Why Alice is with us for the long haul

As the title may have made clear, today’s guest entry from Rebekah Fitzsimmons’s “Golden Age of Children’s Literature” course looks at Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Abigail Davis explains how it has found its way into two very important canons.

By Abigail Davis

What is it about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that has entranced people for hundreds of years? It is considered a classic of the children’s literature genre by practically anyone you meet, whether they’ve read the book or just seen an adaptation of it. Another way people may be familiar with Alice is through its inclusion in the canon for the Golden Age of children’s literature and the sentimental canon. The canon is a way literature is classified and if a book has been canonized then a reader can usually assume that it is of some literary merit. The canon is created by various people, including influential literary critics and scholars but also publishers and librarians, who work to make sure the books within the canon are worthy or literary study and respect. The sentimental canon is different from the general canon because rather than just depending on a group of scholars and other influential people in the literary field to decide whether a book is worthy public opinion is also taken into account. A book that may not qualify based off its literary quality can be carried into the sentimental cannon based on public devotion and sponsorship of the book.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland certainly has all of these stipulations in spades; even now, years and years after its publication, the story continues to be read, both for its literary merit and from nostalgic love. Whether it’s from the influence of parents, other relatives passing the book down to the next generation or if one of the many adaptations of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland inspires a reader to pick up a copy, the love for this book has never died out. And why is that? I think it is because of, despite or maybe resulting from the overwhelming amount of sheer nonsense, the book on a whole is very relatable, even hundreds of years after its publication.

When your imagination runs wild.

When your imagination goes rogue.

As a child I would imagine my very own fantasy world with its own special creatures and other fantastic inhabitants where I would explore, play, and for once be in charge. I think this is a fairly common practice among kids, and adults too, so Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland provides us with the delicious question: what if we were dropped into our imaginary world but we were no longer pulling the strings? Everything that before was your creation now acts on its own accord, and sometimes against you. And isn’t that delightful, scary and wonderfully strange? The reader can delve into this complex world of Wonderland with Alice and imagine themselves in her shoes; we feel her frustrations and delights. We can revel in the wonderful nonsense that is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while still being able to relate it to our own lives.

Another aspect of Alice that we enjoy is when Alice is continually confronted with beings that simply will not explain themselves. We can all understand the frustration she feels, having experienced similar frustration in our own lives. We have all experienced this exasperation as a child, and sometimes even now, for individuals who refuse to help us make sense of their actions. I’m looking at you elementary school teachers and soccer coaches! This theme of Alice is universally friendly and successful because all children can understand Alice’s struggle and indeed delight in it even as it comforts them.

This ability for the book to not only invite the reader in but to also draw on their own past imaginings and experiences is what, in my opinion, makes it so powerful.  It transcends it’s time period to remain readable and kid friendly, unlike a few of the other books within the Golden Age, such as The Water Babies which was very heavy with obscure references to the time period it was written in.  This continued sponsorship, if you will, of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a large part of what has made it a classic. It is so well written that despite its age it is still amazingly readable by the average child and adult and their love for the book continues its publication and secures its spot in the cannon.

Basically me as a child, with fewer jazz instruments.

Basically me as a child, with fewer jazz instruments.

Abigail is an undergraduate at the University of Florida.

Categories: Critical Conversations, Undergraduate Guest Posts

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