Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Favourite Passages From Alice in Wonderland

Remembering what I liked in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is rather like undertaking her journey down the Rabbit Hole!

Chapter One – Down the Rabbit Hole went down very well with the sensations of tumbling a long way that one had upon falling asleep as a child.

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

Either the well was very deep, or she fell very slowly, for she had plenty of time as she went down to look about her and to wonder what was going to happen next. First, she tried to look down and make out what she was coming to, but it was too dark to see anything; then she looked at the sides of the well, and noticed that they were filled with cupboards and book-shelves; here and there she saw maps and pictures hung upon pegs. She took down a jar from one of the shelves as she passed; it was labelled `ORANGE MARMALADE’, but to her great disappointment it was empty: she did not like to drop the jar for fear of killing somebody, so managed to put it into one of the cupboards as she fell past it.

`Well!’ thought Alice to herself, `after such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn’t say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!’ (Which was very likely true.)

Down, down, down. Would the fall NEVER come to an end! `I wonder how many miles I’ve fallen by this time?’ she said aloud. `I must be getting somewhere near the centre of the earth. Let me see: that would be four thousand miles down, I think–‘ (for, you see, Alice had learnt several things of this sort in her lessons in the schoolroom, and though this was not a VERY good opportunity for showing off her knowledge, as there was no one to listen to her, still it was good practice to say it over) `–yes, that’s about the right distance–but then I wonder what Latitude or Longitude I’ve got to?’ (Alice had no idea what Latitude was, or Longitude either, but thought they were nice grand words to say.)

Presently she began again. `I wonder if I shall fall right THROUGH the earth! How funny it’ll seem to come out among the people that walk with their heads downward! The Antipathies, I think–‘ (she was rather glad there WAS no one listening, this time, as it didn’t sound at all the right word) `–but I shall have to ask them what the name of the country is, you know. Please, Ma’am, is this New Zealand or Australia?’ (and she tried to curtsey as she spoke–fancy CURTSEYING as you’re falling through the air! Do you think you could manage it?) `And what an ignorant little girl she’ll think me for asking! No, it’ll never do to ask: perhaps I shall see it written up somewhere.’

Down, down, down. There was nothing else to do, so Alice soon began talking again. `Dinah’ll miss me very much to-night, I should think!’ (Dinah was the cat.) `I hope they’ll remember her saucer of milk at tea-time. Dinah my dear! I wish you were down here with me! There are no mice in the air, I’m afraid, but you might catch a bat, and that’s very like a mouse, you know. But do cats eat bats, I wonder?’ And here Alice began to get rather sleepy, and went on saying to herself, in a dreamy sort of way, `Do cats eat bats? Do cats eat bats?’ and sometimes, `Do bats eat cats?’ for, you see, as she couldn’t answer either question, it didn’t much matter which way she put it. She felt that she was dozing off, and had just begun to dream that she was walking hand in hand with Dinah, and saying to her very earnestly, `Now, Dinah, tell me the truth: did you ever eat a bat?’ when suddenly, thump! thump! down she came upon a heap of sticks and dry leaves, and the fall was over.

Chapter Two – The Pool of Tears also has parts memorable to me - I think I was a bit of a cry baby and sometimes really felt that I could cry buckets. I do love the conversation with the mouse too!

John Tenniel - Illustration from The Nursery Alice (1890) - A80108 44

`I wish I hadn't cried so much!' said Alice, as she swam about, trying to find her way out. `I shall be punished for it now, I suppose, by being drowned in my own tears! That will be a queer thing, to be sure! However, everything is queer to-day.'

Just then she heard something splashing about in the pool a little way off, and she swam nearer to make out what it was: at first she thought it must be a walrus or hippopotamus, but then she remembered how small she was now, and she soon made out that it was only a mouse that had slipped in like herself.

