Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
River bank. The story opens on the bank of a river. The location is not specified, but it is presumably near Oxford, England. In a prefatory poem, Lewis Carroll recalls a boat trip he made in that region in 1862 with Alice Liddell (his model for the fictional Alice), two of Alice’s sisters, and a friend. At the village of Godstow, about three miles up a branch of the River Thames called the Isis, he first imagined and told the story that became Alice in Wonderland. The book begins and ends on the river bank, whose quiet and order are bookends surrounding a noisy and disordered dream world.
Rabbit hole. Passage through which Alice enters Wonderland. Just as Wonderland is a realm of transformation, the tunnel through which she reaches that realm is a classic symbol of birth. Much of the book unfolds against a background of symbols of gestation and birth, such as a too-small passage to a bright new world through which she can see but not pass; the pool of salt water produced by Alice’s own tears, in which she swims; the too-tight room in the rabbit’s house, where she kicks out; and her many changes in size.
Wonderland. Despite Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole and her references to being “down here,” there is no definite indication that Wonderland itself is underground. It is a parody of Victorian England from a child’s point of view: rule-bound, moralistic, and didactic, and of the Oxford town and university that Carroll knew. Often, Carroll describes no more of the setting than is minimally necessary for the action. There are no scenic descriptions of the surrounding territory, which is of no interest to either dreamers or children. In dreamlike fashion, scenes fade from one into one another in ways impossible to observe closely; the sizes of things and creatures are variable and inconsistent with one another.
Hall. Room in which Alice finds herself after falling through the rabbit hole. It is a “long, low hall,” with locked doors all around it, from which Alice peers through a fifteen-inch-high door and sees the “loveliest garden you ever saw.” In psychological terms, the desire to reach the garden can be interpreted as a longing to return to paradisal childhood innocence (or more crudely, to the womb). Conversely, it can also be interpreted as reflecting a desire to attain womanhood. Alice’s frustration at being unable at various moments to get the key, open...
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The Plot (Magill's Guide to Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an outgrowth of Lewis Carroll’s earlier and shorter tale titled Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, which he based on a story he told to Alice Liddell and her two sisters during a boat trip they took in 1862. Carroll completed this story, written in longhand and illustrated with his own drawings, in 1863. In 1864, he gave the manuscript to Alice as a gift. Revised and expanded by Carroll and newly illustrated by John Tenniel, this work evolved into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland the following year.
While listening to her older sister reading aloud, Alice drifts off to sleep and begins her dream adventures. She follows a white rabbit and falls down his hole into Wonderland. Alice is constantly at odds with the creatures who inhabit this alien world and also with her own body, which shrinks when she drinks from a mysterious bottle, then grows to enormous size when she eats a small cake.
She encounters many creatures endowed with wit and cleverness, who confuse her at every turn. She meets the ugly Duchess, whose baby turns into a pig in Alice’s arms. Things are not what they seem. It is at the Duchess’ house that she first sees the unsettling Cheshire Cat, who sits in the corner grinning, with his eyes fixed on Alice. Later, the Cheshire Cat reappears on a tree branch, from which he demonstrates his ability to vanish, leaving only his eerie smile lingering in the air.
At the Mad Tea-Party, Alice must exchange witty remarks and insults...
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Topics for Discussion
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
Blake, Kathleen. Play, Games, and Sport: The Literary Works of Lewis Carroll. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1974. Wittily argues that the Alice books create a world of games spinning out of control. Firmly establishes their author in a Victorian context.
Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Edited by Martin Gardner. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1960. Martin Gardner’s notes in the margin alongside the text help to clarify jokes and conundrums and explain contemporary references.
Carroll, Lewis. More Annotated Alice: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Edited by...
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