The Red King’s Dream : Or Lewis Carroll in Wonderland by J. E Jones and J. Francis Gladstone

The Red King’s Dream: Or Lewis Carroll in Wonderland by J.E. Jones

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


So, before we begin: I am no Alice scholar, nor am I particularly fond of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I enjoy it but it’s never been one of those books that has particularly resonated with me nor left any especially life-changing effects. It is what it is for me, and it does what it does for others, and that’s good enough for me.

I am, however, fond of those books that try to do something a little differently when it comes to theory about the totemic classics of the children’s literature scene, and even though The Red King’s Dream is both infuriating and slightly ridiculous, I am somewhat in love with it. It hinges on a simple premise, namely that the Alice books are embedded with a code whereby the characters within are caricatures of real-world individuals in Victorian England. Thus the Unicorn is Gladstone, the Gryphon John Ruskin, the White Knight Tennyson and so on.

It sounds a rather straightforward proposal but it’s not without its flaws and there are a lot here. The “could this mean this” moments were probably the main offenders. You can read anything into anything if you try hard enough to do so. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s there. (I’m conscious I’m being Quite Sweeping about semiotics and interpretation there, but forgive me, I’m soapboxing).

Anyway! I also struggled where words were revealed to be an anagram of somebody else’s name but with several letters missing, or when a word can be an anagram of something related to somebody else, and this didn’t make much sense until we figured out this! It’s like the Da-Vinci Code but with White Rabbits, and I know that much of it works but again: it is possible to make anything work if you work hard enough to make it happen.

(I also had a few difficulties with “we found this mysterious item in this mysteriously catalogued and ordered collection of books could it be that we were the first to find it” attitude – last time I checked, libraries don’t magic themselves out of nowhere nor do catalogues nor shelving systems. Librarians!)

However – and here’s the counter-argument – I enjoyed this a lot and I think there’s a lot here for other readers to discover, but I don’t think it’s quite what the authors intended. This isn’t a book about Alice but rather a book about books themselves – what they make us do, what they set on fire inside of us, and the passions they unlock and the doors they open. It reminded me a lot of How The Heather Looks : A Joyous Journey to the British Sources of Children’s Books. Both texts have this strange appeal about them; they are thin and they are flawed, but they are also kind of fiercely wonderful in how much they love their chosen texts and aren’t remotely ashamed about that.

Sometimes the most interesting books that are out there tell quite a different story than the one they intend.



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2 comments

  1. I remember someone saying, in respect of The Da Vinci Code, that you could look in the phone directory and convince yourself that it was full of secret codes! The 3rd letter of the 11th line on the 2nd column on every 5th page spells out a secret message … 🙂 . People can read anything into anything!

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