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