“Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, or simply Alice in Wonderland, was published in 1865 by English writer Lewis Carroll. It has had a huge impact on culture and literature since its release and it’s still popular, with two recent films based upon the book.
Alice in Wonderland has been analyzed, studied and broken down in endless ways by endless amounts of people, who have desperately tried to comprehend the hidden meanings and implications within the text. People have claimed it to be an allegory for countless different things. Loads of questions are raised when trying to decipher Carroll’s tale, but few answers are given.
Most people have made a fundamental mistake when analyzing Alice in Wonderland. They have forgotten the context in which the story was created. In 1862, on the fourth of July, during a boating trip in Oxford, a ten-year-old named Alice asked Lewis Carroll to tell her and her sisters a story. That was the moment in which Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was conceived. On that boat, Carroll told the story of a girl named Alice who fell into a rabbit hole and experienced adventures in the world of Wonderland. And the ten-year-old Alice enjoyed the story so much she asked him to write it down for her, which he did. Thus Alice in Wonderland was written.
People don’t have in mind the context of the story’s creation when they analyze it. When Carroll came up with the story to tell the children on the boat trip, his intention was obviously not to create a complex allegory about society. No, he just improvised, with the aim of entertaining the children, to tell them an imaginative, funny tale.
In the beginning of the story, Alice is sitting by her sister, and she is really bored. Carroll probably got that idea from the situation on the boat, where Alice was sitting with her sisters, bored because nothing was happening and there was just water everywhere. So Carroll told them the tale of Wonderland, the peculiar world of nonsense. We follow Alice through the rabbit hole, we join her in her adventures, and we are introduced to a host of odd characters, such as the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter, and many more. And it is all delightfully strange.
“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
It’s pointless trying to unravel the twisted gibberish of Alice in Wonderland. It’s impossible to make sense of nonsense. But that’s where the very essence of Alice in Wonderland lies: in its nonsense. And, surprisingly, that is where its most significant message can be found.
Albert Einstein has said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
Alice in Wonderland teaches us the importance of imagination. It teaches us not to take things too seriously. It teaches us not to overanalyze and overthink everything. Just like the Duchess in the book is trying to find a moral in everything but ends up nowhere, not all things have meaning, and not all things have to. Alice tends to reason very much with herself throughout the book, but she never really reaches a conclusion to anything. “Alice generally gave herself very good advice, (though she very seldom followed it).”
We cannot understand everything, but we don’t need to. We sometimes need to think less and dream more. When Carroll told the story to the children in the boat, I think he wanted to spark their imagination. He wanted them to start seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. And the truth is, adults are usually in more need of imagination than children are. Sometimes we need to become childish, to better enjoy the small things, to laugh at the nonsense of existence.
Lewis Carroll is truly a master of sublime nonsense. The power of Alice in Wonderland is that it can make adults enter the children’s world of make-believe: where the impossible becomes possible, the unreal becomes real, and where the height of adventure is limited only by the depths of imagination.
“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland