The Cheshire Cat. Down the rabbit hole. Mad hatter. Curiouser and curiouser. OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!
Even if you have never read "Alice in Wonderland," some part of its charmingly nonsensical story has probably slipped into your head over the years. Lewis Carroll's classic fantasy tale is a dreamlike adventure that breezily eschews plot, character development and any kind of logic... and between his cleverly nonsensical writing ("I daresay it's a French mouse, come over with William the Conqueror") and surrealist adventures, it is absolutely perfect that way. How many books can say that?
A bored young girl named Alice is by a riverbank when a White Rabbit runs by, fretting, "Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!" and checking the watch from his waistcoat. Unsurprisingly, Alice pursues the rabbit down a rabbit-hole... and ends up floating down a deep tunnel to a strange place full of locked doors. There's also a cake and a little bottle with labels instructing you to eat or drink them, which cause Alice to either shrink or grow exponentially.
As she continues pursuing the rabbit (who seems to think she's someone named Mary Ann), Alice quickly discovers that Wonderland is a place where logic and reason have very, very little influence -- talking animals in a Caucus-race, a hookah-smoking Caterpillar, even more bizarre growth potions, a grinning cat, the Duchess and her indestructible pig-baby, eternal tea-time with the March Hare and the Mad Hatter (plus the Dormouse), and finally the court of the Queen and King of Hearts.
"Alice in Wonderland" is one of those rare books that actually is more enjoyable and readable because it's pure nonsense, without more than a shred of plot or even proper narrative structure. The entire story is essentially Alice wandering from one wacky scenario to another in Wonderland, meeting more violently weird people with every stop and finding herself entangled in all sorts of surreal situations. It doesn't really lead anywhere, or come from anywhere.
And yet, this works perfectly -- it's all about nonsense, and a coherent plot or developed characters would get in the way of that. Never has such a perfect depiction of a weird dream been turned into fiction, especially since Alice regards everything that happens with a sort of perplexed detachment. Even though NOTHING in Wonderland makes sense (vanishing cats, talking animals, arguing playing-cards painting roses, the Hatter convinced that it is six o'clock all day every day), she addresses everything with a sense of bemused internal logic ("I've had nothing yet, so I can't take more").
And Carroll festoons this wacky little tale with puns ("We called his Tortoise because he taught us"), odd snatches of mutilated poetry ("Twinkle, twinkle, little bat/how I wonder what you're at") and tangled snarls of eccentric logic that only works if you're technically insane (so... flamingoes are like mustard?). This keeps the plotless story as sparkling and swift-moving as a mountain stream laced with LSD, so the mind never has a chance to get bored by Alice simply wandering around, growing and shrinking, and engaged in a string of conversations with loopy people.
"Alice in Wonderland" is a mad, mad, mad, mad experience -- and between Carroll's sparkling dialogue and enchantingly surreal story, it's also a lot of fun. Never a dull moment... except the wait to read "Through the Looking Glass."