It has come up in a few different contexts on this blog that I am a fan of “Alice in Wonderland.” I also really enjoy “The Jabberwocky.” It’s a nonsensical poem, and yet the nonsense words are suggestive by their sounds of different meanings. “Frabjous” might be similar to fabulous or joyous. I’m sure Carroll had some other inspirational words in mind, but even without knowing them exactly, you get the feeling that “frabjous” is something good. The poem might be nonsense, but it’s witty nonsense.
A few of the nonsense words in the poem are explained by Humpty Dumpty in “Through the Looking Glass.”
Brillig: four o’clock in the afternoon (the time when you begin broiling things for dinner).
Slithy: a portmanteau of “lithe” and “slimy”
Tove: a creature the resembles a hybrid of a badger, a lizard and a corkscrew. It lives under sundials and subsists on cheese.
Gyre: to go round and round like a gyroscope.
Gimble: to make holes like a gimblet.
Wabe: the grass-plot round a sun-dial.
Mimsy: a portmanteau of “miserable” and “flimsy.”
Borogove: a type of bird that resembles a mop.
Mome: to be lost from home.
Rath: a type of green pig.
Outgrabe: a noise that’s between a bellow and a whistle, with a kind of sneeze in the middle
The poem tells of the slaying of a dangerous creature (the jabberwocky,) and it has the feeling of a fairy tale or knight story with the slaying of a dragon.
Writer Lynn Murphy gives a completely different perspective on the classic Alice in Wonderland. Instead of Alice’s point of view, this story gives the point of view of all the other characters in Wonderland. Young reader Maddy falls into the story of Alice in Wonderland and then interviews all of the chief characters in turn. They all pretty much deny the Lewis Carroll version of the story.
As an Alice fan, I had mixed feelings about this one. I’m not entirely sure this is the version I prefer, if I have to choose only one. Even so, there were many things I enjoyed about this book, and many places that made me smile or laugh. This version of Wonderland has much of the “madness” taken out of it as well as the dangers while still holding on to some wonder and charm. I actually think it would be a preferable Wonderland to visit without worrying about having your head chopped off or more nonsense than you can handle.
I also appreciated that the writer was very familiar with the original, its classic illustrations and several of its more famous movie versions, making different references to these.
And though this is still a fantasy, there are also a few interesting true background facts thrown in such as how it is that hat makers were thought to be mad or in danger of becoming mad or how John Tenniel was inspired to draw the Mad Hatter.
All of the Wonderland characters that Maddy meets have long aristocratic names and have hidden talents and interests that are completely absent from the original version. The Mad Hatter’s name is Aldus Broderick Crookshanks McGillicutty-Smythe, and the White Rabbit enjoys oil painting. All of the characters are described in a unique way as to their appearance and manner of dress which doesn’t agree with either the Tenniel illustrations or Disney portrayals of the characters. They also express themselves in a way that seems appropriate to 1800s characters, although they are, apparently, aware of some modern trends and technology.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes.
“And, of course, I never miss the Zumba class the Mock Turtle teaches on Thursdays.” — the White Rabbit
When Maddy questions this, he says, “How else do you think we all stay fit enough for quadrilles and caucus racing?”
“I had argued with my mother that morning and then stubbed four of my toes on the front door” — The Caterpillar.
“Poor Carl, he is portrayed as a surly, unpleasant and unattractive sort of servant, when in reality, for a fish footman, he is rather handsome and keeps his scales clean. He never smells fishy either, which I assure you is a fine thing when your servants are of the fish variety.” — the Duchess
“Should you be surprised, having spoken to so many others, that there was no singing at the table of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat?’ Oh, it’s a song we all know, of course, but no one was singing it on that particular day.” — The Dormouse.
I’m so glad “Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat” is part of the Wonderland culture even in this version. The Dormouse interview might be my favorite part of this book.
Maddy tells the March Hare that kids today are not generally very interested in classic literature and, instead, enjoy Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants.
Finally, the Hare said, “What kind of writer names his character after unmentionables?”
I appreciate a lot of the nonsense in the original Alice as a kind of clever nonsense, but there is one scene in the original book which perplexes and bothers me, because it doesn’t seem to serve a purpose. That is the scene where a baby the Duchess is holding transforms into a pig. In this version of the story, what happens here is much more rational.
The croquet game in this book is still whimsical but without any abuse to animals, although I like to believe that the animals in Wonderland don’t mind participating in this silly version of the game. Also, all of the playing card characters get to keep their heads in Murphy’s version of the story.
At the conclusion, Maddy leaves it up to you which version you think is the true one.
In her afterword, Murphy explains that she is an art teacher at a K-12 school and that she was inspired to write the book after the school held an exhibition with an Alice the Wonderland theme. She discovered that many of the teachers and students did not like the book or Alice. Although she had always enjoyed the book, her mind began to imagine a different version of things.