`Would it be of any use, now,' thought Alice, `to speak to this mouse? Everything is so out-of-the-way down here, that I should think very likely it can talk: at any rate, there's no harm in trying.' So she began: `O Mouse, do you know the way out of this pool? I am very tired of swimming about here, O Mouse!' (Alice thought this must be the right way of speaking to a mouse: she had never done such a thing before, but she remembered having seen in her brother's Latin Grammar, `A mouse--of a mouse--to a mouse--a mouse--O mouse!' The Mouse looked at her rather inquisitively, and seemed to her to wink with one of its little eyes, but it said nothing.`Perhaps it doesn't understand English,' thought Alice; `I daresay it's a French mouse, come over with William the Conqueror.' (For, with all her knowledge of history, Alice had no very clear notion how long ago anything had happened.) So she began again: `Ou est ma chatte?' which was the first sentence in her French lesson-book. The Mouse gave a sudden leap out of the water, and seemed to quiver all over with fright. `Oh, I beg your pardon!' cried Alice hastily, afraid that she had hurt the poor animal's feelings. `I quite forgot you didn't like cats.'

`Not like cats!' cried the Mouse, in a shrill, passionate voice. `Would you like cats if you were me?'

`Well, perhaps not,' said Alice in a soothing tone: `don't be angry about it. And yet I wish I could show you our cat Dinah: I think you'd take a fancy to cats if you could only see her. She is such a dear quiet thing,' Alice went on, half to herself, as she swam lazily about in the pool, `and she sits purring so nicely by the fire, licking her paws and washing her face--and she is such a nice soft thing to nurse--and she's such a capital one for catching mice--oh, I beg your pardon!' cried Alice again, for this time the Mouse was bristling all over, and she felt certain it must be really offended. `We won't talk about her any more if you'd rather not.'

`We indeed!' cried the Mouse, who was trembling down to the end of his tail. `As if I would talk on such a subject! Our family always hated cats: nasty, low, vulgar things! Don't let me hear the name again!'

`I won't indeed!' said Alice, in a great hurry to change the subject of conversation. `Are you--are you fond--of--of dogs?' The Mouse did not answer, so Alice went on eagerly: `There is such a nice little dog near our house I should like to show you! A little bright-eyed terrier, you know, with oh, such long curly brown hair! And it'll fetch things when you throw them, and it'll sit up and beg for its dinner, and all sorts of things--I can't remember half of them--and it belongs to a farmer, you know, and he says it's so useful, it's worth a hundred pounds! He says it kills all the rats and--oh dear!' cried Alice in a sorrowful tone, `I'm afraid I've offended it again!' For the Mouse was swimming away from her as hard as it could go, and making quite a commotion in the pool as it went.

So she called softly after it, `Mouse dear! Do come back again, and we won't talk about cats or dogs either, if you don't like them!' When the Mouse heard this, it turned round and swam slowly back to her: its face was quite pale (with passion, Alice thought), and it said in a low trembling voice, `Let us get to the shore, and then I'll tell you my history, and you'll understand why it is I hate cats and dogs.'

As for the Chapter Three – The Caucus Race and a Long Tale, it’s probably the best way to look at the Caucus Race in any case and Indians, in particular, would greatly benefit as we seem to assume that we’re Caucasians.

Alice par John Tenniel 10

What I was going to say,’ said the Dodo in an offended tone, `was, that the best thing to get us dry would be a Caucus-race.’

`What IS a Caucus-race?’ said Alice; not that she wanted much to know, but the Dodo had paused as if it thought that SOMEBODY ought to speak, and no one else seemed inclined to say anything.

`Why,’ said the Dodo, `the best way to explain it is to do it.’ (And, as you might like to try the thing yourself, some winter day, I will tell you how the Dodo managed it.)

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (`the exact shape doesn’t matter,’ it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no `One, two, three, and away,’ but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out `The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, `But who has won?’ 

And it is based on Chapter Four – The Rabbit Sends a Little Bill that we chose to call geckos which we hated with a vengeance, Bill the Lizard!

AAUG p43

Chapter Five – Advice from a Caterpillar is the best or one among those!
I’m afraid all of it is so very good!

Alice 05a-1116x1492
My father was the Caterpillar to me.

We are also biased in favour of Chapter Six – Pig and Pepper, undoubtedly one of the craziest chapters where all sorts of things happen.

The Fish Footman and the Frog Footman from "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" (1865)

The frog footman shines high in memory:

There’s no sort of use in knocking,’ said the Footman, `and that for two reasons. First, because I’m on the same side of the door as you are; secondly, because they’re making such a noise inside, no one could possibly hear you.’ And certainly there was a most extraordinary noise going on within – a constant howling and sneezing, and every now and then a great crash, as if a dish or kettle had been broken to pieces.

