Started: Fukuoka, Japan
Finished: Tokyo, Japan
When I was just a wean (by which I mean in my sixth year of high school) I wrote a poem for my creative writing portfolio in English class. The poem was called Lewis Carroll, and it presumed to explain the inspiration behind all the manner of crazy I knew to be in Carroll’s magnum opus: smoking caterpillars, anthropomorphised playing cards, a dissappearing cheshire cat, the mad hatter’s tea party. My theory? Drugs, of course. Carroll was mad fur smack or weed or LSD (though I definitely got the dates wrong regarding the latter), or something.
Where else could these ideas have sprung from? And yet, what did I really know?
See the irony was, I’d never even read his books. Not Alice in Wonderland nor Alice Through the Looking Glass. My sole understanding of his work came from the whacky Disney animation of my youth. And Lord Tweedledum knows the folks there were snorting something – go rewatch the Heffalumps and Woozles Winnie the Pooh scene again if you don’t believe me.
So, then, when I stumble across a cheap double volume in the classics section of an English language bookshop in Beijing, my arm is twisted: I bite the bullet.
I won’t keep you for too long here, there’s not much (at least in my opinion) I can say of the books of a profound or revealing nature. Ultimately, they’re just really good fun.
Written by Carroll specifically to keep his (much) younger friend Alice Liddell entertained, bored as she was with her books, the Wonderland adventures are fast-paced and exciting. Things change on the page before your eyes, and rhythmic nonsense poetry verses keep you grinning and guessing. Nothing makes a great deal of sense, until, at least, you let go of that cynicism nurtured by adult life.
And this, this power of Carroll’s – to lul you back to the expansive realms of childhood imagination – is the books’ greatest feat. So far removed are we, am I, from the youthful limitlessness of imagination and creativity, that I had assumed only psychoactive substances could have encouraged such magnificent images in the mind of an adult author. And yet, the more I read Carroll’s writing, the more I believed that he had just stopped himself from ever becoming a cynical bastard (unlike the rest of us). As was said in an essay at the back of my edition:
Childhood returns sometimes by day, more often by night. But it was not so with Lewis Carroll… It lodged in him whole and entire.
Carroll was, for all intents and purposes, a Peter Pan of the literary world. Somehow, and I know not how, he was able to write with the wreckless abandonment of a child, and yet with talent only afforded those with many more years under their belt.
All in all, I’ll say: I didn’t cry or contemplate life or lie awake at night untangling the plot, nor was I particularly sad when the book ended. But I laughed, I smiled, I took pleasure in the nonsense, and I admired the brilliance of the chaos. And I think ultimately, we could all use a dose of Carrollian chaos in our adult lives.
it does a man good to cut loose once in a while
The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand:
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
‘If this were only cleared away,’
They said, ‘it would be grand!’
‘If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose,’ the Walrus said,
‘That they could get it clear?’
‘I doubt it,’ said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.