Primary Research Document
Is the obsession with Alice in Wonderland genuinely childlike; are children really enthralled by Alice or is the obsession one belonging to adults who read more into the story? When given various copies of the book, two by modern illustrators with very different styles, and the other by Tenniel in a local library environment, children responded mostly by ignoring the book, A few times it was picked up, flicked through and replaced, but it was never taken out. The illustrators had great impact on the reception of the book amongst children; the Helen Oxenbury copy, with its quite large, modern, and childlike watercolours, was most frequently picked up and put down, whereas most preferred the Scott McKowen version, which had fewer illustrations that were more in keeping with the original illustrations by Tenniel. Interestingly, the Tenniel edition was not moved. It seems that publication, not just illustration can be an incentive to choose a book. The quite wordy, small-printed Penguin book just did not attract eyes as much as the more colourful editions.
The most interest shown in the book in general was by a parent, whose child ran away disinterested after being shown the book. Brief interviews with parents confirmed that the obsession with Alice was more to do with parents than children, with parents believing that the pictures make a great difference in whether their child would read it or not. (Appendix One, p.2)
The disinterest in Alice from children can probably be attributed to two factors: Alice's place in history and the fame of the books. Alice in Wonderland marked a watershed moment for children's literature in that from then on fantasy was to play a large role. Today, practically all successful children's books are fantastical. (Pearson, 2010) This depletes the impact of the first fantasy story greatly, and also proves its worth. (Appendix One, p.2)
It does not help that Alice has entered society's memory so successfully that one knows the story without ever reading the book or even seeing the film. This knowledge of the story was alluded to by one librarian also. (Appendix One, p.2)
The library observation results were in keeping with a point made by Alice scholar Leo de Freitas and an online article which pointed out that adults see things in the story that children do not; it is these things that prompt the fascination on a deeper level. (Appendix Two, p.5) When asked their opinion on why Alice is so beloved, both Leo de Freitas and the Lewis Carroll society pointed to the most obvious reasons being the most true: it is a very enjoyable book. This alone would not explain the predilection for Alice over other books, however, as many books are funny and enjoyable without being so fussed over. De Freitas expounds the point by explaining that it was the first of its kind; the first fantasy and the first to treat plot in such a way. It is certainly true that firsts of anything are never forgotten.
To understand, though, why it was such a breakthrough depends on knowledge of what existed before, namely, conventional Victorian children's literature which had a strong moral or religious emphasis. This was even found in fairy tales. (Pearson, L. 2010) Alice was truly the first fantasy without any obvious deep meaning. (Woolf, J. 2010)This does begin to explain the extensive fascination with Alice. The fantasy element was attractively escapist, especially to Victorians, whose intense social customs concerning life and education are parodied in Alice, such as the repetition of poems that become twisted in Alice's mind, thus proving the futility of the effort required to memorise them. (Pearson, L. 2011)
Some would argue it was not such a fantasy and largely a parody of social times and religious issues, such as the Oxford Movement (Leslie, S, 1933 in Phillips, R. 1972) In terms of audience response, this vein of thought seems irrelevant, as primary research clearly shows the reason many are so enthralled with Alice is because they find the story fascinating, funny or original in some way (Appendices One and Two) and this idea of the story being a construct of religious politics is far too specific to the 19th century as to have such lasting appeal.
It is clear from primary research that the reason Alice is so beloved today is clearly to do with the attitudes and recollections of adults rather than children, which hints at a deeper meaning in that adults see, or indeed are looking for in the otherwise nonsensical story.