`Please, then,’ said Alice, `how am I to get in?’

`There might be some sense in your knocking,’ the Footman went on without attending to her, `if we had the door between us. For instance, if you were INSIDE, you might knock, and I could let you out, you know.’ He was looking up into the sky all the time he was speaking, and this Alice thought decidedly uncivil. `But perhaps he can’t help it,’ she said to herself; `his eyes are so VERY nearly at the top of his head. But at any rate he might answer questions.–How am I to get in?’ she repeated, aloud.

`I shall sit here,’ the Footman remarked, `till tomorrow–‘

At this moment the door of the house opened, and a large plate came skimming out, straight at the Footman’s head: it just grazed his nose, and broke to pieces against one of the trees behind him.

`–or next day, maybe,’ the Footman continued in the same tone, exactly as if nothing had happened.

`How am I to get in?’ asked Alice again, in a louder tone.

`ARE you to get in at all?’ said the Footman. `That’s the first question, you know.’

It was, no doubt: only Alice did not like to be told so. `It’s really dreadful,’ she muttered to herself, `the way all the creatures argue. It’s enough to drive one crazy!’

The Footman seemed to think this a good opportunity for repeating his remark, with variations. `I shall sit here,’ he said, `on and off, for days and days.’

`But what am I to do?’ said Alice.

`Anything you like,’ said the Footman, and began whistling.

One of the major drawbacks about Chapter Seven – A Mad Tea-Party is that it’s so very famous. That’s the cost of being so good, after all!

Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham - 08 - A Mad Tea-Party

Which is your favourite part of this chapter, I wonder?

I loved the Dormouse!

Chapter Eight – The Queen's Croquet Ground? Well, it held some interest to me as it had a walking talking pack of cards.

