#KeepKidsReading classic audiobook review – “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll

I was first given this book as a child in primary school (I still have my copy!) and though I recall reading it, I’m not sure what I thought about it at the time. I read it again (along with the sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass) while I was an English literature undergraduate (this time exploring the symbolism and the place of the work in the history of literature). It is easy to forget that this book was written in the Victorian era (it was first published in 1865), a time when children were definitely meant to be seen and not heard. Alice is nearly subversive when thought about in that context!

I came across the audiobook recently, read, to my excitement, by the marvellous actor Jodie Comer, who comes from Liverpool but who seems able to mimic just about any accent. As I had a longish solo car journey, I thought it would be the perfect accompaniment. I was slightly disappointed that Jodie Comer read it in a (perfectly executed) received pronunciation – fitting to the book’s period, but I think it might make it sound somewhat dated to a modern child’s ear. There was a wide range of other accents too though, various northern and west country voices for the animals. 

I listened in one sitting and it really is a marvel. I had forgotten just how many different ‘episodes’ there are! I was reminded of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which I think draws on the legacy that was established by Alice. I am currently watching season three of the BBC television adaptation of that series (which is further than I have read in the books) and I am struck by the succession of ‘worlds’ (or multiverses as I think it would be more fashionable to call them). Alice goes through a series of changes as she passes through the different areas of Wonderland and encounters different animals, some familiar, some fantasy, and different forms of people (such as the royal playing cards). As an adult, I have to admit that I have found this a little tedious at times – there is a kind of impatience in my watching/listening. But, of course, children have a much greater tolerance for this sort of thing and it’s probably a strong argument against bingeing. It’s simply too rich!

Listening to Alice, my absolute favourite section was the mock turtle’s story. I love the nonsense logic and I think the puns will make children laugh as much as I did. In performance terms, Jodie Comer had great fun with the Queen of Hearts and the King and the repetitions of “off with his head” got increasingly melodramatic. Again, children will love the anarchic humour.

Alice was a reaction to the constraints placed on children and the virtual denial of childhood in the late nineteenth century. Alice refers to the events going on around her as “curiouser and curiouser”, but of course, she is also curious, drinking potions and eating biscuits and mushrooms, even though she knows this is against every rule she has been taught, just for the hell of it, to see what happens. The message here is that curiosity is rewarded with adventures and rules can be broken…sometimes!

Some parts of this book may well feel dated to 21st century ears, and I was listening out for things that might offend, in the way that some have been offended by Roald Dahl recently, but Alice is much more fantastical, in my view. Its entertainment value for younger children remains strong, however, and Alice’s innocence still rings true. 

Author: Julia's books

Reader. Writer. Mother. Partner. Friend. Friendly.

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