With Tim Burton’s last release of Alice in Wonderland; an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, there is bound to be more interest in the children’s fiction classic. But to what extent are Alice’s unusual travels in this made-up land really for children?
From the outset our heroine finds more sense in a crazed, erratic, and imagined world than in her own life – a life which she finds incredibly boring and lonely. Is that really a concept we ought to advertize to young readers?
Next the potions and sweets which cause our protagonist to grow and shrink immediately are, to an adult reader, blatant references to the drug culture. Drug references enveloped in this type of colorful, childlike imagery so often escape the notice of young children (how naive was I to sing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds in the school yard ?).
Alice’s adventures – and misadventures – are very often littered with social critique and political observations . Many of the imaginary beings personify and represent commonplace people in the real world, sometimes with an uncanny resemblance. The Jabberwock embodies tyranny. The feuding lion and unicorn are representative of the two competitor Members of Parliament contemporary to the book’s writing; William Gladstone (leader of the Whig Party) and Benjamin Disraeli (leader of the Tory Party). The former was the source of Queen Victoria’s irritation and the latter the object of her worship. Furthermore, there is the Queen who can order someone’s execution at the drop of a mad hatter’s headwear. Beheadings are hardly the material of fairytales or children’s fiction. However, such violent and tyrannical abuse of power can only ever exist in fiction, of course? Not the case. There is evidence to suggest that Queen Elizabeth the First became very flippant and impulsive with her issuing of execution warrants.
I am not suggesting that Alice’s adventures are unsuitable for children. Rather, that Lewis Carroll found it easier to convey his zany Weltanschauung of a surreal so-called normality through the childish fantasy typical of children’s fiction. From his choice, it is evident that the Victorians invented childhood. Not age certificates. This is what makes Alice an unforgettable piece of children’s fiction; in childhood, we naively read about the power-crazed queen, the sweets and potions and the lion and the unicorn, and in adulthood, we can appreciate the more ignominious, politicized meanings. Maybe Alice’s adventures contain more truth than fiction. Lewis Carroll’s lifespan covered a zany reality worthy of fiction. This is why Alice stays with us through life. Moss Green Children’s Books is there for young readers so they do not need a rabbit hole to enjoy fantasy.