Nominate 5+ bloggers you’d like to know more about, to do this tag
What are you currently reading?
I’m currently reading two books actually. I am reading a culinary comical mystery by Michael Bond, Paddington Bear’s writer. This is a series written for adults that I only just discovered. The series is called Monsieur Pamplemousse, and the particular title I’m reading is Monsieur Pamplemousse on Vacation.
I have a Kindle edition of this book. I recently had to accompany my father at his doctor’s appointment at the hospital. I wanted to read in the waiting room but had trouble charging my Kindle overnight. So, I picked up an unread physical book from my shelf, The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It’s a very different book from the other, but I am enjoying it so far. It’s a mystery, a romance and a Gothic novel.
What’s your favorite “can’t leave the house” activity?
I enjoy a lot of “can’t leave the house” activities. The top three would be creative writing, drawing/illustrating and reading. During the pandemic, I’ve been doing a lot of healthy cooking and in-home exercise (mostly some form of dance exercise.) I’ve also been doing a little more with my YouTube channels and would like to do more with filming.
A book you’ve been meaning to read forever
There are probably too many of these, but I looked at my Goodreads “to be read” list for inspiration. I’ll just give one example, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I saw a film version of it. It’s a YA novel about a teen girl who was raped and has difficulty confessing what happened to her. She’s also an artistic teen which I find interesting and relatable.
An intimidating book on your tbr list
I would say that would be War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. At a former job, I was carrying my big, fat physical copy of the book to work every day to read during my lunch break. For some reason, I had to set it aside for some time and then I lost my bookmark and my place in the book. I was about three quarters of the way through it. At this point, so much time has passed that I would need to start at the beginning again.
top 3 priority books on your tbr
I have so many that it’s possible I may change my mind before I get there. I would like to read Aheadof Her Time: An SAT Vocabulary Novel by Erica Abbett. This may seem like an interesting choice, but I am preparing for tutoring. It involves an archaeological dig and time travel. I also recently bought two new Kindle books, one from my Amazon recommendations, Mr. Finchley Discovers His England by Victor Canning. It’s a humorous book from the ’30s and, though the title doesn’t give it away, apparently involves all sorts of adventures and shenanigans and smugglers. I’ve just recently added a book from a blogger I discovered quite a while back, Veronica Brush of Themeless Writing. She has a humorous murder mystery set on Mars, First Grave on Mars. I don’t often venture into sci-fi, but I do occasionally, and I do enjoy humor and mysteries.
Recommend a short book
I did recently read a very short book, Einstein’s Cat by Tom Skinner. It’s a short book of light, humorous verse about Einstein’s cat and different lettuces and galahs on bicycles.
Recommend a long book
A somewhat recent read that was fairly long, 464 pages, is Ludwig Conspiracy by Oliver Potzch. It’s a mystery thriller involving an antiquarian book seller who finds an encoded diary of Ludwig II of Bavaria and an art detective.
Something you’d like to do while stuck at home
I think I mentioned several activities already, but I recently bought a Creative Bible with special pages for coloring and decorating verses. It would be nice to spend more time on this.
What do you plan on reading next?
I started to read Rosie’s Travelling Tea Shop by Rebecca Raisin and interrupted to read another book. I do that sometimes. I plan to finish. Rosie leaves her job as a sous-chef to start a travelling tea shop in a pink campervan.
Sometimes, when someone is trying to get to know you, you are asked what your favorite book is. It’s really hard for a bibliophile to name just one favorite book, at least, I think so. I named this post “a few of my favorite books,” because I couldn’t narrow it down to one and it so nicely references the “Favorite Things” song, but is a list of 19 really a few? I think it is more than a few and more than several. Hhhmm…. I did try to narrow it down and it’s a significant list, but, at the same time, I feel I may have left out some very nice books, but if I left out some very nice books, I suppose there is more food for future posts. I do think this list does include a number of books that are special to me.
A few of these are sentimental. As a young tweenager, I actually read Anne of Avonlea, the second book in the series, before I read Anne of Green Gables. As a young girl, I remember being introduced to all sorts of nature vocabulary in the descriptive passages. I have since read all of the books in the Anne series. I find the character of Anne Shirley very relatable, minus the temper and the extroversion. I can relate to her imagination and romanticism. Can you? Are you perhaps a “kindred spirit?”
My mother read some passages from The Wind in the Willows aloud to me when I was a young girl, and she was so skilled at acting and reading aloud that it was very entertaining. I later carried on the tradition with my oldest nephew. I remember asking him, “Are you enjoying this?” and he answered, “More than you know!” I just loved this world of what C.S. Lewis would call “dressed animals.” Mole was my favorite character and, very likely, what inspired me to pick a mole as the hero of my children’s story, The Journey of Digory Mole. You can find me reading from my book here.
