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Rule Forty-two

By Dave Snowden  ·  December 27, 2012  ·  Christmas Blogs

I've sorted out the sequence of the final posts here which will take me through to the 31st, allowing me to start the new year with something less serious than Children's literature, maybe power in research or reflections on  my trip to the Warsaw Rising Museum with daughter on the 30th/31st of this month.  Publication dates of the remaining books are 1894, 1865, 1927, 1930 and 1960 and I am still keeping to books that worked for my own children as well as me.  I'll probably run through the list of 'really bad but regrettably popular' in the final post on the 31st; I really should have started this a day earlier!

So in date sequence I'll move onto the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass, both on my daughter's top three by the way.  Like all the great children's books these can be read at many levels.  I first encountered them when the BBC let Jonathan Miller loose in a BBC play in 1966.  It had a cast to die for and a director who was only just starting to make his name.  No silly Hollywood style cartoons but serious actors in Victorian costume reflecting the characters on whom Lewis Carroll drew, a return to the reality that underpinned the make believe stories.  I managed to grab the last copy of the DVD available on Amazon for an extortionate price while writing this post!  

We had only recently been permitted a television and this was on the permitted list!  My mother was never fully convinced that we really needed anything other than the BBC Home Service's Children's Hour which meant I had to sneak around to friends houses to watch Doctor Who.  But in 1965 the BBC produced the full RSC production of the War of the Roses plays.  This was the opportunity we had been waiting for.  An expression of strong interest (part maternal manipulation part real) produced the magic box - on rental so we could send it back once the series was complete.  So there was a constant family need to find material that could go on the approved list so we could keep it.  By 1969 and the first broadcast of Startrek the battle was won and we finally owned a colour set.  There was still a family negotiation over dinner about what would be watched the next day and the television was a communal activity, and a source of identity and conversation.  I should say, with the benefit of hindsight, that I think my mother was right.  The absence of a television during my primary school years meant I fed of a diet of family board games, radio and books none of which allowed you to be lazy of imagination!

So back to Alice, and a real wish that the Disney version be banned from children and only shown to mature adults as a dire warning of the consequences of trivialisation and privileging entertainment over education and elucidation. I was lucky in that I read the books with the image of Michael Redgrave's Caterpillar and Jon Gielgud's Mock Turtle in my mind.  I was a couple of years off my first serious interested in Philosophy (Plato's The Symposium) but reading Alice may have been the real trigger of that life long interest.  I was also discovering that maths was easy if you just thought a little differently so that was also a part of the appeal.  A teacher pointed out the use of different bases in The Pool of Tears chapter and the logic lessons of the Mad Hatter's Tea party made even propositional logic seem fun.  The trial scene intrigued me and I remain convinced (although without supporting authority) that it must have influenced Kafka in The Trial which is also a shared love with Daughter.  Incidentally the original title of that was The Process which in a modern age subject to the modern bubonic plague of sick stigma, would be a better title.

I read alice a few times through University, then came back with Alan Bennett's audio book recording on another of those long car journey's with young children.  I then started to get more into the parodies that are at the heart of all the verses - well summarised in the wikipedia entry by the way which I commend. Satire is often a means for learning and Carroll deployed it to great effect.  As such it was appropriate to choose Miller, then a start of the satirical Beyond the Fringe most approporate as Director for the BBC.  Both books are up there with the Bible as readings you have to have completed to understand much of modern literature given the number of side references.  It also inspired what was, to my mind, the best of the Monty Python spin off films to wit Jabberwocky.  And of course, 42 is not just confined to Douglas Adams as a significant number its starts with the Red Queen's Court.