Monday, November 26, 2007

"What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?"

The Writer's Almanac assures me that on this date in 1864, the Rev. Mr. Dodgson gave a handwritten copy of Alice's Adventures Underground to Alice Lidell. The following year brought the first publication of the work by its better-known title, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Longtime readers already know I'm fond of Lewis Carroll; fonder, even, than I'd been aware when I started poetry posts and whatnot over two years ago. Those folks interested in writing books should really take a look at Chapter One of Carroll's work to see how very quickly he establishes his premise and starts the adventure. I promise you need read no more than 6 short paragraphs, and even then, it's only so we can argue about where the real action starts: paragraph 2, where a white rabbit with pink eyes runs past her? paragraph 3, where she hears the rabbit speak and sees it pull a watch out of its waistcoat pocket and go into the rabbit hole? paragraph 4, where Alice follows? or paragraph 6, where she notices that the "well" she's in has pantry-cupboard sides? (I don't see paragraph 5 as a possible option, since it's a single sentence saying that the rabbit hole turned into a deep well, but hey, maybe you disagree?)

"Down, down, down. Would the fall NEVER come to an end!" Well, yes. And no. Because while Alice's fall ended, we know her story was just starting. And more than a century later, people continue to fall down the rabbit hole with her.

Here's the text of 'All in the golden afternoon', which is the preface poem to Alice in Wonderland and refers to Alice Liddell and her sisters:

All in the golden afternoon
Full leisurely we glide;
For both our oars, with little skill,
By little arms are plied,
While little hands make vain pretence
Our wanderings to guide.

Ah, cruel Three! In such an hour,
Beneath such dreamy weather,
To beg a tale of breath too weak
To stir the tiniest feather!
Yet what can one poor voice avail
Against three tongues together?

Imperious Prima flashes forth
Her edict 'to begin it' -
In gentler tone Secunda hopes
'There will be nonsense in it!' -
While Tertia interrupts the tale
Not more than once a minute.

Anon, to sudden silence won,
In fancy they pursue
The dream-child moving through a land
Of wonders wild and new,
In friendly chat with bird or beast -
And half believe it true.

And ever, as the story drained
The wells of fancy dry,
And faintly strove that weary one
To put the subject by,
"The rest next time -" "It is next time!"
The happy voices cry.

Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:
Thus slowly, one by one,
Its quaint events were hammered out -
And now the tale is done,
And home we steer, a merry crew,
Beneath the setting sun.

Alice! a childish story take,
And with gentle hand
Lay it were Childhood's dreams are twined
In Memory's mystic band,
Like pilgrim's wither'd wreath of flowers
Pluck'd in a far-off land.

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