Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

For Whom Are They Written?

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on August 7, 2012

 After setting us on the path of reading the works of Lewis Carroll, our online tutor Prof. Eric S. Rabkin left us with an interesting question: Are these books written for children or adults?   Here is my response:

Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are two works of literary ingenuity which have a multi-faceted appeal to readers across age groups. At the surface, both the tales come across as loosely concatenated threads of “uncommon nonsense” full of bizarre encounters, improbable situations, near absurd conversations resulting in a strangely piquant reading experience. The memorably splendid wordplay, the fantastic parade of brilliantly adumbrated and illustrated characters, the ludicrous but thoroughly enjoyable rhymes, the twisted logic in conversations and the weird landscape of the setting carry a lingeringly haunting staying quality in the minds of the readers. Yet the reactions of and attractions for older and younger readers are likely to be vastly varied when encountering these books.

It would be an uncommon and rare child not to be fascinated by the roller-coaster progression of fantasy elements, the utterly topsy-turvy and unpredictable flow of the narrative, near lunatic but joyously endearing behaviour of almost all the characters present in both these books. This has been amply proven by children across generations embracing the works of Lewis Carroll with a rare gusto and hunger. For adults, in addition to all these visible elements associated with any literary work, there are other interesting hidden elements that come out strongly. The subtle criticism of the English school system, the portrayal of arrogant and whimsical behaviour of the ruling classes, the effortless depiction of the high handedness of the judiciary provide a glimpse of the society and times in which the author lived and worked. Above all, there is an extraordinary demonstration of utter originality of thought and creative power of language which can only be found in works of lasting quality

So to return to the question: Are these works for children or adults? I would unhesitatingly say: To all, through all times, as long as humanity survives on earth

4 Responses to “For Whom Are They Written?”

  1. Fair point, Vish. However, my submission is that the “law of unintended consequences” might also be at play. We will never know for sure, unless the author made it known, a priori, that the subtext was an essential consideration. The oneupmanship games we play for exhibiting our sophistication is perhaps more the cause of discovering meanings where none exist, and constructing mysteries where simplicity is all that is shared.

    There is a little child in all of us (“Little Professor” in TA terminology) which quite enjoys the simple, and surprisingly ridiculous tales and contexts. If not, how does one explain the popularity of “Angry Birds” – clearly, there is no subtext there?

    • Vish Mangalapalli said

      Hi Ramesh,

      For a while I held a similar view that you have expressed. However, in this case there is ample evidence in the form of diaries of Lewis Carroll that point to the motives behind the form and structure of the narrative. Here the role of law of unintended consequences is minimal. Also it is a well accepted notion in literary speculation the role of sub-conscious. Angry Birds, I am afraid, is probably not a right comparison. Agree there is a little child in all of us. However, we are trying to articulate what appeals to this little child and why it appeals

  2. Awesome post and views as ever! And Vish, great to know that you are also doing this course! I am loving it 🙂

    • Vish Mangalapalli said

      Thanks Ankush. Extremely happy to note that you too are a fellow student in the course. I can see that our perspectives are growing larger and richer because of this course.. I too am enjoying it immensely

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