude and ridiculous behavior of the footmen, Alice eventually enters the house, where she discovers the Duchess, a baby, and a cook. The air is filled with pepper, the baby is howling, the cook is throwing pots and pans at everyone, and the house is generally filled with rage and fury. The house also contains a strangely grinning Cat that the Duchess says is a Cheshire-Cat. Alice rescues the baby from the house, only to discover that it has metamorphosed into a pig.
Alone in the wood again, Alice sees the Cheshire-Cat materialize on a tree branch. The Cat tells her about the people that live in the area and also claims that everyone in Wonderland is mad (insane). After considering the different people described by the Cat, Alice decides to visit the March Hare.
On arriving at the March Hare's house, Alice encounters a Mad Tea Party consisting of the Hare, the Mad Hatter, and a Dormouse. She tries to join this party, but eventually tires of the rudeness of the Hare and Hatter, who argue about everything she says, and the drowsiness of the Dormouse, which keeps falling asleep in the middle of its own story. Returning to the wood, she finds a tree with a door that leads her back to the hall of doors. This time, by eating different bits of the mushroom, Alice is able to get the key to the tiny door, become the right size, and walk into the beautiful garden.
No sooner does Alice arrive in the beautiful garden than a royal procession comes by, consisting of personified playing cards, with the hearts as the royalty, the clubs as soldiers, the spades as gardeners, and the diamonds as courtiers. The Queen of Hearts, despite being bloodthirsty and constantly ordering the executions of everyone around her ("Off with his head!"), invites Alice to join her in a game of croquet. This game is harder than usual, since all the game pieces are alive – hedgehogs for balls, flamingoes for mallets, and playing-card soldiers for hoops. The Queen of Hearts strides around the game ordering executions of players who irritate her.
Eventually the Cheshire-Cat appears, causing a distraction and irritating the King. In order to get rid of the Cat, Alice recommends that they send for its owner, the Duchess. The Duchess is brought, but the Cat has disappeared. Alice and the Duchess take a brief stroll together, and the Duchess (in a much better mood without all the pepper around) tells Alice the morals of things they discuss. The Queen then dismisses the Duchess and takes Alice back to the game, but soon after she has ordered everyone executed except Alice and the King.
At this point, the Queen asks Alice if she has met the Mock Turtle. When Alice says that she hasn't, the Queen sends her to meet him in the company of a Gryphon. The Gryphon and the Mock Turtle tell Alice about their school days in the sea and perform a rowdy dance, the Lobster Quadrille, for Alice's amusement. Their time together is interrupted by a shout that the trial is beginning.
The Gryphon takes Alice back to the court and into a courtroom, where the King is acting as judge. Alice watches as the Knave of Hearts is tried for the theft of some tarts made by the Queen. The trial, however, is ridiculous, since the animals in the jury are foolish and none of the witnesses know anything about the crime. Finally Alice herself is called as a witness, but she has begun growing to her usual size again and towers over all the others. They attack her, but she brushes them away, since they're nothing but a pack of cards.
Alice wakes up to find that her sister is brushing away dead leaves from her face as she sleeps on the riverbank. She tells her sister about her adventures and runs home. Her sister remains under the tree, daydreaming about the strange people Alice met and the odd things she did while in Wonderland.
Alice is sitting indoors winding a ball of yarn and playing with her kittens and cat. Alice asks a kitten if it can play chess. She thinks maybe it can, because it seems to look very intently at the pieces when Alice is playing. She pretends that the kitten is the Red Queen, since it looks a little bit like that piece.
Alice imagines that the mirror over the fireplace is growing soft like gauze, then discovers that it really is. She climbs up onto the mantelpiece and drops down into the room on the other side, finding herself in Looking-Glass World, where everything is the opposite of what she's used to. She explores the mirror image of her own living room, finding living chess pieces and reading a strange nonsense poem called "Jabberwocky." She goes out of the house and explores the garden, where the flowers can talk. At first she has trouble because she has to walk the opposite of the direction she wants to go in order to get anywhere, but she soon figures it out.
Then Alice meets the Red Queen. The Red Queen shows her a view of the countryside, which is divided into an enormous chessboard. Alice asks to be allowed to play in the giant living game of chess, and the Red Queen assigns her the role of White Pawn. Alice is to start in the Second Square, cross six brooks (the divisions between squares), and end up in the Eighth Square, where she will become a Queen.
Alice's adventure continues with a train trip through the Third Square. She moves quickly through this square because pawns are allowed to move two squares the first time they move. After the train trip Alice lands in the Fourth Square, where a Gnat tells her about the strange insects in Looking-Glass World. Alice then meets the brothers Tweedledum and Tweedledee, nursery rhyme characters, who recite poetry to her and have a fight about a broken rattle. They are driven apart by a giant crow. While hiding from the crow, Alice meets the White Queen, who is chasing a shawl that was blown away by the wind. Alice tries to help the Queen tidy herself. As they are walking, they cross another brook. The Queen turns into a sheep, the wood turns into a shop, and Alice finds herself in the Fifth Square.
Alice browses around in the shop run by the sheep and is startled when it turns into a boat on a river. Alice rows the boat along, pauses to pick rushes, and at one point is thrown down when her oar gets stuck. Then the boat disappears and they are back in the shop, where Alice buys an egg. As she walks toward the egg, it grows larger and larger. She crosses another brook and enters the Sixth Square, where the egg turns into Humpty Dumpty.
Humpty Dumpty is fond of puns and wordplay, recites even more poetry to Alice, and impresses her with his pompous self-importance. He refuses to believe that he might fall off the wall and break. Of course, after she leaves him, this is exactly what happens. Alice is caught up in the stampede of all the King's horses and men who will try to put Humpty Dumpty back together. Then she meets the White King and the Lion and Unicorn, who are fighting for the King's crown. They take a break from the fight for snacks, and Alice shares white and brown bread and plum-cake with them. When the drummers start drumming them out of town, Alice is so startled that she leaps over another brook into the Seventh Square.
In the Seventh Square, Alice is briefly threatened by a Red Knight, but rescued by a White Knight. The White Knight, despite his clumsiness and daydreaming, guides her through the square, telling her about his strange inventions and singing her a song on their way. He leaves her at the brink of the last brook.
Alice leaps across and finds herself in the Eighth Square with a crown on her head – she has become a Queen at last! Before she gets to celebrate, though, the White and Red Queens reappear and insist on quizzing her. Their examination doesn't make much sense, but Alice seems to pass anyway. She finds herself at a banquet in her honor, but she's not allowed to eat anything because she keeps getting introduced to the food. Things start to get really weird as the guests and food switch places.
Alice picks up the Red Queen and decides to shake her into a kitten. As the Red Queen transforms into Alice's pet, Kitty, Alice finds herself back in her own house, waking up from a dream. But she's not sure whose dream it was – did she dream up the game, or did the Red King dream about her?