First Lines SUNDAY: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Friday (January 27th) was Lewis Carroll’s birthday, and given how far we’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole this week, I thought it might still be fitting to post the “First Lines Friday” piece I had prepared for the occasion.

So, without further ado…

Today’s first lines (and yes, I’ve got two of them!) come from a pair of books by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll.

The first begins like this:

“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?'”

From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it’s rather funny that this is a book about a bored little girl, originally published in 1865 for a trio of bored little girls, which continues to capture the imagination of both children and adults to this day. Blending literary nonsense and fantasy, Dodgson was a mathematician by trade, but wrote this book to please the young daughters of Henry Liddell, all of whom were his boating companions one afternoon.

The book has actually been in the public domain since 1907, which may partially explain its continued popularity, as various artists continue to commit their own drawings of Alice and her quirky companions to paper. Dodgson himself illustrated the very first edition, but political cartoonist John Tenniel was the first professional artist to tackle the project. There are several famous artists who have also drawn Alice, including Salvador Dalí, Ralph Steadman, and Tove Jansson. (I also enjoy the illustrations by Blanche McManus, who was the first American illustrator to take Alice on.)

As you may also know, Alice has plenty of jabs at incompetent officials and British heads of state, which makes it perfect escapist reading for anyone looking to get away from American politics for an afternoon.

And, as with all popular titles, there is a sequel, which begins…

“One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it:—it was the black kitten’s fault entirely.”

Through the Looking-Glass begins with Alice playing with two kittens, one white (Snowdrop) and one black (Kitty). Instead of being bored by books without pictures and chasing a white rabbit down his hole, in this book she manages to step into an alternate reality by passing through a mirror and into the bizarre reflected world beyond.

It’s in this book that Alice meets the characters Tweedledee and Tweedledum, chess pieces like the Red and White Queens and the White Knight, and the frightening Jabberwocky.

Both books rely on game imagery, with Wonderland referencing a deck of cards and Looking-Glass built around the game of chess.

If you’re looking for both escapism and social commentary rolled up into one, you can certainly do no worse than reading both of Carroll’s creations in an afternoon.

More First Lines

Here are the books previously mentioned in the First Lines Friday series:

What’s YOUR favorite first line?

Leave a comment below and your favorite first line could be featured in an upcoming Friday post!

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