Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There have both just come up on our home school reading list. It has been a long time since I read either, so I went ahead and read through both of them again.
I had forgotten how much of this material has entered popular culture in one way or another. The characters are memorable: White Rabbit, Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, Cheshire Cat, Tweedledum, Tweedledee, Humpty Dumpty (although not original to Dodgson), and Alice herself, to name but a few. The scenes are vividly etched into our minds: the mad tea party, the constant shrinking and growing (“Eat Me”, “Drink Me”), the Jabberwock. Even several of Dodgson’s nonsense words and phrases have entered our lexicon: “chortle”, “galumphing”, “jam tomorrow; never jam today”.
Both stories are framed as young Alice’s dreams, and the environs and scenarios presented in each could only occur in a dream-world. The impossible is commonplace, and pure nonsense plays a large role. Most notably, in a departure from much of the children’s literature of the day, these books contain no moral and are not intended to provide any instruction. They are simply for fun, as is clearly communicated in the Christmas and Easter letters Dodgson wrote to appear with certain publication runs of the books.
Because our school curriculum has been engineered with character formation as one of its primary foci, I am pondering the value of these books in our curriculum. What do these books have within them that will lend itself to this all-important task? Or is it simply a case of “A little nonsense now and then, is cherished by the wisest men” (to quote another children’s classic)?
I posed this question to a group of parents who use the same curriculum we do, and it sparked quite a few helpful responses. Interestingly, opinion on these books is quite varied, ranging from some who despise these books and do not want their children to read them at all to those who adore them and consider them essential.
After reviewing the wisdom of these many counselors, I have decided that I will let the boys read these books, but I will not insist on their completion if any objections are raised. I do not think exposure to them will be harmful, and there may be some things that are actually helpful (quality of writing, word play, a little fun), but the benefits to be gained, in my opinion, are quite limited, especially at the boys’ current ages, and I will not be overly bothered if they are not read yet, or at all. In fact, I think a review of these books after the boys have been exposed to some logic and argumentation might be more worthwhile than at present, so perhaps we will revisit later if time permits.
One thing I will want to discuss with the boys when they have read these books: Why is everyone portrayed so consistently mean and small? With few exceptions, these characters are self-absorbed and uninterested in helping anyone else. Why is this? Why would the author have written it this way?
I will be curious to see what they have to say!