The Wondrous Animals of Alice in Wonderland

The gathering of creatures for the Caucus Race

The gathering of creatures for the Caucus Race

I’m in the midst of writing a research paper regarding the significance of animals and animal hybrids in the Alice stories.  I also will relate the general use of animals in children’s literature in the Victorian era.  To assist me in this, I researched scholarly writings on the topic and found that there were few readily available to me; I found this to be a good news/bad news situation.  The good news is that the topic I chose is relatively unique as a study; also, the sources that I have found contain a goodly amount of diverse information that I can sort through, combine with my own reading, and then synthesize with my own interpretation.  The bad news is, source material is limited and I have to work with what I have.  None-the-less, I have over 200 pages of material to work with and the direction of my paper is taking shape.  I’m a bit behind schedule in my writing, in part because of the time spent reviewing the sources, but have a pretty good idea of where I’m going with what I’ve written to date.  Then again, just like the Alice stories, an odd twist may present itself causing the focus to shift or adding another element not yet foreseen.  The research and writing process involved in this project may be yet another adventure involving Alice!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1972)

Theatrical Release Poster 1972

Theatrical Release Poster 1972

I was amazed to discover the plethora of movies made regarding Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that either stuck fairly closely to the original story or incorporated elements of the Alice stories.  In addition to movies, there were also television shows, one of the more interesting ones was a short lived, Canadian courtroom drama entitled This is Wonderland with the lead character named Alice De Reay.  With so many interesting choices, it was difficult to decide where to focus my attention.  I chose to watch and report on the 1972 British musical film Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

This film stayed fairly close to Lewis Carroll’s original story with the major exception of incorporating the scene with Tweedledee and Tweedledum from Through the Looking Glass.  This scene was inserted after Alice’s conversation with the caterpillar and prior to arriving at the Duchess’s house for the pig and pepper scene.  The screenplay omitted some minor elements but, being a musical, expanded on others.  The verses used in the book that made it into the movie where converted to song, for example “Will you Walk a Little Faster, Said a Whiting to a Snail” featuring Mock Turtle, the Gryphon and Alice.

To see the clip, click on this link:  Will You, Won’t You Join the Dance…

Alice (Fiona Fullerton)

Alice (Fiona Fullerton)

In the book, Alice was seven years old; in the film, her age is indeterminate but she appears older.  Fiona Fullerton who was 16 years old when the film was originally released played Alice.  Because of the special effects of Alice shrinking and growing throughout, the only “give away” that she is older is the Lolita-like appearance of her face.

The costume designers did a wonderful job portraying the various Wonderland characters as close as possible to the characters drawn by John Tenniel in the first edition of the novel.  However, as with the book itself, I found the characters to be disturbing in their appearance.

Tweedles

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

The White Rabbit

The White Rabbit

 

 

 

 

 

The Cheshire Cat

The Cheshire Cat

As mentioned earlier in this post, the film was fairly true to the book.  But, this is primarily in relation to the story line.  What was lost in the film was some of the exquisite word play used by Carroll throughout Alice.  None-the-less, the spirit and intent of the fantasy remains and, as a musical the addition to the Mad Hatter’s tea party was one of my favorites.  I think you will enjoy it as well, The Pun Song

The Encounter with Mock Turtle in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”

John Tenniel`s original (1865) illustration for Lewis Carroll`s "Alice in Wonderland".  Alice sitting between Gryphon and Mock Turtle.

John Tenniel`s original (1865) illustration for Lewis Carroll`s “Alice in Wonderland”. Alice sitting between Gryphon and Mock Turtle.

It has taken me 57 years to finally read Alice In Wonderland; if I had waited another 57 years to do so I would not have felt a loss.  Taken on face value without delving into the irony and parody the author may have intended, it reads like the mad wanderings of someone using too many hallucinogens.

Pick a passage, any passage, and you will find yourself thoroughly perplexed and asking, “What’s the point?”  Take for example the scene dealing with the history of the Mock Turtle, which is probably one of the more lucid scenes in the story.  The Queen of Hearts, literally a playing card with human qualities, tells Alice that she must hear the Mock Turtle’s history.  The Queen escorts Alice to a Gryphon, a creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, and directs the Gryphon to take Alice to see the turtle.

The history of Mock Turtle (who looks mostly like a turtle but appears to have the head, rear hooves, and tail of a calf) is sketchy at best.  This melancholy, tearful creature begins his story with the revelation that once, he was a real turtle.  He then continues on to tell Alice that when he was little he went to school in the sea.  He states, “The master was an old Turtle – we used to call him Tortoise,” at which point, Alice interrupts him to ask, “Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?”  To which Mock Turtle angrily replied, “We called him Tortoise because he taught us.  Really you are very dull!”  This exchange is in keeping with what seems to be an underlying theme throughout Alice’s time in Wonderland.  Alice is continually questioning or correcting the inhabitants of Wonderland based upon her perceptions, formed in her world, or her own faulty knowledge.  The implication being that Alice, or any of us, is often too ready to apply her standards to others when in fact, there may be more than one way of doing things and her way of seeing or doing may not be the only way.

The remainder of the chapter, and the beginning of the next, carry on in much the same way with Mock Turtle relating his school days and how to perform the Lobster-Quadrille (a dance).  Numerous plays on words ensue and the overall madness contained in Alice in Wonderland continues unabated.  Certainly there is a moral to this story if one chooses to look hard enough, for example: the need to keep an open mind regarding our perceptions as outlined in the paragraph above.  But, as a form of entertainment, I stand by my opening remarks.  Perhaps this story was considered entertaining fancy for the Victorian reader; if so, it has not stood the test of time.

The Importance of Being Earnest – A Song for Act III?

The Importance of Being Earnest - Video Cover

The Importance of Being Earnest – Video Cover

In various clips that I watched of the 2002 movie adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, most conformed well to the original dialogue and intent of the playwright.  A key departure occurred in what in the play would have been the opening scene of Act III.

In the play, Gwendolen and Cecily are at the window observing Algernon and Jack (Earnest) eating muffins.  Gwendolen is encouraging Cecily to get their attention but before that can happen, the men notice the women and Gwendolen changes attitudes by stating, “They’re looking at us.  What effrontery!”  Subsequently, Algernon and Jack enter the house whistling a tune and Gwendolen, having previously determined that the women would not be the first to speak, asks Jack a question.

This scene in the play portrays its humor in the repeated, self-contradictory dialogue and the purported muffin eating.  In the film, the action is quite different but it retains, if not amplifies, the spirit of farce and buffoonery that Oscar Wilde intended.

In the film, Algernon and Jack are playing the piano and guitar respectively in the garden and serenading Gwendolen and Cecily as they look out from the balcony.  Accompanying Algernon and Jack are various members of the household staff which is fortuitous for when the women retreat into the house, the staff carries the piano and Algernon sitting on the piano bench continuing to play, into the house so the song may continue unbroken repeating the refrain, “lady come down, lady come down.”

While the film certainly deviates from the play in content at this point, it certainly retains the spirit and adds a dynamic, slapstick-type element with the boisterous physical action of the non-stop music playing and singing while being transported into the house.  As an adaptation playing to a modern audience the film version of this scene provides much more energy and is more engaging to a wider audience than the original script of the play.

I enjoyed watching a few other clips of this movie, as mentioned earlier.  Those that I did watch brought the characters to life in a way different from what I had imagined but no less entertaining.  Now the hope is to find the full version of the movie, first to enjoy and entertain and secondly to continue to observe how the filmmaker’s imagination contrasts to mine.

 

Resolution and Independence by William Wordsworth

256px-William_wordsworth

Portrait of William Wordsworth

The title of this poem reflects the resolution and independence of an old man encountered by the narrator as well as the subsequent resolution of the narrator himself.  The poem contains a variety of different moods from the wonderful idyllic imagery in the first three stanzas, to the sinking into melancholy in the fourth and fifth stanzas, on to border-line despair in the seventh stanza, and finally through investigation to a hopeful resolution at the end.

I must admit, it took me a bit to digest this poem as the use of septets (7 line stanzas) and the royal rhyme pattern (ababbcc) made the first reading difficult for me.  Perhaps I was focusing too much on form rather than the story or messages being conveyed.

Upon my second reading, I found that I enjoyed the poem to a large degree.  My favorite parts were those that uplifted me.  First, the beautiful imagery in the first three stanzas:  I could hear the birds singing and feel the brightness of the sun.  The moist grass, the seemingly playful hares all set me in a light and joyful frame of mind.

I also particularly enjoyed stanzas fourteen, fifteen, eighteen, and nineteen where the old man is speaking and telling a portion of his tale.  For though he is old, of no fixed home, and toils at maintaining a meager subsistence he has a dignity and cheerfulness about him.  His words lead the narrator to the final stanza in which he resolves to remember the positive spirit of the old man when he himself sinks into melancholy thoughts.

