Wednesday, June 8, 2011

We're all mad here

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is one of those books that I'm not sure I've ever actually read ... but that I know all about. Is that because of Disney, or poetry study, or some play version that I know about the White Rabbit, Drink Me?, the hookah-smoking Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Tea Party, "Off with her head!," etc.? Doesn't matter really, because reading Lewis Carroll's masterpiece brings an appreciation that goes far beyond the story's ridiculous set pieces.

I found Alice to be a an interesting mass of contradictions: She's alternately plucky and whiny, she's curious and dismissive, she's demanding and she's mildly accepting. She's big and she's small! Her encounters with the creatures human and otherwise of Wonderland are seriously trippy and ADHD-like as she flits from place to place. I was kind of bummed at the end when Carroll -- it seemed to me -- decreed that Alice's visit was only a dream ... but what was with that part where her sister has the same one? Was Carroll saying, it wasn't a dream?

Like me, you probably know the story without having ever read it. Young Alice -- spending a dozy day outdoors -- spies a white rabbit with a pocket watch and, "curiouser and curiouser" follows it down its hole. She tumbles into a world where the crazy is normal, where cats smile and babies are pigs. She attempts to play croquet with a flamingo and a hedgehog and is accused of a terrible crime by a megalomaniacal Queen of Hearts. For the most part, she's quite accepting of the strangeness, but every once in a while, she breaks down. It's all extremely bizarre.

And what about the Mock Turtle (copyright-free image by John Tenniel retrieved from Wikimedia Commons)? I'm not sure I remembered anything about this character, beyond the reference to the soup. The chapter in which he appears is kind of a non-action section, as the Turtle simply weeps a lot and sings his sad song. I found him quite engaging. And I think that must be due to the narrator of this audiobook, the wonderfully pillowy (in form and in soothing voice) Miriam Margolyes. Hearing her read Alice, it's easy to imagine a young listener cuddled up next to her, right at that point where she/he can feel the vibrations of her speech as well.

Margolyes (perhaps best known as Professor Sprout) is all warmth narrating this story; she reads it straight as if she believed every word. She has terrific fun with the wild and crazy cast of characters -- it's hard to pick just a few to mention. The tea party is particularly memorable, with the sleepy dormouse occasionally interrupting the Mad Hatter and the March Hare (one of whom states my post title ... or is it the Cat?) in their frantic partying. The Queen is appropriately regal and screeching, while the Knave of Hearts is kind of disturbingly oily. She chooses an unusual voice for the Cheshire Cat: It's high and kind of piercing -- this isn't a very enigmatic cat.

But I just loved her Turtle. He's an old Scotsman, with the hint of a burr in his tired, lugubrious voice. Margolyes sings both of the poems that Carroll wrote -- "The Lobster Quadrille" and the "Mock Turtle" [is that what it's called?]. His friend the Gryffon is a fast-talking Cockney. Between them, they liven up this section before the trial.

The beginning and end of each of the three discs had a delightfully sprightly tune that I could have listened to for longer, had it been on offer. It was slightly baroque, which seems right for such a rococo story.

While listening to this, I was kind of surprised when it finished. I'd been waiting for Tweedledum and Tweedledee, but I guess that's in the sequel. Do you think Dodgson wrote it because his fans demanded more?

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Narrated by Miriam Margolyes
Bolinda Audio, 2010. 3:23

1 comment:

Jen - Devourer of Books said...

I've been wanting to finally read ALICE IN WONDERLAND, it seems like this version of the audio would be a good bet. ALICE I HAVE BEEN is a great book about the real Alice, and contains some information about Lewis Carroll's writing of it. I read it in print, but I hear the audio is fabulous.