Our family favourite was Chapter Nine – The Mock Turtle's Story:
They had not gone far before they saw the Mock Turtle in the distance, sitting sad and lonely on a little ledge of rock, and, as they came nearer, Alice could hear him sighing as if his heart would break. She pitied him deeply. `What is his sorrow?’ she asked the Gryphon, and the Gryphon answered, very nearly in the same words as before, `It’s all his fancy, that: he hasn’t got no sorrow, you know. Come on!’ So they went up to the Mock Turtle, who looked at them with large eyes full of tears, but said nothing. `This here young lady,’ said the Gryphon, `she wants for to know your history, she do.’ `I’ll tell it her,’ said the Mock Turtle in a deep, hollow tone: `sit down, both of you, and don’t speak a word till I’ve finished.’ So they sat down, and nobody spoke for some minutes. Alice thought to herself, `I don’t see how he can EVER finish, if he doesn’t begin.’ But she waited patiently. `Once,’ said the Mock Turtle at last, with a deep sigh, `I was a real Turtle.’ These words were followed by a very long silence, broken only by an occasional exclamation of `Hjckrrh!’ from the Gryphon, and the constant heavy sobbing of the Mock Turtle. Alice was very nearly getting up and saying, `Thank you, sir, for your interesting story,’ but she could not help thinking there MUST be more to come, so she sat still and said nothing. `When we were little,’ the Mock Turtle went on at last, more calmly, though still sobbing a little now and then, `we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle–we used to call him Tortoise–‘ `Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?’ Alice asked. `We called him Tortoise because he taught us,’ said the Mock Turtle angrily: `really you are very dull!’ `You ought to be ashamed of yourself for asking such a simple question,’ added the Gryphon; and then they both sat silent and looked at poor Alice, who felt ready to sink into the earth. At last the Gryphon said to the Mock Turtle, `Drive on, old fellow! Don’t be all day about it!’ and he went on in these words: `Yes, we went to school in the sea, though you mayn’t believe it–‘ `I never said I didn’t!’ interrupted Alice. `You did,’ said the Mock Turtle. `Hold your tongue!’ added the Gryphon, before Alice could speak again. The Mock Turtle went on. `We had the best of educations–in fact, we went to school every day–‘ `I’VE been to a day-school, too,’ said Alice; `you needn’t be so proud as all that.’ `With extras?’ asked the Mock Turtle a little anxiously. `Yes,’ said Alice, `we learned French and music.’ `And washing?’ said the Mock Turtle. `Certainly not!’ said Alice indignantly. `Ah! then yours wasn’t a really good school,’ said the Mock Turtle in a tone of great relief. `Now at OURS they had at the end of the bill, “French, music, AND WASHING–extra.”‘ `You couldn’t have wanted it much,’ said Alice; `living at the bottom of the sea.’ `I couldn’t afford to learn it.’ said the Mock Turtle with a sigh. `I only took the regular course.’ `What was that?’ inquired Alice. `Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,’ the Mock Turtle replied; `and then the different branches of Arithmetic– Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.’ `I never heard of “Uglification,”‘ Alice ventured to say. `What is it?’ The Gryphon lifted up both its paws in surprise. `What! Never heard of uglifying!’ it exclaimed. `You know what to beautify is, I suppose?’ `Yes,’ said Alice doubtfully: `it means–to–make–anything– prettier.’ `Well, then,’ the Gryphon went on, `if you don’t know what to uglify is, you ARE a simpleton.’ Alice did not feel encouraged to ask any more questions about it, so she turned to the Mock Turtle, and said `What else had you to learn?’ `Well, there was Mystery,’ the Mock Turtle replied, counting off the subjects on his flappers, `–Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling–the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: HE taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils.’ `What was THAT like?’ said Alice. `Well, I can’t show it you myself,’ the Mock Turtle said: `I’m too stiff. And the Gryphon never learnt it.’ `Hadn’t time,’ said the Gryphon: `I went to the Classics master, though. He was an old crab, HE was.’ `I never went to him,’ the Mock Turtle said with a sigh: `he taught Laughing and Grief, they used to say.’ `So he did, so he did,’ said the Gryphon, sighing in his turn; and both creatures hid their faces in their paws. `And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ said Alice, in a hurry to change the subject. `Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock Turtle: `nine the next, and so on.’ `What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice. `That’s the reason they’re called lessons,’ the Gryphon remarked: `because they lessen from day to day.’
Chapter Ten – Lobster Quadrille follows hot on its heels as happy reading goes! Full of merry and zany songs too.
De Alice's Abenteuer im Wunderland Carroll pic 35
“Will you walk a little faster?” said a whiting to a snail.
“There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail.
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle–will you come and join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?

“You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!”
But the snail replied “Too far, too far!” and gave a look askance–
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.

Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance.

“What matters it how far we go?” his scaly friend replied.
“There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
The further off from England the nearer is to France–
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the dance.

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?”

Chapter Eleven – Who Stole the Tarts? has a hilarious courtroom scene.
Queen of Hearts

Chapter Twelve – Alice's Evidence did not catch my youthful fancy save for the poem:
Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham - 14 - Who stole the Tarts?
       'They told me you had been to her, And mentioned me to him: She gave me a good character, But said I could not swim. He sent them word I had not gone (We know it to be true): If she should push the matter on, What would become of you? I gave her one, they gave him two, You gave us three or more; They all returned from him to you, Though they were mine before. If I or she should chance to be Involved in this affair, He trusts to you to set them free, Exactly as we were. My notion was that you had been (Before she had this fit) An obstacle that came between Him, and ourselves, and it. Don't let him know she liked them best, For this must ever be A secret, kept from all the rest, Between yourself and me.'

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again - A Story for All Times

I was about six when my father returned from Boston with the Hobbit. Every day, he’d tell us the story. Thus it was that, long before I could read, Tolkien’s world came alive for me. Gollum, Bilbo, Gandalf, the dwarves, elves, bears, goblins, spiders and a dragon!

While it may appear to be a tale for children - and, indeed, the Hobbit is somewhat more child friendly than the Trilogy - it’s not really a book that most parents would feel comfortable reading out to their children. I might be more than a little judgemental but it seems to me that a lot of parents have a set idea of what constitutes books for children. Like the whole concept of baby food, literature too has undergone a rather unwholesome processing.

This is the edition that we had:

Let me lead you through the story as I remember it.

One fine day, a Hobbit called Bilbo Baggins, prepares for a relaxed morning.

