Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Reading 'Alice'

To Snowy this time, unabridged and with illustrations by Anthony Browne. The girls and I read a much duller version and perhaps it's Browne's surreal amusements that drew Snowy in and along with the story.
Poor Alice! and yet not-so-poor Alice at all - forever changing in a world that makes little sense; scolded, berated, cajoled, threatened. It's an odd book for a child of six to enjoy ( compared to a contemporary book like the hilarious 'Nanny Piggins', where the subversion is direct - more on her later ), though when you consider how Alice's adventures mirror the experience of being a child, perhaps not.
Porcine babies and grinning cats aside, the child inhabits a body that is constantly changing and is sometimes out of his control, inhabits a world in which the social norms must often seem arbitrary. Adult behaviour is mystifying, sometimes frightening, adult demands must be complied with, punishment ( "Off with her head!" ) exists.
Reading aloud, I'm struck by how plucky Alice is, how she uses her will, her grit and her thinking to navigate a world of Nonsense, how she not only sees through the worst of our adult world but has the voice to denounce us as the pack of cards we often are. Which is why that sickly, final chapter, when Alice wakes and is sent off to tea by her sister, is so deeply disappointing. She may be returned to her normal size, but after all her adventures in Wonderland, the real Alice has grown too old and too wise for the nursery.

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