Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Review of Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll

Through the Looking Glass (and what Alice found there) by Lewis Carroll, published in 1872, is the sequel to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, published in 1865.  Both works would be considered to be novellas by today's standards.  I had the pleasure of reading them from the gilded 2010 Barnes and Nobel edition, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Other Stories.  (Alice's Adventures was reviewed on this blog previously).  The plot, if that is the right word, of Through the Looking Glass, is so well-known that I will feel free to mention parts of it.  Accordingly, here there be spoilers.

We once again meet Alice, a girl of nine or ten possessed of a vivid imagination, spending another day of dullness and boredom in the library of a manor house in England.  With nothing more to amuse her than a chess set, and no companions except for a cat, two kittens, and a perennially absent older sister, one imagines that poor Alice must have been very bored indeed.  She notices the large mirror in the room and wonders what things must be like in "Looking-glass World."  Then she begins to dream or day-dream, or perhaps hallucinate, and she enters Looking-glass World by walking through the mirror. At this point, the reader may believe that it is a magic mirror.  Perhaps it is--I am still not entirely sure.

In Looking Glass World, we are introduced to many interesting, if silly, characters, mostly chess pieces come alive.  The Mad Hatter and March Hare from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland appear briefly, but these are the only carryovers from the first book.  The plot involves entering into discussions with the new characters, listening to, or, as Alice might say, "enduring," their poetry, all the while moving through the varied countryside "squares" established in the manner of a living chess board.  Alice is informed by the White Queen that she can become a queen too if she journeys to the end of the board.  Characters magically appear and disappear and scenery changes randomly in keeping with a sort of dream logic.

All of the characters that Alice meets seem to have one thing in common:  a love of, or an annoying habit of, playing on words.  For example, were Alice to ask any of the characters, "What do you mean?" the character would answer with a play on the meanings of "mean" vis "signify vs "cruel" vs "shabby" vs the colloquial "excellent."  For example, in answer to Alice's innocent question, she might receive:  "Why, how rude of you!  I have never been cruel to anyone!"  Or perhaps:  "Well, I am rather an excellent cook."  These answers, of course, do not answer the question posed and further confuse Alice, and amuse or perhaps frustrate the reader.

Lovers of word-play and puns will love Carroll's penchant for them and enjoy reading his book.  Those who do not enjoy such things may still enjoy the interesting, if silly, poetry, particularly the famous Jaberwocky, with its coined words that are later explained and defined in the text.  Science fiction aficionados will appreciate the questions posed by Tweedles Dum and Dee:  Is life but a dream (in Alice's case, the Red King's), and what happens when the dreamer awakens?  Are the characters in our own dreams real, and, if so, what happens to them when we awaken?  The reader is left with these haunting questions, impossible to answer, that are potential sources for conversation and long contemplation--the mark of a book worth reading.

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