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Title: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Author: Lewis Carroll
Publication Date: 1865
Producer: Audible, Inc. (2015)
Narrated by: Scarlett Johansson
Recording Time: 2 hours, 44 minutes
Alice is sitting on a riverbank in the summertime, with her sisten, when she sees a White Rabbit in a coat running by. The White Rabbit pulls out a pocket watch, says that he is late, and then jumps down a rabbit hole. Alice, as one does, follows the White Rabbit down the hole. After a long fall, she finds herself in a large hallway lined with doors. She finds a key on a small table and then tries it on various doors until she finds the one that works. The door, she sees a beautiful garden through the door, but Alice is too large to fit through it. She cries. She subsequently finds a bottle marked “DRINK ME” and does as the label says. She shrinks down to the right size to fit through the door, however, she cannot enter because she left the key on the tabletop above her head. She is now too small to reach it. Just then, Alice finds a cake marked “EAT ME.” Again she does as the label says and she grows very tall. Now she can reach the key but she is once again unable to pass through the door to enter the garden. Alice cries again. This time her giant tears create a large pool around her. While she cries, she shrinks and falls into the pool of tears. Now that she is smaller, the pool of tears seems as large as a sea. She swims and treads water until she meets a Mouse. The Mouse and Alice make it to the shore where several animals are gathered. After a “Caucus Race,” Alice accidentally scares all of the animals by telling stories about her cat, Dinah.
Alice sees the White Rabbit again. The White Rabbit thinks that she is a servant and sends her to his home to get his gloves. Inside the White Rabbit’s house, Alice drinks an unmarked bottle of liquid because she expects something to happen. She grows so large that she more than fills up the room. The White Rabbit returns to his house, wondering what is keeping her, and he is angry about seeing her arm sticking out of his window. She uses her giant hand to scare the White Rabbit and his helpers away. The animals outside throw rocks at her. The rocks turn into cakes when they land in the house. Alice eats one of the cakes and shrinks to a smaller size.
She leaves the house and enters the forest. There she meets a Caterpillar on a mushroom who is smoking a hookah. The Caterpillar and Alice get argue and the Caterpillar leaves. Before he goes, he tells her that different parts of the mushroom will make her either grow or shrink. Alice decides to taste a part of the mushroom. This causes her neck stretch above the tree tops. A pigeon sees her and accuses her of being a snake who wants to eat her eggs.
Alice eats another part of the mushroom and returns to her normal height. From there, she walks around until she finds the house of the Duchess. She enters the house and finds the Duchess nursing a squealing baby. Inside, she also finds a Cheshire Cat who is grinning and a Cook who is putting too much pepper into a cauldron of soup. The Duchess is not nice to Alice. She then leaves to go play croquet with the Queen. As the Duchess leaves, she gives Alice the baby. Alice then realizes that the baby is actually a pig. She lets the pig go and returns to the forest. In the forest, she sees the grinning Cheshire Cat again. The Cheshire Cat tells Alice that everyone in Wonderland is mad, including Alice herself. The Cheshire Cat tells Alice how to get to the March Hare’s house. After doing this, it disappears except for its floating grin.
At the March Hare’s house, Alice meets the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse. They are having tea. None of them are nice to her. She learns that they did something wrong to Time itself and are thus trapped in perpetual tea-time. Alice leaves and travels through the forest yet again. She finds a tree with a door in its side. Alice goes through the door and finds herself back in the great hall. She takes the key, uses the mushroom to shrink her body, and finally enters through the door and into the garden.
Alice finds the Queen of Hearts and plays croquet with her. The ground is hilly, the mallets and balls are live flamingos and hedgehogs, and the Queen repeatedly makes calls to execute the other players. In the middle of the game, Alice meets the Cheshire Cat again. He asks her how she is doing. The King of Hearts interrupts their conversation and gets into an argument with The Cheshire Cat. The King gets angry and calls for the Cheshire Cat’s beheading. However, the Cheshire Cat is now only a head floating in midair so no one can agree on how to behead it.
The Duchess sees Alice and is friendly. However, Alice is not comfortable with her. The Queen of Hearts makes the Duchess leave. She then tells Alice to visit the Mock Turtle. The Queen of Hearts sends the Gryphon to go with Alice to meet the Mock Turtle. Alice talks about her adventures with the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon. Alice listens to the Mock Turtle’s story and then they all hear an announcement that a trial is about to begin. The Gryphon takes Alice back to the croquet match.
The Knave of Hearts is now on trial for stealing the Queen’s tarts. Alice is proud of herself for understanding what is happening in the proceedings. The Mad Hatter and the Cook give testimony but it does not make sense. The White Rabbit calls Alice to the witness stand. The King asks her questions. The White Rabbit then provides new evidence, a letter written by the Knave. The letter is a poem. The King interprets the poem as an admission of guilt from the Knave. Alice says that the note is nonsense and she protests to the King. Alice’s protests infuriate The Queen who then orders that Alice be beheaded. Before this can happen, Alice grows to a giant size. She then knocks down the Queen’s army of playing cards.
Then Alice is awake on her sister’s lap, back at the riverbank. She tells her sister about her dream and then goes inside for tea. Her sister thinks about Alice’s adventures.
I was inspired to listen to this book after watching the recent Matrix movie trailer. The Alice franchise has had a prolonged cultural impact for a century and a half – leading to movies, songs, and conspiracy theories which rely on imagery from the book. I have never read the book so I wanted to familiarize myself with an important cultural touchstone
My expectations for Scarlett Johansson’s performance were not high enough going into this listen. She gives a terrific performance including fun and unique voices for each of the characters mentioned. Through her performance, she comes across as a fan of the book and I really enjoyed her narration.
That is probably the extent of my positive reaction to this story. I know that a lot of people have a great fondness for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. If you feel that way, obviously you are not alone. But for me, I just could not get into this or even find the hook that reels other people in. The story is one random event leading into another and then leading into another before finally the novel is over. The novel is creative but I found it to be more frustrating than immersive. I was never emotionally invested in any part of this story and it required quite a bit of effort on my part just to finish. Perhaps I just simply needed to read this for the first time as a kid.
What is this book supposed to be about? We get some clues about that at the very end.
- The trauma of growing out of childhood.
* Alice is constantly changing sizes throughout the book, each time it seems to bring about distress, and I assume this is intended to reflect the struggles of puberty when a girl might no longer be a girl, and yet she is also not a woman, either.
- Life is inexplainable and puzzling.
* Throughout the novel, Alice is constantly encountering situations wherein logic does not apply. We maybe see that most clearly when Alice is told that everyone is mad, including her.
- Death is a constant possibility.
* Alice is constantly facing down situations that could kill her. Initially she seems not to notice. By the end of the book, she is very much aware of the danger she is in. This emerging awareness of death is something that accompanies everyone’s journey from childhood innocence to adulthood.
The book is filled with great quotes. A few of my favorites are below.
“In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.”
“If you drink much from a bottle marked ‘poison’ it is certain to disagree with you sooner or later.”
“Alice asked the Cheshire Cat, who was sitting in a tree, “What road do I take?”
The cat asked, “Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know,” Alice answered.
“Then,” said the cat, “it really doesn’t matter, does it?”
“How long is forever?
Sometimes just one second”