At the outset of this post, I should admit something: I have never read Alice in Wonderland. Perhaps that doesn’t sound terribly confession-worthy except that I own three different versions of the book. Somehow every time I weed my personal book collection, I find myself paging through the books, marveling at the illustrations–one by Ralph Steadman, another by Alison Jay, and the last by Helen Oxenbury. I always end up finding room in my collection for all three.
According to Alice scholar Michael Hancher, who spoke at Minneapolis Central Library on Saturday to kick off Wonderland Week, Alice has outgrown her own story. “She has escaped her narration,” he says. She is a part of pop culture.
People who have never read the book, like myself, know the story from various versions of the story that exist in movies, plays, picture books, etc. Hancher pointed out that Lewis Carroll was not opposed to transforming the story. He supervised several versions, including translations and dramatizations that didn’t hold strictly to his original. Odd, since Carroll was so picky about the design of the first edition. He wanted the illustrations and the text to align just so for dramatic impact in the scene where Alice passes through the mirror, for example.
Earlier that day, the library hosted a dramatized scene from Through the Looking-Glass as part of the Alice-themed storytime for families. Local performance group Mixed Precipitation made the story come alive for kids. My little one loved the scene with Humpty Dumpty almost falling again and again. The intensity of “Jabberwocky” went over her head, and she spent most of the show laughing. Afterward, the kids were invited to a tea party where they decorated cookies and drank juice (not tea).
I guess this makes me wonder: Is Alice a children’s story? I don’t know. There is something about it, though, that seems to speak to a wide variety of people as evidenced by its popularity over all these years.
Families who want more of Alice can get more Wonderland fun next Saturday, November 12th. Grown-up fans may want to get tickets for the new ballet version of Alice at the Northrop that looks very interesting.
You can compare the many, many versions of Alice that are available online or delve into The Annotated Alice for all the clues to what you might be missing as you read.
As for me, I think I might choose one of the versions I have sitting on my shelf and actually read it. After all, it’s a part of our culture.