Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

alices-adventures-in-wonderland-and-through-the-looking-glass-and-what-alice-found-thereI absolutely did not expect to love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as much as I did! I grew up with the Disney version of Alice, and while it is always fun and evokes all sense of wonderment, it is never funny, I don’t think. How surprised I was to find the book incredibly amazingly hilariously laugh-out-loud FUNNY. Oh how I enjoyed every page, reading it a little bit every night before sleeping, just so I could savor it slowly and keep it unread a bit longer!

Before reading the book, I never had much impression of Alice. She was a rather dull observant in a wacky world. How pleasantly surprised I was to find that the character Alice in book has so much more! She is opinionated, she likes to daydream and talk to herself, she likes to assert everybody (which makes the creatures around her unhappy more often than not), she is adventurous, but also has impeccable manners. In short, she has personality! Which is really what is lacking in the movies.

And the language! How delightful, playful, and surprisingly, modern! It does not at all read like a classic (not that there’s anything wrong with classic). It just felt so familiar, as if it is written in our times. I could not believe the book is written in 1800s.

Then the world! We are all familiar with Alice’s world from various sources, but I was so happy to finally know how it was originally presented. There are a few creatures that never made the cut into the Disney movie, namely the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle. Though probably for a good reason as I thought it was the least exciting part of the book. Then the Duchess, her pig baby, and the excessive-pepper cook. And do you know that Tweedledee and Tweedledum are not in the original Alice? I was waiting for their appearance as they’re ones of my favorite characters, yet they never came up. Apparently they appear in the sequel (Through the Looking Glass), which is included in the same Vintage copy I have, but I’ve decided to save it for later and write a separate post as I loved the first one so much I can’t wait to talk about it here.

My favorite parts are the scene after Alice cries and falls into her own pool of tears and meet all the birds and mouse. The part where the Mouse starts to give what according to him is the driest speech and where they have running competition in circle almost made me fall off my chair laughing (figuratively speaking, as I read in bed). Then the trial in the last two chapters! My gosh the trial is just out-of-this-world hilarious! I don’t think it can get any funnier! My words can’t explain how funny the whole scene is!

I don’t know why it took me so long to pick up this book and why I missed it as a child (I’m guessing it never got translated in my birth country). But really, I have a feeling that it’s one of those books that you may appreciate more as an adult. For me it is anyway. Now I understand how the story could stand the test of time for so long (145 years this year). I honestly think Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is work of a genius.

5 stars
1865, 150 ppAlice's Adventures in Wonderland

My Vintage copy of Alice contains the original illustrations by John Tenniel (above). I read it in conjunction with another copy of Alice I borrowed off the library which was published in 2009 by Walker Books (Australia), illustrated by Robert Ingpen (right). The new illustrations use colored pencils and look absolutely amazing. However Alice and everybody in it looks so grave to the point of looking sad, which seems like an odd decision. Why would you draw such solemn characters for such a funny tale? The contemporary illustrator gave such high praises for Tenniel, the original illustrator, and it warmed my heart. He stated that the creative partnership between Carroll and Tenniel is “unmatched in the history of our literature”.

“It is for these reasons that my pictorial collection of Alice through her dream underground for these modern times, is dedicated in awe to John Tenniel, whose skill and imagination made his work shine out at a time when black and white engraving from drawings was the only practical means of print reproduction for the illustrator.” ~ Robert Ingpen

I rarely quote a dedication, but this one just touched me. Such a humble man.


Alice and the Caterpillar, by John Tenniel

Some interesting facts about Alice. Lewis Carroll is the pen name used by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. He wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for three daughters of a Dean of Christ Church College, Oxford, one of them named Alice Pleasance Liddell, the middle of three sisters. Carroll was a mathematician and worked as mathematics lecturer until his death. When Caroll first wrote the story by hand, he purposely left space for 37 illustrations which were added later by John Tenniel. After coming out of copyright in 1907, 42 years after its publication, over 200 illustrators other than Tenniel have interpreted the story, many paid homage to the original visions of Carroll and Tenniel through their depictions of Alice and the other characters. Carroll realized that the book’s illustrations were as important as his words, for, as Alice herself muses in the opening paragraph of the book, “… what is the use of a book… without pictures or conversation?”

lewis carrollJohn_Tenniel

Lewis Carroll and John Tenniel

Also check out First Tuesday Book Club episode on Alice in Wonderland. They were all over it!