The seventh stanza was poignant in pointing out how we can be in a positive setting yet become obsessed with ills that may befall us as Wordsworth discusses Chatterton, a promising English poet who died at 17.  (Sources conflict as to whether his death was due to arsenic poisoning as a suicide or an accident of self-medication for a venereal disease.  Yet another source indicates he may have died of self-starvation.)  At this point it seems the narrator fears his own demise into “despondency and madness.”

There were two specific references that I had trouble interpreting.  The first was the use of “He” in the sixth stanza.  I leaned toward interpreting it as a reference to God however following words in the stanza “him” and “himself” were not capitalized leading me to think that the reference is to someone other than God.  The second reference that eluded me was “grave Livers” in the fourteenth stanza.  After researching the term on the Internet I was no clearer on my understanding than at the start other than I perceive it to be used as a derogatory term.

Overall, once I adjusted to the rhythm of the poem and paid closer attention to the content I was struck by the wonderful descriptions in each verse, I could see the natural surroundings, visualize and hear the old man, and connect with the narrator’s thoughts.  It is a poem well worth reading and I recommend it for your enjoyment and reflection.

Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare

The task here is to identify and elucidate on the impact of figurative language in William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73.

Lines 1, 5, and 9 contain both repetition in drawing the attention to the condition of the speaker and use symbolism to reflect what that condition is.  Line 1 reads:

That time of year thou may’st in me behold

This first line suggests that we are about to discover what season of life he is in; Spring, Summer, Autumn, or Winter or in real terms, youth, prime adulthood, elder years, or final years.  In line 5:

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day

We see that our writer is on the downside of life slipping toward the end but not yet quite into the night which would more than likely signify his impending death.  Line 9 again draws us to his condition as it reads:

In me thou see’st the glowing of such a fire

Once again, the fire is dying down, as is the life of the author however, life is still left as the fire still glows.

Parsing the sonnet we have the following:

That time of year thou may’st in me behold

When yellow leaves, or none, or few do hang

Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,

Bare ruined choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.

The symbolism in the first line is defined by the extended metaphor of the following three lines.  We see yellow leaves, or none; that it is cold; and that the birds have left, which puts us in the mind of late autumn.

In me thou see’st the twilight of such day

As after sunset fadeth in the west;

Which by and by black night doth take away,

Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.

The above is a strong example of symbolism as we see strong images of the writer in the later stages of life approaching the “end of light” which death “seals up.”

In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire,

That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,

As the deathbed whereon it must expired,

Consumed with that which it was nourished by.

Here it appears Shakespeare uses personification in relating the dying out and the process of a fire as to a human life.  The glowing fire is the elder, ashes are beneath the fire just as youth has passed to develop the adult, the deathbed of a person is the cold embers of the fire which at one point was solid wood that nourished the flames as to a person is consumed by life.

I find all of the above methods effective of painting a picture in my mind but I am more in tune with the extended metaphor and personification for clarity in understanding.  Some of the symbolism takes a much closer reading to be able to interpret.

Some other figurative language is used such throughout the sonnet.  The boughs are personified as they shake against the cold.  A person may do that but a bough would not feel the cold in the same way.  Metonymy is used in substituting “bare ruined choirs” for the empty, stripped branches as well as in comparing the black night to death itself.

This sonnet, though brief is rich in figurative language pushing the reader to feel the waning of a life through its examples of nature.

Watership Down

Richard_Adams_WatershipDown

Watership Down Cover, 1st edition, 1972

With so many choices it is hard to distinguish one particular book as being the favorite of them all so, I started at the beginning of the author alphabet and for the ‘A’s chose Watership Down by Richard Adams.  On the surface it is a story of a warren of male rabbits who move on to seek females rabbits to keep their line alive, a pleasant, if sometimes harrowing story based in the animal kingdom.  But, the story is much more than that as it examines the social pressures applicable to all times and peoples in one sense or another.  The story is told in such an engaging way that the animals gain a believable human persona and you find yourself rooting for the hero and his followers and hoping for the villains demise.  It is in some ways reminiscent of the “David and Goliath” scenario where you breathlessly hope for the underdog to come out on top.

Watership Down is a timeless story that can appeal to many generations from young to old.  As I many times as I have read it over the years, I find myself fully engaged in the trials and quest of the characters during each reading.  Whether you are looking to be entertained, learned, both, or somewhere in-between, Watership Down will satisfy your desires.