|Alice's Adventures in Wonderland|
The book relies on the fanciful tale as a backbone, but running throughout the novel (as well as its sequel, Through the Looking Glass) are logic-problems and mathematical jokes. These were inserted by Carroll, a mathematician, for both amusement and edification.
"The tale grew in the telling," Carroll reports. He used to take his superior's little daughters rowing and on picnics, and he made up the Alice story to entertain them. The setting of the book, and much of the imagery, was influenced by Carroll's family connections in the area around Sunderland in north-east England, which he visited frequently.
The story begins with the introduction of Alice, a girl whose name is often used in generic mathematical or logical puzzles (Alice, Bob, Carol, Dan, etc.) She appears to be a girl very bored with her life and quite lazy, wondering if it is worth the effort to string daisies into a daisy-chain. She then spies a white rabbit, dressed in Victorian clothes, checking a pocket-watch, and muttering about being late. She is surprised and follows the rabbit down its hole.
Her falling down the hole takes an impossibly great amount of time, during which she thinks and thinks, and finds herself unable to remember simple facts from school or even be certain or her own identity. Passing shelves and other things in the hole, she lands in a hallway of infinite locked doors containing a glass table, on which rests a key. She finds that they key unlocks a small door into a very pretty garden which she regards as a destination. She spies a bottle which reads, "Drink Me," reasons that it doesn't read, "Poison," drinks, and shrinks. When she is small enough to fit through the door, she can no longer reach the key from the table. Now small, she spies a cake which reads "Eat Me," which she eats to grow bigger - but cannot fit through the door. She cries and cries puddles of tears, drinks again, and nearly drowns in what has become as ocean.
Upon finding shore, she is greeted by many shorebirds and participates in an infinite race to dry herself, then leaves to follow the white rabbit. She finds him at his house, and he mistakes her for his housekeeper and orders her to fetch his white gloves. She enters the house, drinks a bottle which makes her grow larger, and becomes stuck in the house. The rabbit and a lizard try to burn her out, but she finds some cakes to shrink her and leaves the house, narrowly avoiding being eaten by a puppy.
She next finds a caterpillar, smoking hookah, and converses with it. She tells of her insanity. It asks her to repeat the nursery rhyme, "Father William," which she fails to do. It asks her about height, and she replies that she dislikes being three inches tall - it which point he is offended, being three inches tall himself, and suggests only that she take a bite from either side of a mushroom, one side to make her shrink, the other to grow.
She then finds a house producing a great racket and tries to enter. She meets inside the Duchess, to whom the rabbit alluded, and her baby, actually a pig, whom she beats for sneezing whilst adding excessive amounts of pepper to soup. The cook, meanwhile, is angry, and throws pots and pans about the room. Alice leaves, briefly speaks with a grinning Cheshire Cat, and continues on to find a long table. She sits down to have tea with the Mad Hatter, March Hare, and constantly sleeping Dormouse. They ridicule each other, particularly Alice when she falsely states that a statement shares truth-value and meaning with its converse. She leaves angrily after hearing of the cruelty of the Queen, returns somehow to her hallway with the mushroom pieces, and fits herself through the door into the garden.
This place turns out to be part of kingdom ruled by the Queen of Hearts (a queen obsessed with beheading), staffed by bumbling gardeners and site of a popular croquet game rigged in the queen's favor, in which the players use flamingos as bats and hedgehogs as balls. Alice finds herself unable to play, as the flamingos and hedgehogs will only behave for the queen. At this point, the Cheshire Cat's head returns, floating, and offends the queen. It gets Alice sentenced to beheading, but she is pardoned and spends time with the Duchess. In the next conversation with the Duchess, the Duchess attempts rather illogically to find morals in every statement of Alice's and constantly agrees to Alice's mistakes before Alice corrects herself. After this, Alice is sent by the queen on a visit to see the Mock Turtle.
Alice is chaperoned by a gryphon to see a Turtle. The great gryphon is faster than Alice and shows her the Mock Turtle, who recounts a sad story. They have a conversation in which the Turtle lists his the subjects of his undersea school, all of which are words sounding similar to Alice's but different in meaning. The conversation continues to the gryphon's description of how the Turtle's lessons began ten hours a day, went to nine the second, et cetera, until a holiday on the eleventh. The gryphon refuses to answer regarding the twelfth, suggesting negative numbers to the reader. They then recount a dance, the Lobster Quadrille, and perform for her the dance and two more songs.
As the book approaches a climax, Alice is suspected of having stolen the queen's tarts and is brought in for a hasty trial narrated by the White Rabbit. She realized that the trial is based on a popular nursery rhyme in which the knave (now called the jack) of hearts stole the tarts. Before her, the Mad Hatter, March Hare, Dormouse, Duchess, and Cheshire Cat are witnesses. The Dormouse is sentenced to execution, but saved by the Cheshire Cat. The King insists Alice cannot be a witness, but she proves him incorrect and then claims to know nothing. The court offers a piece of evidence, an unsigned letter allegedly written by the knave, and claims that because the knave did not sign the letter, he is dishonest, and thus stole the tarts. As he is to be killed, Alice grows to her full size, moans about how all present are a pack of cards, and wakes up still present in the meadow. The entire narrative is revealed to be a dream.
- Online edition from The Literature Network