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Wonderlands, Neverlands, ITPLands…

“Where shall I begin, please your Majesty?” he asked. […]

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”

(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 12


I always felt drawn to Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carrolls) and his writings. Perhaps it’s his atypical writing style. Or maybe the fact that he was a  practicing deacon of the Roman Catholic church and still taught mathematics at Oxford University.  Or that he shared my passion for both writing and photography. Either way, he was an interesting persona. Prominent in science, equally prominent in theology. Caught somewhere between art and science. He would very much fit the profile of an ITP student. Only he was alive towards the end of the Victorian Era. And he is long gone now. But his writings remain. They are a testimony of wisdom, subtleness, and courage. His writings have long been an inspiration to me. At some instances, they did change my life. When I saw Alice in Wonderland in the recommended readings list during the summer, I decided that ITP was the place for me. Alice brought me here.


Alice… Where shall I begin?


Alice in Wonderland. Land of dreams. Dreams of wonder. Wonderful. Full of wonder. Full of life. Childhood dreams.  Childhood fears. Growth. Rules. Life.

Alice in Wonderland is Alice’s journey in a rabbit hole. It is poignant, funny, nonsensical, cruel, insane. But then again, so is life.

It is Alice’s journey through life. The people she meets, or doesn’t meet. The places she wants to go to but can’t seem to reach. The places she finds herself in. The people she encounters who confuse her. And the ones who help her find her way. The grinning Cheshire cat. The cat-less Cheshire grin. The antipathetic caterpillar who eventually ends up helping her. The rude mad hatter perpetually reliving his 6-o’clock tea-time party over and over again.

Throughout the entire book, Alice is perpetually changing. Some would argue that the book is about her growing up, her transition from childhood to adulthood. It is not totally wrong. Her growing in size most certainly symbolizes her maturing process, which in the book, seems to be happening overnight. It also refers to the physical transformations one goes through in their teens. She sometimes shrinks back. But eventually, there is no escape from growing up, no matter how hard we try.

The fear of growing up is a main recurrent theme in the book. The scene in the beginning, when Alice is in the room, with the key laid on the table, and the door accessible, is very frustrating yet almost crucial to the understanding of this concept. It almost seems too easy to grab the key and use it to open the door beyond which lies a beautiful colorful garden . The only problem is that the door is too small, and Alice is too big. She has all it takes to get past this door, except that she wouldn’t fit in it. So she drinks the potion, and shrinks. Now, she can use the door, but the key is still on the table, and she is too small to reach it, and even if she did reach it, the key would be to heavy for her to lift. The key in a way, represents her level of maturity, her growing up. In order to enter the phenomenal wonderland, she has to look at the world through her childhood eyes. Wonderland is some sort of escape goat for Alice. Alice’s wonderland is like Peter Pan’s Neverland, a place where you never grow up, a place where all your childhood dreams and fantasies are true, a place where you don’t have to be serious, make life-altering decisions, a place where you don’t have to face reality. The ending with Alice’s sister imagining Alice all grown-up wraps the life cycle aspect of the story. It also further emphasizes the author’s fear of seeing Alice grow up and lose her childhood spirit.

Alice’s journey in Wonderland feels like a dream. The imagery used is extraordinary. Objects like the watch that only indicates the month and day, and characters such as the Cheshire cat with his detachable grin, or the hookah smoking caterpillar, the mad-hatter, the queen and king of hearts are so complex and very inspiring for designers and programmers alike. The key to this world is madness. One should be mad, innocent, and imaginative to enter Wonderland. And Alice is. And that applies also to ITP. To me, it is the equivalent of Alice’s Wonderland in the real world. If we don’t let our imagination flow freely, if we are not mad, we won’t be able to come up with mind-blowing concepts and great projects.

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

We must all be mad. And we are. And we are all going somewhere. Where exactly? Who knows. Life is uncertain. Everything is uncertain. And Alice’s Wonderland shows just that. The mushroom has two sides: one that makes you shrink and one that makes you grow. You have to know where to bite, and learn from your mistakes. You can never know for sure what to expect. Creativity knows no boundaries. It’s a world of its own. It can and will take us places. Where exactly? Who knows?

Let’s wait and see.

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“–so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

5 comments to Wonderlands, Neverlands, ITPLands…

  • Yuliya Parshina

    Hey Myriam,

    Thank you for reviewing the book in such a passionate, enthusiastic way. I too have always been drawn to it, for different reasons at different ages. At a very early age, the book’s complexity and absurdness made me uncomfortable, but as a slightly older child I fell in love with the nonsensical, dream-like qualities. The characters of the book became familiar figures, growing and saturating with complexity and darkness as I got older. As an adult, I re-read the book several times with a greater understanding of the Victorian time-period and the fascinating, complicated, disturbing background of Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson).

