October 15, 2012

I recently reread Alice (‘s Adventures in Wonderland) and Alice (Through the Looking-Glass) and noticed two very different approaches to the structure of the narratives.

On the one hand, Alice (‘s Adventures in Wonderland) began as a story made up by Charles Dodgson to entertain the three Liddell sisters while they rowed the river on a lazy Oxford afternoon. Although Dodgson later padded and added to give us the final version still read today, he spun the tale as it occurred to him on the river, urged on and aided by the sisters’ Liddell, especially Alice. You can still see the ‘Tell us a story’ and ‘What happened next?’ there on the page.

On the other hand, Alice (Through the Looking-Glass) is quite structured, framed as a chess problem with a start (Alice, the pawn) and a goal (Alice, the Queen). A straightforward plot line carries through from beginning to end. Here is a story written by an Oxford don sitting alone at a desk, no insistent child prodding with a ‘What happened next?’

Both are delightful stories filled with puns and nonsense, one draped over a frame, the other floating free.

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