Almost everyone has read Alice in Wonderland, whether it be as a child or as an adult. And almost everyone who has read it, or has had it read to them, has enjoyed it. I have viewed Alice in Wonderland as a movie, but I have read the novel Automated Alice by Jeff Noon. Both texts are equally enjoyable to view, however I enjoyed Automated Alice more, as it is directed more at grownups, as it has rather gruesome content. It is written in a manner that one would write to a child in, however, the plot is very complex, and even I failed at times to understand what was happening. Alice in Wonderland is directly directed1 at younger children, as it is written as a fairy tale.
Alice in Wonderland begins with a young girl named Alice being taught a history lesson by her governess. Alice, however, is bored and plays with her cat. When her governess scolds her, she states that she can’t find a book with no pictures in it interesting. Her governess replies by saying:
“My dear Alice, there are many interesting books in this world with no pictures.”
“In this world maybe, but in my world, a book would be nothing but
The governess rejects this idea, saying it is nonsense, and continues the lesson. Alice however, starts talking to her cat.
“That’s it! If I had a world of my own everything would be nonsense.”
And so Alice begins singing a song about a Wonderland. When the song finishes, she sees a rabbit in a tailcoat and watch, just like she had sang about. She tries to follow, and talk to him, but he replies with the famous quote, “I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date.”
Thus the adventures of Alice begin, and she finds herself in the very wonderland she had just created with one purpose in mind: to find the white rabbit. Lewis Carroll puts a great deal of humour in these adventures, by playing on puns and using repetition and above all, complete utter nonsense.
For instance, Alice tries to enter a door that is much too small for her. A table appears and on it is a bottle bearing the label “Drink Me.” The door (which can talk) tells Alice to: “Read the directions, and directly, you will be directed in the right direction.” This repetition is a form of humour. It was probably aimed at adults or older children, as young children may not notice it. In fact, although the actual fairy-tale is aimed at younger children, much of the humour is directed at older people, who would appreciate it more.
After a while, Alice starts to realise that her Wonderland is not all that wonderful. Even the Cheshire Cat, who sometimes seems like the only one who can give straight answers, is slightly annoying to Alice.
“Oh, and if you want to know, he went that way.” (pointing)
“The white rabbit.”
“Go that way.”
“The white rabbit!”
Part of what makes the Alice trilogy such fascinating stories is the nonsense involved. It is Alice’s emotions, and frustration at her own perfect world being full of madness, that gives the story such strength. There is an immediate appeal of the characters and their bright language give the story it’s charm.
After meeting many other characters, Alice finally meets the Queen of Hearts. The Queen’s quick temper is immediately noticeable, Alice accidentally manages to make her very mad. At her trial, Alice’s temper gets the better of her, and the Queen orders her to have her head removed. Alice runs away, going backwards through the Wonderland until she reaches the door that was too small for her. She looks through the keyhole and sees herself outside, sleeping. She calls out to her to wake up, and finally, she does. Her governess had found her sleeping, forgave her, and they went home.
Alice is curious, well-mannered, and confused, so she tries to find her way out by creating her of Wonderland. Wonderland is an illogical land, nothing seems to make sense to Alice. She starts to become very frustrated and confused. When Alice meets the caterpillar the following conversation takes place, ” ‘Who are you!’ the caterpillar asked … ‘I – I hardly know, Sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning’ … “, Alice is so confused she does not even know who she is. Alice is curious because she is very young and she is still finding out about the world around her. Throughout the novel she grows up and matures because she starts to unlock the illogical reasoning of Wonderland and begins to respect their weird habits. Even through all the confusion, she still finds home at the end of the novel.
Automated Alice is much like Alice in Wonderland, as it begins with a very bored Alice, dreading the hours of her future lessons. She is doing a jigsaw puzzle, and looking aimlessly out the window, and whilst she does, we learn of what her character is like.
We immediately get the impression, of a young, bored child, who is in the middle of her educational life. The difference between Automated Alice and Alice in Wonderland is that the silliness of Alice in Wonderland is created by the characters of Wonderland, whereas the silliness in Automated Alice is created by Alice herself. From her absentminded thoughts we gather that she is a rather foolish girl every now and then. For instance, she is thinking of her uncle. She remembers her aunt telling her that he is “big in the city.” Alice wonders what that could mean, and goes to say that maybe he has two sizes, a big one in the city, and a small one at home. “How splendid that must be!” She assumes that they are talking about physical size.
She also describes the city of Manchester as one full of “noise, and factories making Heaven-knows-what. I wonder how you do make Heaven-knows-what… Perhaps they get the recipe from someone who has only recently died.”
Both of these are just simple everyday sayings expanded into nonsense. Another example is when Alice does the naughty deed of opening Whippoorwill the parrot’s cage, causing him to fly out. She says, “My great aunt will have words with me!”
Of course, the reader could see how easily this improper use of grammar could be said from one who is only partly educated. An assumption that could be made that when Alice gets in trouble her aunt has a “word” with her. Quite a common phrase, which basically means they have to say something serious to them. Alice plurals this phrase to emphasize the point that she has done something naughty.
The plot goes as follows: Alice’s parrot goes into a grandfather clock, and when Alice follows, she finds herself and Whippoorwill lost in time. She finds herself in a termite mound, and after managing to escape, she wanders around in the city of Manchester in the year 1998. Whilst in the city, she finds her doll, a replica of herself with the letters of “Alice” rearranged to make “Celia.” She occasionally finds some missing jigsaw pieces from her puzzle, tries to solve the Jigsaw Murders, horrifying murders where one has their body parts rearranged, encounters and tries to escape Mrs Minus and finally try to go home.
A significant difference in the two Alice books is the narrator often addresses the reader in Automated Alice. For instance, in Alice in Wonderland, Alice calls out “Mister Rabbit!” to the white rabbit whenever she sees him. She takes it for granted that it is a Mister. Alice in Automated Alice does the same thing when sighing to an ant crossing her jigsaw puzzle from across the room. However, when she does so, the narrator comments.
“Oh mister ant,” Alice said aloud. (Although how she could tell it was a Mister from that distance is quite beyond understanding.”
Another example when the author speaks directly to the reader is when he is asking the reader’s opinion or advice about something. He refers to a Snailman talking sluggishly.
“Or should that be snailishly? I can’t make up my mind, can you?”
Jeff Noon plays on puns a lot. Noon has a skill with words, and his witty humour has made me rate this book as one of the best I have read. Noon actually puts himself in the novel. He plays the part of Zenith O’clock (which incidentally means noon, like his own name), who in the novel has written a book about Alice herself, and helps her on her way back home.
I enjoyed reading/viewing both of these books immensely, and will probably continue to read these books for the rest of my life.
1 Quote from Alice in Wonderland. “Read the directions, and directly you will be directed in the right direction.