    I wonder if you’ve also looked into the time-period and/or Charles Dodgson background? Alice in Wonderland is saturated with satire about Victorian society and politics. The original illustrations were created by a famous political cartoonist who was a good friend of Charles Dodgson. For me, picking apart the hidden messages (meant to be enjoyed by adults, not kids) drains the obscure magic of the piece, but I just can’t help doing it!

    I disturbed and fascinated by Charles Dodgson’s collection of children’s photographs that today would be classified as pornographic. Though his biography holds a lot more nuance than a straightforward label of a pedophile, he would not pass muster with Law and Order SVU. Knowing the author in this light casts a much stranger, darker light on the book and draws me in on a new, unwelcome and yet hypnotizing level.

    Have you ever watched Jan Svankmajer’s Alice? I highly recommend it:

  • Alexandra "Diracles"

    My initial experience of Alice in Wonderland was the Disney movie as a kid. Therefore it was a joy for me to read your response to the book as it is a very different perspective as an adult reader versus a child watching a Disney cartoon. My memories of the story are very visual for this reason. The Cheshire cat was a memorable illustration and one of which I remember the most vividly. The paths she walked down and the giant mushrooms are also some of the images which I first think of. I remember being spooked out by the Cheshire cat and the scenes around this part in the story; they were darker and had the disappearing sidewalk. Jumping off what Yulia mentioned in terms of Carroll’s alleged pedophilia makes this particular part in the story even creepier. Alice is alone talking to the omniscient cat, who seems to have a certain authority over her. She’s lost and not quite able to find her own way. I’m trying to imagine how this relationship would be written if Alice was a little boy. Would boy Alice be more decisive and less impressionable to the cat’s advice or no? Is Alice seen as an impressionable character or a brave trailblazer? Or as you have said in your response is she a metaphor for the inconsistencies in all human life?

  • hm1109

    I read Alice in Wonderland when I was in high school and was impressed by time shifting to the weird world from real world. The whole story is like dream or nightmare and the time is not accurate.
    Time, in the sense of duration, exists in Wonderland only in a psychological and artistic sense. When we ordinarily conceive of time, we think of units of duration — that is, hours, minutes, and seconds; or days, weeks, months, and years. We may also think of getting older and having lived from a certain date. We assume that the time reflected on a clock and our age are essentially the same kind of process. But a clock may repeat its measure of duration, whereas we have only one lifetime. Our age is therefore a function of an irreversible psychological sense of duration. We live in the conscious knowledge that we can never return to a given point in the past, as we might adjust a clock for daylight savings time. Our personal, psychological time is absolute and irreversible. And that is the kind of time that creatures like the Mad Hatter employ in Wonderland. (We never know whether the White Rabbit uses a mechanistic time, only that he has a watch.)
    When Alice looks at the watch, she sees a date, but she sees neither hours nor minutes. Time has “frozen” the tea-party at six o’clock. But it turns out that time is also reversed so that a year has the duration of an hour and vice versa. Reckoned in hour-lengths, the tea-party must go on for at least a year (unless Time and the Mad Hatter make up their quarrel). But because of psychological time, the creatures are able to leave and return to the tea-party. And because of psychological time, Wonderland’s experience comes to an end, and just as our uniquely, individual lives will one day end, so will our nightmares and dreams.

  • Nancy

    YOu should all read the other posts about Alice… Now I want to read it again. Maybe read it to my grandchildren. Do you see a relation to your being at ITP? Not that that’s necessary…

    Interesting the books whose images/events/words have become such a part of our (western) culture…memes-tried and true: the cheshire cat smile, going down the rabbit hole, etc.

    and Myriam, your delight in this post is delightful!

  • Asli

    The final paragraph of my ITP Personal Statement. Alice brought me here too 😉
    We all are mad here, we really are. Then again, all the good ones are 😉

    “My eyelids have started to fall and my conscious is pulling me into a heavy daydream, a dream in which I am running, running and running after a rabbit who keeps saying I’m late, I’m late for a very important date. A date with myself, a date with what lies ahead. In a Alice in Wonderland kind of playground, where everything in fact is just an imitation of life yet through Alice’s own glasses, a bit pinker, a bit more hopeful, a bit more beautiful. The world is part of my job and my job is part of the world. And more than ever I want back my playground!”