February Theme: Books I Love -- Lewis Carroll, by Platte F. Clark

Alice in Wonderland first came to life for me as a cartoon. Thank you Walt Disney. And while I'll admit I didn't understand why the strange characters and story were a bit orthogonal to the big-eared elephants, singing bears, and rampaging Saturday morning exploits of cat vs. mouse, there was something about it that was just . . . odd. But compelling, too. It was hard to put your finger on it. It wasn't until my undergrad years in Philosophy that I entered the world of the Alice via the printed word, and found a magical and brilliant work.

I had just begun my studies in logic, and based on my previous experiences with Alice I had no idea what I was in for:

"'Speak when you're spoken to!' The Queen sharply interrupted her.
'But if everybody obeyed that rule,' said Alice, who was always ready for a little argument, 'and if you only spoke when you were spoken to, and the other person always waited for you to begin, you see nobody would ever say anything, so that -- '

'Ridiculous!' cried the Queen. 'Why, don't you see, child -- ' here she broke off with a frown, and, after thinking for a minute, suddenly changed the subject of the conversation."

Wait, there's a logic formula in there!

"It is a very inconvenient habit of kittens (Alice had once made the remark) that, whatever you say to them, they Always purr. 'If they would only purr for "yes" and mew for "no," or any rule of that sort,' she had said, 'so that one could keep up a conversation! But how can you talk with a person if they always say the same thing?'"

Even existential questions were deftly handled with logical fun:

"'Do you know, I always thought unicorns were fabulous monsters, too? I never saw one alive before!'

'Well, now that we have seen each other,' said the unicorn, 'if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you.'"

I love the fact that Carroll came at children with more than just a fantastical story to tell. There was a truth to it, many truths, actually, to be uncovered and discovered. Alice does more than entertain, she teaches. Not always on a conscious level (any child can learn, if nothing else, terrific manners from Alice), but it's there nonetheless.

There is certainly joy in writing something that entertains. But when we can touch upon the truths of the world as well . . . now that's something special.


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