Through the Looking-Glass: Curiosity, Nonsense, and Wonder
It was the genius of Lewis Carroll to turn the curious child into a wonder, a source of fascination for readers of all ages. Alice navigates a world filled with what A.S. Byatt has called “garrulous and argumentative philosophers and grammarians,” and it is her job to make sense out of a world in which adults assault her with nonsense. We will begin our adventures in Wonderland with an inquiry into curiosity and how it was inflected in children’s literature before and after Charles Dodgson wrote the Alice books. We will then turn to the question of nonsense and how meaning is constructed in a world that puts Alice in a state of perpetual existential crisis. And finally we will explore the value of Wonderland by looking closely at Alice’s encounters with rabbits, caterpillars, and royalty.
Maria Tatar teaches at Harvard University in the German Department, and in the Program in Folklore and Mythology. Her many books include Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood and Off with Their Heads! Fairy Tales and the Culture of Childhood, and she is the editor and translator of The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales, The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, The Annotated Brothers Grimm, The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, The Annotated Peter Pan, The Classic Fairy Tales: A Norton Critical Edition and The Grimm Reader.