Is this a case of middle-aged disappointment?

Now my daughter is ten, she tends to read books to herself, but occasionally at bedtime I still read to her when there’s a book she requests.  We’ve had great fun revisiting some of her toddler books – I kept a pile of our favourites – you know the ones – The Gruffalo, Kipper, The very hungry caterpillar, etc. Recently she requested that I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to her, as she tried to read it by herself, but just ‘didn’t get it’.  So we’ve read a chapter at a time over the past few weeks, when she was in the mood to be read to.

As a child, I read both Alice books again and again – although I much preferred Through the Looking Glass as it has a) Jabberwocky, b) Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and most importantly, c) knitting sheep. But back to Alice the first, I was delighted that I could read Alice again, this time with funny voices…

So we started:  Alice saw the White Rabbit and fell down the hole – fine.  She drank and ate and changed size several times, cried a river and scared a little mouse with tales of her cat Dinah – still fine.  But by the mouse’s lecture on Will the Conqueror and the Dodo’s Caucus Race, it was starting to already get a bit mad for my daughter, who’s much more used to ‘wimpy’ or ‘dorky’ diaries of modern school children set in the real world.  By the time we got halfway at the pig and pepper, if it hadn’t been for the Cheshire Cat, I really would have lost her attention.  We kept on reading right to the end, but I think Juliet was just enjoying being read to, rather than understanding what was going on. I tried to explain that each chapter was really a separate adventure with different creatures that would come together at the end, but that seemed to confuse her more.

What about my experience on this re-reading.  The largest part of the story is in dialogue – whether it be Alice talking to herself, or the characters talking to at each other. Having to concentrate on consistency in my voices reading all these terribly convoluted conversations with their often circular arguments, it struck me that not only were they all talking at each other nearly all the time, but they were not listening to each other either, Alice included.  She was fine on her own with her philosophies, but she was as bad as all the others the rest of the time – what a chatterbox!  Again it was up to the Cheshire Cat to save the day.

Four decades on, the result was that I found the book a bit of a disappointment. I can only conclude that it is possibly a story best read by oneself rather than aloud; to have the space and time to re-view the scenes as you go if needed.  It certainly wasn’t the fantasy that I had loved so much as a child.  It was completely bonkers, full of maddening and argumentative characters – most of whom had few redeeming features, and had a heroine who was a proper little madam.

Rather than reading Alice in Wonderland again, I would however like to read Martin Gardner’s book The Annotated Alice which has everything you ever wanted to know about the book explained. As for Juliet and I, we are going to persevere and read Through the Looking Glass together, but I might re-read it to myself first!

Have you ever re-read a favourite book from years before and been disappointed?

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To explore Alice on Amazon UK, click below:
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass The Annotated Alice: The Definitive Edition

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20 thoughts on “Is this a case of middle-aged disappointment?

  1. ‘Treasure Island’ read by me umpteen times was never a disappointment. I loved ‘Ivanhoe’ which I read for the Junior School Certificate ( ‘The what?’ I hear you say) and knew it almost off by heart. However when I tried to read it many times many years later I found it impossible to get beyond the first few pages! I still harbour hopes though (without much chance of success).

    • You do go on about Treasure Island Norm. One day, I shall re-read that and let you know how I get on. Ivanhoe is not a book I’d wish to re-read – I’d watch a serialisation on the box though…

  2. How interesting! I read this book for the first time two years ago, when I was in my mid-twenties and I actually read it aloud to my husband while lying on the couch one rainy afternoon. I could never get into the Alice books when I was younger, but I was delighted by it on that occasion. I actually thought reading it out loud was a wonderful way to experience it, though I do think it would be equally enjoyable read to oneself.

    • I’m glad you had a different experience reading Alice aloud than me Steph, and that sounds an excellent time and place to have done so too. :)

  3. I read this just recently for the first time as an adult, and I was actually wondering if it had been better if I had read it out loud to my kids. Perhaps not, based on your review! I just kept falling asleep! I’m glad I read it though, and Through the Looking Glass. Annotated would be great.

