Monday, November 4, 2013

Stepping Through the Looking Glass is Quite the Challenge

Currently Reading: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Continuing my easy reading trend of the summer, I picked up yet another children’s book after I finished The Call of the Wild: Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. However, I’m not sure there’s anything particularly easy about Lewis Carroll’s slightly crazed worlds.

The sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass features the same heroine, the imaginative, curious Alice, who begins to wonder what life must be like on the other side of the mirror in her family’s living room. Naturally, being a fantasy story for children, Alice successfully enters the backwards mirror-world and once again meets a cast of characters who all make you feel like you’re losing your mind when you interact with them.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that this book would have several somewhat unhinged characters with impossible to follow thought processes. I’ve read Alice in Wonderland, been slightly scarred by the Disney version of the movie, and hey, where did I think the expression “through the looking glass” came from? I shouldn’t have expected a particularly logical story. Everyone seems to talk in riddles and oftentimes their actions seem backwards, fitting given it’s a world that exists in a mirror. Not exactly the easy reading I had anticipated.

However, the genius behind Carroll’s work and probably the reason that he’s so well known is that behind all the madness, there actually is logic. I honestly didn’t take the time to figure it out in every instance, but I did notice that the plot of the story followed the patterns of a chess match. Like the chess pieces she meets, Alice is limited in her movements, as she has become a chess piece herself, only allowed to move certain ways according to the rules.

In the end, once again, the whole bizarre adventure turns out to be a dream and Alice escapes climatic levels of chaos by simply waking up. This always seemed like a cop out ending to me growing up and frustrated me immensely. It felt like Carroll had simply written Alice – and himself – into a corner and couldn’t figure out how to get out of the impossible situation he created so he just makes the whole thing a dream. How lame! I used to think. After all that, that’s the best you can do?

Now, I see that this choice was more intentional than I ever gave Carroll credit for, especially since he uses it twice. Perhaps it’s a commentary on how the real world can be just as strange as the dream world. Or maybe Carroll is proposing that it’s impossible to really tell what is a dream and what is real? Again, I didn’t take the time to think all the implications of the ending out.

But give me a break! I was on vacation. 

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