7 min read
There's more than meets the eye when it comes to Alice and her crew...
A classic novel written in 1865 by Lewis Carrol, you’ve probably heard of this story before. If you haven’t, at some point you’ve almost definitely seen an illustration of a young girl with long golden locks, clad in her iconic blue and white dress. This is Alice. The tale follows her exploits as she falls down a rabbit hole and into a fantasy world beyond our, and her own, imagination. Carrol is renowned for his ingenious creative writing skills, appealing to both adults and children alike. But there's also a lot to be learned from this whimsical story. So, let's take a look at a few life lessons from Britcent's audiobook, 'The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland'.
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Better the devil you know
Some say that all art is existential; whatever the subject matter, at its core it's all about the human condition. If that is the case, then while Carrol may not be Plato, he's done a fairly good job (whether consciously or not) of probing one aspect of the human experience: relationships. It seems Alice's relationships with the other characters can give us an insight into the nature of our own.
Down the infamous rabbit hole, Alice is graced with the presence of an array of off-the-wall and eccentric characters. Among them are a perpetually grinning cat, a turtle with the head of a calf, a mean talking caterpillar with a penchant for cigarettes, and the domineering Queen of Hearts whose every second utterance is “Off with their heads!”. And not forgetting the pretentious dodo whose convoluted, flowery language makes him somewhat incomprehensible, and most definitely insufferable.
For this reason I think Carrol strikes a great balance between fantasy and reality—a feat achieved by only a handful of writers (yet attempted by many).
As you can imagine, most of the remaining characters follow suit. As we listen to the story, we sit back in astonishment as Carrol reels off an impressive collection of strange talking animals and objects, and outlandish humans. Many other novels, films, plays, etc. also have such fantastical and exaggerated characters like monsters and ogres. But Alice's posse of characters are different. Despite their peculiarities, they are in fact quite down to earth...almost frustratingly so. Everything that exists in the story (cows, turtles, cigarettes, caterpillars, etc.) exists in the human world—Carrol has just conjured up some interesting combinations, such as a cow-turtle and a smoking caterpillar. They are simply everyday humans, objects or animals, but with a few modifications that give them characteristic traits. For example, the white rabbit is a frantic rabbit, the cat a grinning cat, the door-mouse a sleepy door-mouse, etc.
This makes the characters both strange and familiar. For this reason, I think Carrol strikes a great balance between fantasy and reality—a feat achieved by only a handful of writers (yet attempted by many). But it's not so realistic that just reads like a depressing printout of reality. Nobody would want to listen that. So when we're listening to this story we can enjoy getting lost in a fanciful, imaginary world. But we also have the comforts of what we know and are used to, even if they are a bit irritating—better the devil you know. Ultimately this makes the story grounded, relatable and, most importantly, meaningful. Why is this so?
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Without rhyme or reason
Many of the characters' behaviour is indeed irritating, to say the least. The dodo is berated for not knowing the meaning of the long words he uses. The Queen of Hearts is incessant in her arbitrary and irrational demands. The Duchess switches from being unashamedly uncouth to warm and affectionate. Sound familiar?
Your spiteful manager, the apathetic barista, your racist-in-denial uncle...must I go on?
These characters really ring true for a lot of us. But as Alice's patience is tested, we are reassured. I think I can safely say that most of us have experienced challenging relationships much like these, whether it be in the workplace, in the supermarket with members of the public or in your own home. We all have to deal with difficult people in our lives, just like Alice. You could say that these characters of Carrol's are mere caricatures of said people in our lives. The characters' 'kooky' behaviour and traits are just exaggerated and cartoonish representations of the idiosyncrasies (to put it politely) of the people that really grind our gears (to put it politely).
But what is significant is that this little underground community keeps on ticking over. And in that sense, it works in perfect harmony, somehow. It has its own order. Somehow, Wonderland just keeps on turning—life goes on. Just like our world keeps turning despite our gripes, protests, frustrations and the condemnations of those whose behaviour we deem grating, unacceptable, pernicious...must I go on? There may be method in people's madness, we just can't understand it. Your spiteful manager, the apathetic barista, your racist-in-denial uncle...must I go on?
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You can't teach an old dog new tricks
No matter how angry or impatient Alice gets, her efforts are futile. Just like we do, she navigates her way through Wonderland getting her buttons pushed and putting up with people. And yet she never does get an explanation, or any apology at that. There seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why her comrades are the way they are. It's just the way things are, and the way people are. We argue with people until we're blue in the face and are still left none the wiser as to why they do the things they do, their actions seeming as unreasonable and inexplicable as a caterpillar wanting to smoke—how does that even work?
Maybe it is an opportunity for us to accept that there are many strange things and people in the world that we cannot explain or change.
Even if we could change people, would it be worth it? Relationships are so central to our lives—Sartre didn't say 'hell is other people' for nothing. So perhaps embracing the madness, enjoying the ride and standing in awe of the chaotic and nonsensical spectacle that is the human race is more worth our time. As trite as it sounds, unlike Alice, we will not wake up from this bizarre dream.
So upon listening to this audiobook, we realise that our lives and the people in it, much like the story, are too both strange and familiar. While children can enjoy the vivid imagery and charming animals, adults can laugh at their co-workers, cousins and politicians they recognise in the different characters. Perhaps indulging in a world of fantasy and imagination, even just for a short while, is not childish and futile, but in fact may just be the perfect antidote. Maybe it is an opportunity for us to accept that there are many strange things and people in the world that we cannot explain or change. After all, you can't teach an old dog new tricks.
Like this? Check out our audiobooks
If you liked this post (and want to work on your listening skills), you might be interested in this simplified version on our YouTube channel where I introduce the story, talk about why I like it and read chapters one and two. Or you can scroll down to watch it here. You can also find the first few chapters of this audiobook on our YouTube channel, and the whole book on our Naver channel. What did you think of Alice and her adventures? Why not take a lesson with a native English speaker and exchange opinions with your teacher?
Watch this video on the Britcent YouTube channel, where you'll find videos, podcasts, audiobooks and more...
Please note: These blog posts are written in informal, conversational English.
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