First line
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

Once Upon a Time IV (book #5), Read the Book See the Movie (pair #4), 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Disney Literature Challenge

Also reviewed by
Loved! Ready When You Are, C.B. | Sasha & The Silverfish (with illustrations by Camille Rose Garcia)
Didn’t :(. su[shu]

The Films

I watched Tim Burton’s Alice months ago, but I think I’m going to talk about that one after I read Through the Looking Glass. This time around hubby and I were curious about the other adaptations of Alice apart from the Disney cartoon. So we tried two versions: the 1972 and 1999 (there are an incredible amount of movie adaptations of Alice!)

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland 1972Alice in Wonderland DVD 1999

We tried the 1999 version first (right), the one with Whoopi Goldberg and Ben Kingsley, but quickly got bored. So after 20 minutes or so we tried the 1972 one (left), which we liked more and watched until the end. It stays quite true to the story, with the appearance of the Gryphon, Mock Turtle, the Duchess and Pepper-woman (who are missing in the Disney cartoon).

But you see, the problem is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one hell of a book to turn into a movie. I do think it is quite impossible to adapt the book, no matter how many times people try. The humour and the deft language is completely lost. Sure the world is full of strange creatures, but that’s about it.

I haven’t watched all the adaptations ever made (and I don’t think I will), but I will bet a good money that the Disney version is probably the best of the lot and as best as you can get for Alice. Though it surely has not beaten the book, nuh-uh. I haven’t re-watched the Disney version for this round of my Disney Literature Challenge (mostly because I just realized I don’t own the DVD. How can that be? I thought I owned all Classic Disney DVDs.) but I don’t need to. We have a clear winner.

alice in wonderland DisneyAlice in Wonderland

Disney Literature Challenge Round 2

Disney vs. Carroll
on Alice Adventure’s in Wonderland

Well, what do you know? Carroll won the battle. (What, you mean I wasn’t clear enough?)

Current Score
Disney – 1 vs. Authors – 1


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43 thoughts on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll”

  1. I read this one for the first time last year and was also uncertain about how I would respond, but I felt similarly to you – I LOVED the playful language and was just completely enchanted by the entire world. I don’t know that I would have loved this as much as a child, because quite a lot of it is rather intellectual, but I’m so glad it’s part of my life now!

    1. Steph, I think I would’ve missed more things if I read it as a child. But I’d never know I guess. Happy that you LOVED it too!

  2. I was quite put off by this book as a child and was never able to get into it. Perhaps I really need to read it as an adult now. Your review had made me curious again.

    1. vivienne, I can see that it could be a bit scary to read as a child. Moreover I was so easily scared as a child. The witches in the fairy tales could give me nightmares and all. There’s no witch in Alice though. Mmm.

  3. I have yet to read this (not sure how I missed it as a kid, too), but it’s on my list! I just need to get to it sooner rather than later…especially after reading your enthusiastic review.

    1. softdrink, yes you need to read it! I’d love to know what you think. Especially since you have a particular sense of humour ;)

  4. I remember this so distinctly: When I was a kid, I asked my mother when she was washing my hair one night (so I must have been pretty little) whether I would like Alice in Wonderland, and she said she thought not. So one day when I was annoyed with her about something, I went and got it off the bookshelf and read it anyway, and I LOVED it. The illustrations, the humor, everything. Through the Looking Glass is, by the way, far better than Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Through the Looking Glass has all the good characters.

    1. Jenny, I’m excited! Before you I’ve also heard from another person that Through the Looking Glass is even better. Can’t wait!

  5. Your review makes me want to read Alice in wonderland. The only classic I’ve read (and re-read) is only The Lord of The rings.

    PS. I give you an award because your blog is lovely :)

    1. Novroz, thanks so much for the award! I haven’t read LOTR. Shame on me. I do have the books on my shelf. Hopefully I’ll get to them sooner than later.

