Alice, tired and bored, is sitting with her sister on a riverbank. Her sister is reading, but Alice isn't interested in the book.
Out of nowhere, a White Rabbit runs by, muttering that he's going to be late and pulling a watch out of his pocket to check the time. Alice gets up and runs after him. He disappears into a giant rabbit-hole and she goes in after him.
At first Alice is simply walking through a tunnel, but suddenly it makes a ninety-degree turn and becomes a deep shaft straight down, like a well. Alice falls down the shaft before she can stop herself!
Alice falls for a long time. She notices that the walls of the tunnel are covered with cupboards, shelves, maps, and pictures, as though she were inside a house. She takes a jar for orange marmalade off one of the shelves, but it's empty, so she puts it into another cupboard as she's falling. (She must be falling really slowly!)
Alice starts trying to apply the knowledge she's learned in school to her situation. She guesses that she's fallen all the way to the center of the earth, which she thinks is 4,000 miles down. She starts talking to herself about her latitude and longitude – not that she knows what they mean, but they're fancy long words and they sound good.
Alice continues to fall. Now she starts to wonder if she'll fall all the way through the earth and come out the other side – where she figures people walk upside-down. She tries to practice curtseying while asking which country she's in, but it's not easy when you're falling down a shaft.
Alice talks to herself about her cat, Dinah. She thinks Dinah will miss her if she doesn't come home in the evening, since Alice is the one who always remembers to give her a saucer of milk. She wishes Dinah were with her and thinks Dinah could catch bats in the air as they fell.
Alice becomes drowsy and starts murmuring about cats and bats – she can't remember which eats which.
With a thump, Alice lands on a pile of sticks and leaves.
Jumping up, Alice finds herself in another long passageway. The White Rabbit is just barely in sight, hurrying along down the passage. Alice runs after him. The White Rabbit turns a corner, but when Alice rounds the corner, he's gone.
Alice is in a long hall with chandeliers and doors along all the walls. She walks around the edge of the hall and tries to open the doors, but they're all locked.
When Alice returns to the middle of the room, a three-legged glass table has appeared out of nowhere with a tiny golden key on it. She picks up the key and tries it in the locks of all the doors, but it's the wrong size.
Alice discovers a small curtain on her second circuit around the room. Pulling the curtain aside reveals a little door, about fifteen inches high. The golden key opens this door.
When Alice looks through the little door, she sees a small passage that leads into a beautiful garden. She really wants to get out into it, but she can't fit through the doorway – even her head is too big.
Alice wishes she could collapse and fold into herself, the way a pocket telescope does, so that she could get through the door. She reasons that some pretty weird things have been happening, so maybe it's just possible.
Alice goes back to the glass table to see if anything else helpful has appeared on it. She finds a bottle labeled "Drink Me."
At first, Alice is suspicious of the bottle. Remembering horror stories she's heard about how other little kids managed to hurt themselves with everyday objects, she examines it to make sure it's not labeled "poison." Since it isn't, she decides to follow the instructions and drink it. It's pretty tasty, and she downs every last drop.
The drink does in fact make Alice fold up like a collapsible telescope. In the end, she's about ten inches high – just the right size to go through the little door. Unfortunately, the door is locked and she left the key on top of the table. She's too short to reach the key, and the table (it's made of glass, remember?) is too slippery for her to climb.
Alice starts crying, then tells herself not to. Apparently she likes to pretend she's two people, so she often punishes herself or gives herself advice. This kid needs help.
Now that she's little, Alice can see a small glass box under the table. She opens it to find a cake with currants (a kind of berry) labeled "Eat Me." Alice starts to eat it slowly, holding her hand on top of her head so that she'll be able to feel herself growing larger or smaller. Nothing seems to happen, so she settles down to polish off the whole cake.