I JUST finished a short piece about specific children’s book I was asked to reflect on — how it has affected me as a thinker, writer, etc. More about that closer to when the piece publishes, but writing it made me think a lot about the other ways that books from my childhood got under my skin, entered my dreams.
Alice Through the Looking Glass and Alice in Wonderland were enormously influential to me — but in ways I didn’t realize until many, many decades later.
It was never, Alice per se, but the vibrant, off-kilter world that she wandered through, that I felt pulled into. As a very young child, I was drawn to the Mad Hatter, something about his exuberance, his mercurial nature. I was more enchanted by him in the books more than in the Disney film. Later, as a young adult I revisited the books and found myself head-over-heels: this time it was the music of language. Re-reading Lewis Carroll’s book was akin to rolling down a hill myself — endorphins alight!
Because the clip was buried under the Tim Burton version, sadly it took me a few tries to find this interpretation. I remember first seeing this 1933 filmed retelling of Alice on one of the local television stations of my youth — some sort of kid’s afternoon theater. It’s stuck with me. There is something haunting/unsettling about the makeup of all of the characters that Alice encounters — particularly Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. But this segment of “The Walrus and the Carpenter” is deeply affecting — to this day — for me. Something about the rough action of the “animation” coupled with the macabre trajectory of the story line works in a way that something Disney-like couldn’t quite deliver. The tale is haunting, absurd and of course, occupies the province of dream/opiate logic. I was so happy to finally look at this footage again — it sparked something old and hidden, but still very much alive. The sure-footed march of a good story.
Thinking about Carroll’s Alice and the alternate universe he created for her made understand that fantasy isn’t just wild creatures, suspended disbelief and dream logic — but more it is about connecting the fanciful or the outrageous with our humanity — fear, sadness, joy, grief — all of it is there turned up to to the fullest, but told in a language of bold and brilliant, vibrating hues.
I’m adding it to my “re-read” list this summer.