Lewis Carroll and Children’s Literature

2 July, 2011
Illustration to the poem Jabberwocky. A work b...

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I just finished reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the fourth time in half as many years. Even before transitioning this book held great appeal for me. I remember when I was a little girl (back before I tried to be a boy and buried my Alice qualities in order to please others) my Mom read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There out loud to my brother and me. I will never forget hearing “The Jabberwocky” for the first time (“Beware the Jabberwock, my son! The jaws that bite, the claws that catch! Beware the Jubjub bird, . . .”) and how this mythic beast frightened me yet drew me. This deep fear of the bizarre and macabre yet feeling this compulsive need too see it, to touch it with the mind and plumb its depths. It built in me a love of the nonsensical that has earmarked my careers as writer and instructor.

As an English teacher in the middle school environs “The Jabberwocky,” and indeed the books, are staples in my classroom. Students say it reads like a typical children’s story but they are only half right. It is typical of today’s children’s stories but was quite atypical in its time because it was written without moral or message. L.C. was a literary revolutionary. He dared suggest children were playful and imaginative. The idea that children should be free to think, imagine, and play is very dear to me. My parents did their best to encourage this mentality and to show it could be held close even as an adult. So many adults, both where I grew up and in the world at large, try to rob this from children, to beat joy, imagination, and fun out of them—sadly some try to do this literally.

If there is a moral to the story it is to these same joyless souls and it is this: children are not miniature adults but the best adults maintain child-like wonder. This is what the end of chapter twelve is about. When Alice’s sister closes her eyes and listens to the sounds emanating from Alice’s dream. She knows what the sounds are in the mundane adult world but still she lingers, imagining what Alice saw and heard for just a moment longer and then her wish for Alice, that she retain her imagination into adulthood and share her adventures with the generations coming after her. That, my friend, is why this book is a classic.

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