This coming weekend Oxford dons top hats, blue dresses and all sorts of other weird and wonderful garb to celebrate all things Alice. Visitors flock from all over and the city becomes a wonderful hub of eccentricity, fun and activity. It is clear that Alice holds a very special place in the affections of people from all over the world, but why? Who better to answer this question than our very own Alice – author, poet, blogger and all around ball of loveliness Jen Campbell. Ahead of the day itself hear what it is about Alice that created such an impression on Jen:
I came to Alice (and Peter Pan, come to think of it), rather late in life – well, in my teenage years. I’m not sure why. Perhaps I should sue my parents. I did see the Disney version of both but, as we know, what Disney portrays is not really what the books are all about. The 1950s Disney Alice is good, but if you want to see something as weird, wacky and (quite frankly) screwed up as the book, then you should check out Jan Svankmajer’s ‘Alice’ Here’s the Jabberwocky If that doesn’t mess with your head then I don’t know what will.
I wrote my English Literature dissertation on growing up as a sin in children’s literature [so: Peter Pan, Narnia, His Dark Materials, all that jazz]. It’s a fascinating subject. Is it the children who don’t want to grow up, or the adults who wish they hadn’t?
‘”Be a man, Michael,” Mr. Darling said.
“Won’t, won’t!” Michael cried naughtily.
Both Alice and Peter Pan have an underlying darkness. In the play of Peter Pan, stage instructions insist that Mr. Darling is played by the same person as Captain Hook, and that Peter is played by a girl. So, Peter is Wendy’s youth, fighting her father because he wants her to grow up and move into a single bedroom. A bit twisted, no?
Lewis Carroll wrote Alice for Alice Liddell, a young girl he was fascinated with. He didn’t want her to grow up and, consequently, Alice never really knows who she is, where she is, or how grown up she should be.
‘I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I must have changed several times since then!’
“Speak in French when you can’t think of the English for a thing–
turn your toes out when you walk— And remember who you are!”
In the sequel, Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll himself is in the book as The White Knight, an old and frail man who Alice thinks is ridiculous. Alice Liddell herself had grown up and married. She’d hopped over the final gate and turned from a pawn into a queen. He wasn’t happy about it.
On lighter notes, Alice is a fascinating play on language, especially The Jabberwocky and the character of Humpty Dumpy. It’s like an Oscar Wilde feast.
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”
“The question is,’ said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master — that’s all.”
“I see nobody on the road.” said Alice.
“I only wish I had such eyes,” the King remarked in a fretful tone. “To be able to see Nobody! And at such a distance too!”
Wonderland and the land beyond the Looking Glass are places to get lost in. To bury yourself in. To be pleasantly confused and surprised and completely swept away by. We’ve all got little [or large] parts of Alice inside us. Who the hell are we, and where exactly are we going? But, along the way, if there’s cake (hand it out first and cut it up afterwards!) and tea (happy unbirthday!), then uncertainty is quite ok with me.
Jen will be with us on Saturday taking part in our continuous reading of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, along with a host of other authors, customers and booksellers. That is just one of the events that we have lined up on Saturday – do pop in and say Hi, you just never know who, or what, you might see…