 Wait! What’s a Hobbit?
"I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded Dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little or no magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which allows them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making a noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off. They are inclined to be fat in the stomach; they dress in bright colours (chiefly green and yellow); wear no shoes, because their feet grow naturally leathery soles and thick warm brown hair like the stuff on their heads (which is curly); have long clever brown fingers, good-natured faces, and laugh deep fruity laughs (especially after dinner, which they have twice a day when they can get it). Now you know enough to go on with."

The bell rings and it’s a dwarf. Before your mind’s eye begins running the Disney tape, press pause. Tolkien’s dwarves are much more dignified, for one thing.

Anyway, the bell goes on ringing and, one by one, or sometimes even two by two or more, thirteen dwarves enter Bilbo’s posh and cosy Hobbit Hole.  

And, as if that were not chaos enough, there’s yet another gate crasher and this is Gandalf. A wizard. Once again, I beg of you to switch off your Disney blinkers. And, if possible, the Peter Jackson visuals as well.

An Unexpected Party, the first chapter, plunges us into a scene of delightful disorder:
Chip the glasses and crack the plates!Blunt the knives and bend the forks!That's what Bilbo Baggins hates—Smash the bottles and burn the corks!
Cut the cloth and tread on the fat! Pour the milk on the pantry floor!Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!Splash the wine on every door!
Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;Pound them up with a thumping pole;And when you’ve finished if any are whole,Send them down the hall to roll!
That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!So, carefully! carefully with the plates!

And, before you can catch your breath, the party ends with the plan for a mighty adventure:  One of the dwarves, Thorin Oakenshield, has to reclaim his kingdom from Smaug, a dragon. And, what’s worse for the comfort loving Hobbit, Bilbo is to be the Burglar!

Roast Mutton, the next chapter, is equally if not more entertaining. After trudging through harsh lands, the company, minus the wizard who has done the disappearing act, an act of which, as you will soon find out, he is inordinately fond, bump into three Trolls. Rather Bilbo is caught trying to pick a pocket.
Now the trolls were in dire need of a change of diet. As one of them puts it:
"Mutton yesterday, mutton today, and blimey, if it don't look like mutton again tomorrer," ...
However, in the nick of time, Gandalf arrives and saves the day.

After such a narrow escape, A Short Rest is a chapter that remains enshrined in my memory. Elf Elrond’s home is a place I would dearly love to visit when I am tired or in anguish.

Well fortified by this brief lull, we are plunged into one crisis after another from Over Hill and Under Hill onwards.

This is a very dramatic chapter from the thunderstorm on the hill to the capture by goblins…
Clap! Snap! the black crack!Grip, grab! Pinch, nab!And down down to Goblin-town    You go, my lad!
Clash, crash! Crush, smash!Hammer and tongs! Knocker and gongs!Pound, pound, far underground!     Ho, ho! my lad!
Swish, smack! Whip crack!Batter and beat! Yammer and bleat!Work, work! Nor dare to shirk,While Goblins quaff, and Goblins laugh,Round and round far underground     Below, my lad!

This poem always makes me think of life as we know it now :)

Riddles in the Dark is yet another outstanding chapter for this is where the fateful meeting with slimy Gollum takes place. It is a creepy, clammy scene!

And the pace continues  with Out of the Frying-Pan into the Fire where we hear wolves howl and our company is carried away by eagles.

Queer Lodgings is another favourite of mine. Beorn’s house and what happens there are both scary and enchanting.

Flies and Spiders is not for you if you have arachnophobia. But it’s another outstanding chapter in terms of fantasy. Spiders in an enchanted forest and hostile elves makes for a must-read chapter.

I confess that from there on I somehow don’t recall many highlights and often skipped Barrels Out of Bond in my many re-readings of this saga.

So you can even just listen to the story if reading is not your cup of tea.

But I’m so tempted to delve into the book again and resume what used to be an yearly pilgrimage through Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Trilogy!

I’m crossing my fingers here that, if you have not yet read them, my post will inspire you to do so. And if, sadly, your only link with Tolkien are the crass film versions, then I hope you will try the real thing now.

Tolkien is good reading. In many ways. Modern mythology, fantasy, literature and a just plain good read.