Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass — April 3, 2010

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass

Cover of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, packaged together in one book published by Oxford. Cover is a painting of Alice looking at the queen and king of some suit that I forget; queen and king of cards, in any case.

These are books that I had inexplicably not read. I don’t know how that even happened. I certainly knew them by reputation, and I’d certainly known where many of the cultural allusions — the Red Queen running with all her might and yet still not moving, impossible things before breakfast, the Jabberwocky, etc., etc. — came from. There’s still lots of cleverness that I didn’t know about, like this bit:

> “[…]The name of the song is called “HADDOCKS’ EYES.”‘
> ‘Oh, that’s the name of the song, is it?’ Alice said, trying to feel interested.
> ‘No, you don’t understand,’ the Knight said, looking a little vexed. ‘That’s what the name is CALLED. The name really IS “THE AGED AGED MAN.”‘
> ‘Then I ought to have said “That’s what the SONG is called”?’ Alice corrected herself.
> ‘No, you oughtn’t: that’s quite another thing! The SONG is called “WAYS AND MEANS”: but that’s only what it’s CALLED, you know!’
> ‘Well, what IS the song, then?’ said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.
> ‘I was coming to that,’ the Knight said. ‘The song really IS “A-SITTING ON A GATE”: and the tune’s my own invention.’

This is a terrific introduction to the use-mention distinction, I gather. Though normally when people talk about the use-mention distinction, they’ll differentiate between “Mount Everest” (a string containing 13 characters) and Mount Everest, a mountain in Asia. Here Carroll is making the split more decisive: the use is one thing (the song’s name), and the mention is entirely another (a string that doesn’t look at all like a representation of the song, if that makes sense). It’s clever, and not a little bewildering. I’d love to hear how much of it little Alice Liddell could process when Carroll was spinning his tales for her.

Nothing really *happens* in Carroll’s books. Alice ambles about, weird things happen, animals speak paradoxically to her, and that’s that. These are still very fun reads, though.

I love the packaging on the particular Oxford World’s Classics edition of [book: Alice in Wonderland] and [book: Through the Looking-Glass] that I read, but I think the endnotes are useless. Most often they point you to a reference that Carroll *may* have been making in the text, but most of the time I strongly doubted that he *was* making such a reference. Even if he had been, the endnotes pull you away from the text to make a point that does absolutely nothing to improve your understanding. It’s not as though [book: Alice in Wonderland] needs an exegesis on the level of [book: Ulysses]. So I’d advise buying this lovely edition, then ignoring the endnotes altogether.