J.G. Keely's Reviews > Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There

Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll
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Aug 01, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: fantasy, reviewed, uk-and-ireland

I think that the failure not only of Children's Literature as a whole, but of our very concept of children and the child's mind is that we think it a crime to challenge and confront that mind. Children are first protected from their culture--kept remote and safe--and then they are thrust incongruously into a world that they have been told is unsafe and unsavory; and we expected them not to blanch.

It has been my policy that the best literature for children is not a trifling thing, not a simplification of the adult or a sillier take on the world. Good Children's literature is some of the most difficult literature to write because one must challenge, engage, please, and awe a mind without resorting to archetypes or life experience.

Once a body grows old enough, we are all saddened by the thought of a breakup. We have a set of knowledge and memories. The pain returns to the surface. Children are not born with these understandings, so to make them understand pain, fear, and loss is no trivial thing. The education of children is the transformation of an erratic and hedonistic little beast into a creature with a rational method by which to judge the world.

A child must be taught not to fear monsters but to fear instead electrical outlets, pink slips, poor people, and lack of social acceptance. The former is frightening in and of itself, the latter for complex, internal reasons. I think the real reason that culture often fears sexuality and violence in children is because they are such natural urges. We fear to trigger them because we cannot control the little beasts. We cannot watch them every minute.

So, to write Children's Literature, an author must create something complex and challenging, something that the child can turn over in their mind without accidentally revealing some terrible aspect of the world that the child is not yet capable of dealing with. Carroll did this by basing his fantasies off of complex, impersonal structures: linguistics and mathematical theory. These things have all the ambiguity, uncertainty, and structure of the grown-up world without the messy, human parts.

This is also why the Alice stories fulfill another requirement I have for Children's Lit: that it be just as intriguing and rewarding for adults. There is no need to limit the depth in books for children, because each reader will come away with whatever they are capable of finding. Fill an attic with treasures and the child who enters it may find any number of things--put a single coin in a room and you ensure that the child will find it, but nothing more.

Of course, we must remember that nothing we can write will ever be more strange or disturbing to a child than the pure, unadulterated world that we will always have failed to prepare them for. However, perhaps we can fail a little less and give them Alice. Not all outlets are to be feared, despite what your parents taught you. In fact, some should be prodded with regularity, and if you dare, not a little joy.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
August 1, 2010 – Shelved
August 1, 2010 – Shelved as: fantasy
August 1, 2010 – Shelved as: reviewed
March 7, 2011 – Shelved as: uk-and-ireland

Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by Mariel (new) - added it

Mariel I like this review a lot. I love that this is a book for the kid who asks questions. I make it a point to answer every (deliberately) ridiculous question a kid will ask me.


J.G. Keely Ridiculous questions can be some of the best questions.


Josh Fantastic review, Keely :)


J.G. Keely Hey, thanks so much. Glad you liked it.


Irene Great review


FoodxHugs True, the kid should be allowed to have smart lit on offer BUT I disagree that Carroll's work is accessible. I've read Alice 1 (still reading Alice 2) and it's really dated and dull even for an adult. Sure, it's written in an easy way but the "whimsy" is too cloying. When I was eight/nine, I actually tried to read it, but it was too difficult and boring for me to understand so I have up. Now I have no such problem. So it's difficult to classify it as a kid's book. Although, every child responds differently to a book. Some kids just need fun, current novels and shouldn't be forced to read classics children's novels. When they grow up, it'll be "child's play" for them. :D


message 7: by Mary (new) - added it

Mary Pat I don't feel like either Alice book is written in an easy way, if you are taking the time register jokes and cultural criticisms. So, I think it accessibility depends on the maturity of the reader. Carroll's books are partially inaccessible to us all, because we miss a lot of the regional/social/political inside jokes of the time. They may be inaccessible to people who don't appreciate linguistic acrobatics. But, I don't agree with making a blanket statement that these books are inaccessible and boring for children. I read them with my five year old son, and immediately upon finishing Alice in Wonderland he said he wanted to begin again and read it over and over for the rest of his life. He finds the absurdity of the books hilarious. Sometimes, he finds Alice's experiences and the way Wonderland functions thought provoking. The key is that I read the books with him, and occasionally I stop to make sure he understood the joke, meaning of a word, or what is happening if the action jumped. Personally, I find Alice grating. My son, finds it all wonderful. I believe Keely's point is that some of the greatest literature is challenging to your worldview, whether you are a child or an adult, and despite taste.


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