I try not to overuse the phrase “falling down the rabbit hole” because I want to save it for things that are truly magical, as I remember my early reading of Alice’s adventures in Wonderland to have been. It seems like I see that phrase, or versions of it, used in articles and tweets every week or two in reference to a person who finds themselves lost as they look at recipes on the Internet or try to shop for parts for their lawn mower and then start looking at anything but lawnmower parts. If I am going to use words that usually refer to something as enchanting as Alice’s choice to follow a rabbit carrying a pocket watch then I won’t be describing my 10 minute distraction with websites describing the origins of Argyle socks. That’s not falling down the rabbit hole to me, that is procrastination or avoiding my real life chores of dish washing or getting the laundry folded.
I was thinking about rabbit holes recently when I looked at the calendar and saw that we were getting close to May 4th, the birthday of Alice Liddell, the 10-year old girl who asked Lewis Carroll to tell her a story as they rowed together one lovely afternoon way back in 1865. It started out as a way to entertain his young friend and became the adventure that has inspired music, theatre, fashion, countless retellings and so many mugs in my kitchen cupboards. I’ve always felt like the remarkable things that he included in his story were perfect for saying aloud and I loved reading them to our girls. Even though the “rabbit hole” phrase has become a little too popular for my liking I will always been a fan of the idea that Alice made the choice to follow that white rabbit out of sheer curiosity and, as she fell down the hole, had time to think of so many things, especially her lovely cat Dinah.
If you search in the WPL catalogue for the words “alice’s adventures in wonderland” you will find that we have so many wonderful books – some appropriate for children, many for teens and some others for adults. In 2015 a Canadian author published Alice’s adventures in Wonderland decoded and it contains annotations which provide behind-the-scenes information about Alice, Lewis Carroll and the Victorian world that they lived in. It has gorgeous full-colour illustrations and will keep you interested for days and days. I’ve checked this one out more than once just for the pleasure of reading the text along with the insights that author David Day provides. If you find yourself ‘curiouser and curiouser’ about Alice this might be the place to start.
Another ‘Alice-ish’ favourite on our shelves is a treat of historical fiction by Melanie Benjamin called Alice I have been. In her novel she has Alice Liddell as an 80-year old looking back on the life that was forever changed by being the subject of Lewis Carroll’s famous story. The author brings to life the iconic moments spent in the rowboat as she asked him to tell her a story and shares what she imagines Alice was like as a little girl, a young married woman and as she finds happiness in her later years. It’s this author’s idea of what Alice Liddell’s life might have been like, weaving together the facts that she found with a heaping amount of her own fancy, and she shares her departure from facts in the final pages of the book. She also suggests further reading for anyone who would like to learn more about the Liddell family and Lewis Carroll.
We also have some terrific biographies of Lewis Carroll here in the collection, one favourite from 2008 is Lewis Carroll in numberland : his fantastical mathematical logical life. The author focuses on Carroll’s life as a mathematician and provides insight into the time he spent at Oxford. You can find stories here about his incredible sense of humour, his work as a mathematics professor and his interest in photography. If you would like to see some of the photographs he took of Alice and her sisters one of my favourite sites for this (and so many other fascinating topics) is Maria Popova’s brainpickings. You can see a short article she has written about Alice Liddell and, quite possibly, find yourself falling down a true rabbit hole. You might want to take a snack along. I seem to remember that Alice picked up that marmalade jar as she fell and was disappointed to find it empty.
– Penny M.