Juttie’s #CBR5 Review #01: Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (not his real name!!)

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I think it is pretty safe to assume that, if someone uses a fake name, that someone might be a little unusual. For example, let’s just take a second to compile a list of famous people who use a fake name. We have, in no particular order:

  1. Woody Allen (real name Allen Stewart Konigsberg);
  2. Adam Ant (real name Stuart Leslie Goddard);
  3. Courtney Love (real name Love Michelle Harrison);
  4. Andy Warhol (real name Andrew Warhola); and
  5. Vanilla Ice (real name Robert Van Winkle).

I think it’s safe to say that they are not exactly representative members of what a normal person is in our modern society.

So let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, you might want to take care when dealing with someone you know is using a pseudonym. One of those ‘better safe than sorry’ rules.

I raise this now because I learnt the hard way what happens if you don’t follow that rule.

I don’t know why Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson chose to write under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. Nor do I know what drove him to write ‘Alice in Wonderland’. And, after reading it for the first time in my life on a rainy Saturday morning, I don’t know why it is considered such a classic novel by young and old alike.

However, now that I have read it, absorbed it, contemplated it, considered its author, his nom de plume, the time it was written, and its intended audience, I do know one thing.

I wish I had taken care before deciding to read it. I wish I had known Lewis Carroll was a pseudonym. Because, my friends, Alice is weird. Like, seriously weird.

Let’s jump down this little rabbit hole together, shall we, unlike a certain little miss who decides it’s a fantastic idea to chase a rabbit with a pocket watch down a deep dark hole.  But I’m getting ahead of myself. A head that a certain queen would love to cut off. Sorry, again, jumping ahead. I’ll try and put my thoughts on this book into some sort of order.

The pseudonym thing should have put me on notice that I was in for a weird time, much like Alice herself.  She is quietly sitting there, minding her own business, nods off, and next thing she knows a white rabbit hurries past checking its watch. Weird.

She decides to follow it. Weirder.

It dives down a hole, she follows. And then, just when I was adjusting to a certain level of weirdness, somewhere between offbeat and whimsical, I learn a life lesson in what weirdness can be in the hands of a master wordsmith like our good Mr Carroll / Dodgson.

In order, I am subjected to the following barrage of events:

  1. she drinks and eats random sweets, grows bigger, smaller, bigger again, gets stuck in that rabbit’s home, and literally kicks the ass of a friend of the rabbit when that friend tries to climb down the chimney to see what the hell is going on in his mate’s crib;
  2.  she takes life advice from a caterpillar smoking something from a hookah.  I don’t care what it was smoking; this is not a good lesson to teach to young children who might be reading this book. If I ever have children, I don’t want them going to our garden looking for a stoned caterpillar to tell them how to live life to the fullest. They can go to the internet and read forums and blogs, like any good child should;
  3. she goes to a tea party. I have to say, this is the scene I was most excited about. There is such a mythology and focus on the events at this magical tea party that I should have known I would be disappointed. But what I was not expecting, what no-one reading this book for the first time could expect, is the soul crushing disappointment the tea party creates for the reader. It’s batshit weird, man. A dormouse tells a story. That’s it. Seriously. That’s all that happens. And the story is so boring, the dormouse keeps falling asleep. Wow, great chapter, great central moment of the novel. Thanks for that, now I feel like I need to take a shower;
  4. Alice meets a queen and king, they play croquet using flamencos and hedgehogs, and the queen keeps threatening to cut people’s heads off.  This goes on for a while, by the way. Many, many pages are devoted to the finer points of how you hit a live hedgehog with a live flamenco. I think I could do it myself, to be honest, it was that detailed. What kind of weird author decides, in the middle of a novel, to basically set out the steps for live hedgehog / flamenco / croquet playing? Answer? Our good Mr Carroll / Dodgson; and
  5. Alice gets her day in court. Oh yes, the novel ends in a very Law & Order kind of way, with everyone finishing up in a courtroom to consider whether some dude stole the queen’s tarts. Now, I’m a lawyer, and petty larceny doesn’t typically end up in court, even when a monarch is involved. Dude would get a slap on the wrist, a criminal record, a fine, and sent on his merry, tart-eating way. But not in this novel. In this novel, tart-theft is equivalent to murder – actually, check that, it’s MORE serious than murder given the queen’s propensity to cut innocent people’s heads off – and leads to Alice giving evidence in the trial. But then we come full circle and she starts to grow large again (after yet another cake-eating binge in the witness box). If that had happened to Jack McCoy, I would imagine that the TV reviewers would consider it to be a weird episode of Law & Order. But in this novel, it’s considered the best way to wrap things up. Because that’s it. That’s how Alice ends. Alice grows big. She wakes up. And they all live happily ever after.

Look at those 5 points objectively, and tell me that Alice in Wonderland isn’t just a little bit weird, and that Mr Carroll / Dodgson can be safely added to the list of ‘not normal people who use fake names’ above.

I feel strange for having read Alice. Did I miss something? Am I weird? Is that what the novel is really all about, testing my own mental health? And if so, have I failed by finding it so bizarre?

Whatever. Shit is weird, man.

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