Fils aîné and I have just finished reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland together. I was never quite sure what he made of it, or how much he understood, given the old-fashioned language and so on.
He never seemed to give the impression of listening at all, but would occasionally burst out with a great snort of laughter or exclaim “Silly Dormouse!” or some such. Obviously a lot of the references went over his head – some of them go over mine without a copy of Martin Gardner’s fascinating Annotated Alice to hand – but he was at least able to appreciate Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat, after his initial reaction of “that’s not right!”. Indeed the dormouse seems to have made quite an impression and we’re prone to getting bouts of “twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle” at any moment just now. It also introduced him to the notion of “and then she woke up and it was all a dream” as a way of ending stories. He’d not experienced that before and was rather miffed about it. “Oh. So it wasn’t real then?”
At any rate, I enjoyed reading it to him, with occasional qualms about the language. Fortunately it never occured to him to ask what a hookah was, for instance, or why a caterpillar should be smoking one. Hopefully it will broaden his vocabulary in more positive ways, however, and explain to him why flamingos are referred to as croquet mallets, and what grinning like a Cheshire Cat means. It’s important to give children an early grounding in the art of the literary allusion, after all.
My major regret is only having a cheap edition I got for 20p at a church fête or similar years ago – it has Tenniel‘s wonderful original illustrations, but the print quality is so poor that they’re hard to see. I’m sure Helen Oxenbury‘s version is equally wonderful, but to me Tenniel’s pictures are definitive.
Now after a brief return to Polly and the Wolf, we’ve got all of Looking Glass to come. I always preferred it to Wonderland myself, so I’m looking forward to it, whether the boy is or not…
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (maybooksbloom.wordpress.com)
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass (alwayslostinbooks.wordpress.com)