Effortless! Fey! Engrossing! Eloquent! There’s some blurbs, and I mean every word of them. These are short works, hence my dual review, but they are the very soup and cheese of madness in literature. The acrobatics that Carroll puts the English language through are as breathtaking as they are simply presented. But let’s get specific.
Throughout Alice’s adventures in Wonderland there is nary a plot in sight. A plot would make too much sense, or would too directly funnel the dreamy insanity of the text. Instead, I would describe the style and product as one of uncorked effervescence. These stories are made of bubbles. Things just pop up, but you’re no more surprised than to see boiling water in a pot. And then things just pop entirely and you move on. Or rather, you fall deeper in.
There is absolutely no explanation given at any point and I wanted for none. No explanation could satisfy. The characters are all distinct and Alice’s experience of each of them is completely honest. This world breathes but it doesn’t follow our rules. There is a sense that underneath it all, there is a set of guiding principles by which the dimension and its inhabitants operate, but Carroll never tries to bring it to the surface and neither should we. It is organic, it is inexplicable, it cannot be reproduced. It makes as little sense as lightning in a bottle and is just unlikely to happen a second time. But the craziest thing of all is that it did. Lewis Carroll put pen to paper and banged out two trips to Wonderland, and the second didn’t fall on its face. In fact, I preferred it.
You see, lightness and inconsequence and variety all have their place in illusory literature. And yet the bubbles burst, the steam dissipates, and the pot settles down. I remember laughing aloud and often while reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I read sections to friends and tasted the words trip and tumble over my tongue. But I don’t remember any of it particularly well. It is an ill-defined feeling. Through the Looking-Glass is another beast entirely. There Wonderland bares its fangs but slightly, and yet the feeling burrows and bloats and sets up shop in the back of your mind, making itself comfortable and plopping down in self-satisfaction right on top of your brainstem. There’s something wanton in it and the constant poetry pushes sense up against the ropes.
I can complain only about the framing narratives. I could not care less about Alice’s sister or her cats, and when she speaks in the “real” world you want to stop up your ears and pretend she’s not there. Carroll relies too heavily on wrapping up the stories as dreams or sleepy-time fantasies. I don’t blame him; he couldn’t have had any other idea what to do with Wonderland. He just uncaged it, a very little bit. And that’s what we have to do. Open up your door, whisper the words, listen to how they hop and skip out of your mouth and into your ears. It’s genius and it means nothing at all. It is a glimpse into pure mind, and it is just-because.