Aspects Of Fairy Tale in Alice in Wonderland
Imagine That: A Fairy Tale in Wonderland
In a world of sense over nonsense and rational over irrational, it can become difficult for children’s creativity to flourish. The Victorian era, in particular, smothered eccentricity and absurdity, leaving little room for amusement and fun. Even literature was often limited in its playfulness. In opposition to the Victorian norm, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland entertains children with its talking animals and repetitious events in a world where a child becomes an adventurer. These fairy tale elements create an alternate reality that challenges children’s ideas about logic and encourages their use of imagination.
Several characters within the story take the form of talking animals, a frequent component of fairy tales that Carroll seems to use in order to reach out to an audience of children. Some of the most well-known characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland make their appearance in the famous Tea Party scene, where Alice meets the Mad Hatter and the March Hare. The Mad Hatter and March Hare sit at a long table with every spot set up for tea but only themselves and a Dormouse in attendance. After telling Alice that they have no room at the table, the narrator describes, “‘There’s plenty of room!” said Alice indignantly, and she sat down in a large arm-chair at one end of the table” (56). Normally, the discovery of a talking animal would elicit a shocked reaction from someone, but Alice accepts that the March Hare and Dormouse can speak without a second thought because every other animal she has encountered in Wonderland speaks as well. She knows that in her world animals cannot speak, but since the characters belong to Wonderland, she finds no reason to question their realness.
The element of talking animals comes up very often in fairy tales, such as the bear found in the Grimm version of the story “Snow-White and Rose-Red.” In that story, the irrationality of a bear that speaks can be explained by magic and enchantment, also common themes in fairy tales. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the abnormalities that occur have no real explanation, they simply exist. While trying to adjust to the craziness of Wonderland, Alice tries to apply the logic she learned in her own world. In most cases, it could not help her make her sense of things, like when she encounters the Mad Hatter’s watch:
‘What a funny watch!” she remarked. It tells the day of the month, and doesn’t tell you what o’clock it is!” ‘Why should it?” muttered the Hatter. ‘Does your watch tell you what year it is?’ ‘Of course not,’ Alice replied very readily: ‘but that’s because it stays the same year for such a long time together.’ ‘Which is just the case with mine,’ said the Hatter. (58)
The strangeness of the Mad Hatter’s watch confuses Alice, yet she accepts that the March Hare can speak because all animals in that world can speak. In a world full of absurdities, talking animals become a norm. Through the use of this fairy tale element, Carroll amuses his audience of children and establishes Alice as open minded to the rationale of Wonderland. He plays with the ideas of normalcy and logic, challenging readers to understand his crazy world. By doing so, he emphasizes children’s ability to create their own reality, therefore inspiring their use of imagination.
Carroll incorporates more than one aspect of fairy tales in order to draw his audience into his whimsical world. A sense of repetition also characterizes fairy tales, such as the repetitive formalities of the Tea Party that Alice stumbles upon. The March Hare and Mad Hatter rotate along the long table they sit at, moving one seat down every time they want a different cup of tea. The cycle seems never ending; Alice takes note of the repetition when the Mad Hatter explains why his watch always reads six o’clock; she figures how that explains the tea setup, “‘Then you keep moving round, I suppose?’ said Alice. ‘Exactly so,’ said the Hatter: ‘as things get used up.’ ‘But what happens when you come to the beginning again?’ Alice ventured to ask” (60). To this, the March Hare changes the subject. Even though Alice feels confused about the tea party, she goes along with the formality of constantly changing seats because the Mad Hatter and March Hare keep repeating the routine. The peculiarity of their logic seems so unreasonable to Alice that it becomes reasonable; it makes sense because nothing in Wonderland makes sense.
The repetitious events in the story, such as those that unfold in the March Hare and Mad Hatter’s tea party, allow children to make a connection between those events and the types of situations found in fairy tales. With that connection, it becomes easier to believe in the bizarreness of Carroll’s world because fairy tales do not have to be believable. Children tend to like repetition because it creates predictability, which in some cases makes it simpler for them to understand or anticipate what happens in a story. This accounts for the element of repetition that a lot fairy tales incorporate. The Grimm version of “Rumpelstiltskin,” for example, begins with the king demanding that the Miller’s daughter spin straw into gold three times. After every time, it becomes easier to guess what might happen next. By using the element of repetition in the Tea Party chapter, Carroll goes against real world logic by integrating the logic of fairy tales. His result entertains children while supporting the practice of imagination.
Nothing speaks more to the creativity of a child than an exciting adventure, such as the one Alice goes on when she encounters Wonderland. The adventure becomes even better when the child takes the lead, as is often the case in fairy tales. Throughout the book, Alice meets eccentric characters, travels to strange places, and takes several risks. In the chapter “A Mad Tea-Party,” Alice sits down at a stranger’s table, “‘It wasn’t very civil of you to sit down without being invited,’ said the March Hare. ‘I didn’t know it was your table,’ said Alice: ‘it’s laid for a great many more than three’” (56). Real world logic cautions children against trusting people they do not know, but since the strangers live in Wonderland and her rationale seems useless there, Alice sits down anyway. The risk she takes characterizes her as brave, which corresponds to the image of a protagonist on an adventure. She may also be considered foolish for her risk taking, but as she manages to avoid harm anywhere she goes, it seems unlikely that she would ever find herself in danger. This protection of the innocent child protagonist also seems prevalent as an element in fairy tales. For instance, in the Grimm version of “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs,” no matter what she did or who she encountered, no harm could come to the little princess. In connection with the protected child, fairy tale children tend to lack parents in their adventures. Alice mentions her parents once in the book, but proceeds on her quest alone. Her immunity and independence combine to give her a power in Wonderland that she may not otherwise have in her world. This power allows her to go on her adventures and experience strange and confusing things that amuse children while accentuating the potential of imagination.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland defies logic in practically any century, especially during the time of its creation. In the book, Lewis Carroll includes elements indicative of fairy tales, such as talking animals, repetition of events, and an innocent child protagonist, that help support the nonsense in his story. The conclusion of the book, where Alice’s adventures turn out to be a dream, discredits and validates the nonsense at the same time. Dreams have no need to be realistic, which gives the story all the more reason not to be. In the end, children glean the message of the wonders and capabilities of imagination.
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