    • Maybe it was because I had to stop to explain things, like what ‘hookah’ and ‘Lory’ were etc. Then the conversational arguments were quite difficult to read aloud, as the characters chopped and changed, and you couldn’t always glance ahead to see who said what. “…..,” said Alice, rather than Alice said, “….” sort of thing. I felt all these made it a difficult bedtime book.

  4. Although I read both Alice’s when I was a child, I could never persuade any of my children to read it. I bought a really beautiful edition with gorgeous illustrations by Helen Oxenbury but that didn’t make any diffference either.
    It’s a bit like Winne The Pooh – adults love it but I have yet to find a child of the right sort of age who wants to read it unless it is a Disney-fied version! They all love the poetry collections though!

    I have been quite lucky with my favourite books from the past so far – all the ones I have revisited like The Little White Horse, The Children of Green Knowe and the Mary Stewart’s that I adored as a teen, all still read just as well to me!

    • I’m glad you’ve had good experiences Liz. I re-read Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave a couple of years ago and loved it again too.

  5. I’ve never read Alice and Wonderland for some bizzare reason, even though it’s an absolute classic. I did have a more positive experience though when re reading one of my favourite childhood books recently. I re read Disaster with the fiend by Shelia Lavelle which my grandfather used to read to me as little girl. The feeling of nostalgia reading it again twenty years later on my own was amazing, I’m so glad I dug it out!

    • I’ve never heard of Disaster with the fiend – shall have to look it up. I would recommend Alice, but not as a read aloud book!

  6. I preferred Through the Looking Glass when I was a child. I haven’t re-read it recently, although I have dipped into it – reading the Jabberwocky , which I still love.

    I’m always wary about re-reading loved books because I don’t want to be disappointed. I re-read Little Women recently – some of the magic was still there, but I found it a very sentimental moral tale which had bypassed me completely before!

    Currently I’m re-reading Gormenghast, which I read as a teenager. I loved it then and so far it’s living up to my memories of it.

    • I hope to catch up with the Gormenghast readalong Margaret – I’m awaiting a new copy as I can’t find my own in the piles!

      I agree, TtLG is more fun than Wonderland – I am looking forward to giving it a go again. Like you I adore Jabberwocky. I would like to re-read a lot more childhood classics though – just not aloud – I think that was the problem I had this time.

  7. I re-read this in my twenties and liked it even better the second time around, I think. However, when I tried to read The Magician’s Nephew, I couldn’t finish it. So sad as the Narnia books were my favourite as a kid.

  8. oh ,no but can imagine some books seem less exciting or lose something with age the always say that about catcher in rye you should read when young ,all the best stu

  9. I read it for the first time ever in 2010 and it was probably the biggest disappointment of the year. I put it down to the typical case of an adult reading a children’s book and over-thinking it or “not getting it”. In your case, I think you might have met what the people over at Tor.com call “the Suck Fairy” :) http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/09/the-suck-fairy

    • Alex – I love that article! I’ve bookmarked it for future referring to. That’s exactly what happened with this re-read.

      I was a big fan of Alice – being assertive, standing up for herself, asking lots of questions, etc, but on this re-read she turned out to be more petulant, whingeing, argumentative and irritating. Also re-reading with hindsight, knowing a lot more about Carroll and hidden meanings etc, probably did spoil my imagined remembrance of the story.

      That said, I re-read LOTR last year and loved it all over again, but I didn’t read that for the first time until I was in my teens. I do intend to periodically re-read a childhood fave though – if only to see if the theory holds out. In my head at the moment, Aslan is still a lion, not Jesus!

  10. Interesting. I wonder if the child-hood imagination is something you grow out of. My wife and I went to see the Johnny Depp 3D version and that certainly held our interest! (but probably for all the wrong reasons)

    • The film was different though – that was a visual delight and I really enjoyed it too (apart from the normally reliable Johnny Depp). It was all the long, argumentative conversations with the characters all talking at each other throughout the book that irked me re-reading it.

  11. It wasn’t a book but rather a movie that this happened to me with. I watched The Labyrinth again a couple of years back and it just destroyed all the fond memories I had of it. I just couldn’t stop laughing at David Bowie :)

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