  6. Yay! Isn’t so wonderful that Alice hits us in such a different way than how we’ve been “hit” by the versions we’re used to? Applause for your detailed review, btw. :] Loved this book, and I really didn’t expect that–it was funny, yes, and I found a sinister touch to all of it. Something was just… wrong, I felt, with what was happening. I don’t know if it was the atmosphere of the story, or the fact that the Wonderland I grew up in had been subverted by the original.

    1. Sasha, perhaps the version of the book you were reading came into play. I thought the illustrations (from the pictures on your post) look a bit… darker? grown-up? less innocent? I actually felt Carroll’s original story was more comfortable and “safe” compared to the movies.

  7. I loved this book, when I read it as a child. Been meaning to re-read it over the years, but just never gotten down to it.

    Glad you enjoyed it. Great story, playful language and immense characters. What’s not to like? :)

    1. anothercookie, good to know you have great memory of it. It would be interesting to re-discover it as an adult.

  8. Funny how everyone seems to have loved this book. I was underwhelmed when I read it earlier this year.. But then again, I’m convinced I missed something when I read it. Glad to know you enjoyed the book this much. What it means is that I might need to have a look at it again some time in the future..

    1. Michelle, it could be that you were expecting something else. Some deeper meanings maybe? Something darker? I read on the wiki that Alice is a pioneer in “literary nonsense”. And I thought that’s a good description. It’s a fun story that is over-the-top wacky and may not have meanings or message to deliver. Anyway don’t beat yourself over it, give some years before you try again, and only if you feel like it :)

  9. Oh, Alice is quite feisty! Strangely enough, when I had to read this for year 7, I didn’t like it very much but when I read it again last year, I did. It’s a curious (ha!) story. Those upside down flamingoes annoys me though. Through the looking glass is a stranger story still but I did so love a quote from it about punishing people for crimes they might do in the future rather than crimes they have committed.

    That Penguin hardback edition looks so lovely. I had to restrain myself from getting one.

    1. I feel almost ashamed to say that I absolutely hated Alice in Wonderland. I had to try repeatedly before I could finish the book, because I simply couldn’t get through it. I often wonder if that is because I’ve always find it hard to deal with sillyness that is just that, sillyness? I would however let the book win out over the movie, I have yet to finish watching it.

      1. Iris, aaw so sad that you hated it. I seem to connect so well with the humour in the book, but I’m sure not everybody would :)

    2. Mae, haha the punishing people for crimes they might do in the future sounds like the inspiration for Minority Reports! I look forward to read Through the Looking Glass! I agree that the Penguin hardback looks gorgeous. They all do in the series. I need to restrain myself from getting one too, otherwise I’d have to get all of them. Sigh.

  10. Hi! Stumbled onto your blog while searching for images of “The Good Earth”. Nice to see another Asian book blog. :D I read “Alice in Wonderland” as a child and yes, as you said, I didn’t really appreciate it then – think I only remember the cookies she had.

    Anyway, I tried watching the latest movie adaption of the book (a Gothic theme?) but I couldn’t finish it because my little boy found it scary! It’s interesting though.

    He likes the book though especially the parts on following the White Rabbit, falling down the hole, the tea party and Tweedledum and Tweedledee although I find it difficult reading out the Queen of Hearts’ “Off with their heads! Off with their heads!” Think I’ll keep Alice for later when he’s older…

    1. Christine, thanks for visiting and commenting. I read your review of The Good Earth. It’s always nice to read another people’s opinions about books you’ve read. I didn’t know there’s a Gothic Alice movie? It’s definitely a story that can be made scary! I think I was a tiny bit scared too when I was watching Alice as a child. But my biggest fear was the old witch in Disney’s Snow White!

    1. Hah I went to see Johnny Depp too! :) (well, apart from the awesome visuals) But his acting got all a bit same-y lately.

  11. I never did care for the Disney version, but I do adore the story of Alice. I did a show several years ago of Alice. It wasa a bunraku version and it was an incredible experience. The humor definitely shone through and the original music created for that performance was absolutely amazing.

    1. theliterarylollipop, thanks for first time visiting. The new movie is somewhat disappointing, but I’ll reserve my full judgment until I finish Through the Looking Glass!

  12. I agree, I read this properly as an adult and I think I loved it more because I was able to appreciate Carroll’s playful language compared to when I was little. Such a brilliant book!

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