I was looking forward to reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (for us, bound in one volume) out to my son, because I remember having enjoyed them in high school. To this day, one of my very favorite poems is “The Jabberwocky,” from Looking Glass. What I found, unsurprisingly, was a surprise. My experience with the books, as an adult, is so different from what it was as a child.
When I was in my teens, this book felt pleasantly unsettling, like I had drunk too much cherry cordial and wandered into a circus. I think this was partly because of the language but also because of the vivid, memorable images (many of which have become icons). I could really get lost in Wonderland, even if I did often have a little bit of a hangover, and never came to list it among my “faves.”
When I was in my thirties (still, I’m hanging on to that), I sort of stumped through the story, left without a plot and mystified that children can enjoy this (though they often do). It seems to me that the language play is much too advanced for children (and maybe it is over their heads). Could it be that the nonsense is engaging younger readers while all the literary play is engaging the older? Yes, I think perhaps that it is one of those rare, truly family entertainments.
My son, at ten years old, tolerated the book. I enjoyed it while feeling like I had lost a level of experiencing it when I grew up. It really is—plotwise—a bunch of nonsense with very cliché, anticlimactic endings, but it is entertaining nonetheless. It is also a dense forest of wordplay fit for the most grammar-nerd-ly among us. And it’s a part of us, in the Western world. It seems very important in the scheme of things, Carrol talking nonsense to kids and then actually enjoying it, paving the way for all sorts of childlike entertainment.
Note: There is no reason to believe any of the overexcited drivel that Carroll was on or referencing drugs in his books. There’s just no evidence for either, though it was a popular theory in the 60s (which probably says more about the 60s than Alice).
A recommended classic, but just be ready for almost no plot or character development: it’s not a conventional tale. Everything else will dazzle.
There are many movies to talk about here, but I’ll stick to a few obvious ones: Disney animation, Tim Burton, and Tim Burton. For other options, you’ll have to google it. And there might be a few older movies and PBS adaptations that are worth watching, but there is also value in the three big productions. (There was a TV series that was a spin-off of Once Upon a Time, that looked so promising, in 2013, but it turned out to be a dud and lasted only one season.)
1951, Alice in Wonderland, Disney animation. If you haven’t seen this… It’s so classic that many kids will balk at it right from the beginning. The animation style and just about everything about it is outdated. Still, watching it is as much a trip to the time period as it was a trip to Wonderland. Those saturated colors! That heavily outlined rendering! The trippiness! It embraces the nonsense but does downplay the word play, I suppose. It’s worth watching, especially if you like animation, old movies, or Disney.
2010, Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton. This is another one worth renting, and it’s also likely that you’ve already seen it. It didn’t go over as well as expected at the time, but it has become a cult classic—or at least Johnny Depp’s character has become a sort of icon with the crazy eyes and the wild, red hair. It does get a little dark at spots, so not as appropriate for children as the last one mentioned. Still plenty trippy and a little crazy, but more plot-driven than the book.
2016, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Tim Burton. A sequel to the above movie, it is fairly equal to it as well, at least for a sequel. They’re both a feast for the eyes, playful and dark, and generally well-acted. The second one, if I remember correctly, goes further afield with the plot and deeply explores supporting characters. In the books, all characters are grazed, so it’s lots of back story that is new. Again, worth the watch for more people.