The Alice Argument

alice

If there’s a book I wish I could’ve given to my younger self, it’s probably something like this.

Sure, Lewis Caroll’s Alice in Wonderland is a world of whimsy and mad things that rarely made sense half the time, but I couldn’t help thinking what it would be like if I’ve read this in my childhood. Perhaps I’ll be less afraid of dreaming beyond rhyme or reason, maybe a little braver to believe things outside of a mind caged in reality. If I had the chance to read this book when I was a kid, I probably hadn’t been in too much of a hurry to grow up— I would’ve learned how to pause and enjoy tea parties sans my inner crankypants and inherent social awkwardness instead of skipping and boycotting my own birthdays. I would’ve not minded too much the absurdity of things falling outside of logic, would’ve had become more dauntless with my questions. I probably would’ve had better faith to follow rabbits with waist-coat pocket watches heading towards somewhere unknown without worrying about my way back. I would’ve taken my time sitting beside the riverbanks of my youth, basking in precious bliss of a moment that will be gone too soon.

But I’m twenty-two with eyes too jaded for my own good. I know I should read the story as it is but instead I’ve been searching for metaphors here and there, waiting for a hidden symbolism to show itself instead of just enjoying the delicious meaningless of it all. I know too well that it’s the cautious adult in me that groaned whenever Alice does something out of impulse (and she does plenty of it) that kept me from being whole-heartedly won-over. Her recklessness annoyed me, I must confess, and I know this springs from some roots of insecurity on my part—I’ve always been this careful, goody-two-shoes kid who never strayed far outside the boundaries of safe and sane (at least outside of my head). Alice herself said,

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”

I’ll admit the story is too random and crazy for my taste, but it’s the general message that Lewis Caroll wanted to come across that stirred something in me as a reader. At the end of the story, there is a letter to every child reading his book where he writes,

“This Easter sun will rise on you, dear child, feeling your ‘life in every limb’, and eager to rush out into the fresh morning air – and many an Easter-day will come and go, before it finds you feeble and gray-headed, creeping wearily out to bask once more in the sunlight – but it is good, even now, to think sometimes of that great morning when the ‘Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in his wings’.

Surely your gladness need not be less for the thought that you will one day see a brighter dawn than this – when lovelier sights will meet your eyes than any waving trees or rippling waters – when angel-hands shall undraw your curtains, and sweeter tones than ever loving Mother breathed shall wake you to a new and glorious day – and when all the sadness, and the sin, that darkened life on this little earth, shall be forgotten like the dreams of a night that is past!”

And therein lies the redemption from the murky waters of nonsense. We suddenly remember in crystal-clear memory what we’ve always known when we were young but had forgotten and abandoned along the sidewalk in the midst of our journey, growing up: Wonderland is never a place, but a state of mind.

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