|Cheshire Cat Image from Google Public Domain Images|
There are all sorts of silly quizzes going around the internet these days; quizzes to determine your link to favourite cartoon characters, historical figures and times, colours, personality traits and literary creatures. The one that caught my attention yesterday was "What 'Alice in Wonderland' Character are You?"
This quiz caught my eye because Lewis Carroll's great work, written in 1865, has been a favourite of mine since I was Alice's age. I read it when I was the dreamy girl with her nose stuck in books, lost in her own thoughts and looking for adventure. I read it as a teenager, when I had more than a passing interest in what are said to be references to mind-altering drugs. (Grace Slick knows.) We read Alice and its companion piece, Through the Looking Glass in university English classes and in Logic 100, too. I tried to teach myself chess from the game in Looking Glass, but that was a total failure, since I never figured out the moves in book nor actual game, even with the help of the annotated edition of the story.
My last analysis of Deacon Dodgson's Alice was a paper I wrote for yoga teacher training in which I compared the tales of Wonderland to the Bhagavad Gita. I'm not sure that went over too well, but I was quite sincere. The question for the paper was, "Does the message of the Gita have relevance for us today?" While I find the Gita interesting, I don't think that it has had an influence on my life. Since it's tough to write about a negative, I decided to write instead about the book which did provide the most influence on me and Carroll's masterpiece (two, really, although I always think of Wonderland and Looking Glass as a single work) is the one.
Alice is one of the great feminists of all times. She's intelligent, independent, assertive, yet kind. She's not afraid of adventure; when the White Rabbit appears, down the Rabbit Hole goes Alice. Although puzzled by inexplicable changes, she takes them in stride. She becomes part of the action, smoothing over disputes, settling arguments and standing up to the Red Queen and her stacked jury at trial when justice is clearly not served. Unlike Arjuna, she does all this without resorting to violence, unless you consider shaking a chess piece into a kitten to be violent. Unlike Arjuna, she solves her own problems; while Krishna the Blue explains it all to Arjuna in the Gita, the Blue Caterpillar is not much help to Alice, leaving her to figure out for herself the great existential question, "Who are you?" There is no overriding, guiding hand for Alice. (The Red Queen pretends she's in charge, but she's all bluster and noise; not even the flamingo mallets in the croquet game pay attention to her.)
If you're a fibre fan, there's something for you here, too. Alice rescues the White Queen's shawl and helps her sort it, only to have the White Queen turn into a Sheep in a shop who knits with 14 pair of needles at once and expects Alice to give it a go (Through the Looking Glass, Wool Into Water). The Mad Hatter is mad because of the chemicals-mercury, lead and arsenic, among others-used to turn beaver pelts into that hat he wears.
In short, the Alice books have a little bit of everything-mysteries, puzzles, political commentary (the Caucus Race and pokes at the Monarchy) and sympathy for the unfortunate and downtrodden. (You'll find the infamous, "Why is a raven like a writing desk?' riddle here at the Tea Party where Alice worries about the unfortunate Dormouse, among other things.) Most importantly, you'll find a young girl who sets out on her own and navigates all kinds of strange events without being punished for her independent nature and high spirits. Alice rescues; there is no Handsome Prince to the rescue here. That in itself is a rare find.
If you haven't read Lewis Carroll's Alice works, I urge you to find them. You can download them for free to your devices; I have a copy on my iPad through iBooks. Better yet, visit a bookstore and look for an annotated edition or the complete works of Lewis Carroll and give those a read. You're in for a treat. (Don't let the movie versions of these stories confuse you, Disney, Johnny Depp,Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter notwithstanding.)
If you'd like to discover your Alice character, you can take the quiz here: What 'Alice in Wonderland' Character Are You? By the way, I'm the Cheshire Cat. (Of course, I am.) I would have loved to be the Caterpillar, but Cheshire is one pretty cool cat. Besides, I don't smoke a hookah. Or anything else. Not any more. Ask Alice.