The only Winnie the Pooh story I had as a child was a Disney illustrated picture book of the story where Pooh is stuck in the doorway to Rabbit’s house. You can find me reading this same story from my Kindle here. Though it had the Disney illustrations, all the classic original language from A.A. Milne was unchanged. I didn’t read the full set of Pooh books until I was an adult, but the stories are so witty and wonderful that they can really be enjoyed at any age.
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story at all.” — C.S. Lewis
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is another special book to me from childhood. Perhaps, some parts were explained to me, but I think it was easy for me to understand some parallels to Christian teaching. I loved the characters of Aslan and Lucy, and this fascinating, often charming, world that could be reached through the wardrobe, and, of course, there were more “dressed animals.” Though I’ve read the entire Narnia series, my favorite of the series will always be the first one.
My father often said that his favorite book was Anne Frank’s diary. It seems to me that I may have seen a film adaptation from the book before reading it myself when I was about the age of Anne when she began writing it. There are so many profound thoughts from a young girl in this book, and, of course, it made me sympathize with all that she and her family endured.
So, my introduction to Alice in Wonderland was also the Disney version and a Disney illustrated picture book that I memorized before I was even reading myself, just from having it read to me so many times. I read the full novel and Through the Looking Glass in high school and a few more times since then, the last time being a version that was parallel in French and English. I know many find it a strange book, and there are many theories as to what inspired the author, including opium and migraine headaches, but I find all the nonsense witty and imaginative, although there are a few story points I find inexplicable.
Believe it or not, I first got acquainted with Pilgrim’s Progress as a flannelgraph story when I was a child, although I later read the book. Pilgrim’s struggles and triumphs on his way to the Celestial City are very meaningful to me. This was another influence as I was writing The Journey of Digory Mole. (By the way, Digory has some new adventures coming.) I recently saw an animated film version of the story which I recommend.
Jane Eyre is another favorite. I do seem to like 19th century lit, particularly Brit lit from this period. It has its mysterious, almost creepy elements, which make it seem akin to a Gothic novel. I always feel like a romance novel should have suspense, something which seems to be lacking in many that reuse common and cliche themes. This classic has suspense, mystery and romance.
Charles Dickens and Jane Austen are two of my favorite writers, so it is hard to choose just one favorite from their books, but I chose to feature Pride and Prejudice and Oliver Twist in the list. Both writers made a little commentary on their times. For that reason, I think, Austen’s books are more than just romances but commentaries on human behavior, character, and sometimes, social issues. Dickens certainly did that as well. I love what a well-rounded writer he is, so wonderful at writing both drama and comedy and interweaving them into one story and so fantastic at creating characters and painting scenes with words. One of his books, Nicholas Nickleby, even spurred on some social change as a cruel schoolmaster in the book was somewhat based on a real one who lost his job as a result.
Agatha Christie was a prolific mystery writer, not all of her books featuring either Hercule Poirot or Miss Marple. I became a big fan of Poirot, the character, and also find, David Suchet, to be my favorite Poirot actor. I really wasn’t sure which of her books, if I had to choose only one, to feature in this list. And Then There Were None, which is neither a Poirot or Marple novel, is often featured as a must-read mystery in various lists. It is one of her more exciting and thrilling plots where characters are eliminated one by one. I picked Hercule Poirot’s Christmas and just remember it being a memorable and enjoyable read.
I discovered P.G. Wodehouse almost accidentally on pagebypagebooks.com, and I’m sure glad I did. I love his comical Jeeves & Wooster series with Wooster, the somewhat goofy and carefree aristocrat and his genius valet, Jeeves, who gets Wooster and his buddies out of all sorts of ridiculous predicaments. The Code of the Woosters is, in part, a lot of nonsense over a cow creamer. Just the fact that a cow creamer plays a key role in the plot ought to suggest some humor.
You already know I like a romance story with suspense, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters certainly was that. I read through this rather long book of 500 to 600 pages while on a road trip without having any idea that the author died before writing the conclusion. I must have groaned out loud when I came to that understanding. It certainly couldn’t have ended at more of a cliffhanger. Thankfully, later, I watched the BBC miniseries, which, I think, created a satisfying conclusion to which the author was building.
Arthur Conan Doyle, of course, was one of the very early influencers or even creators of the mystery genre, so I couldn’t leave Sherlock Holmes off this list. Sherlock is certainly an interesting character, in his way of figuring things from careful scrutiny and his powers of deduction. Things are even more mysterious when put through faithful Watson’s narration.
Huckleberry Finn has gotten a bit of a bad rap and has even been banned in some places for its use of the “N” word. The “N” word might be racist, but the overall message of the book is quite the opposite. Huck uses it, because he is reflecting the culture around him and probably doesn’t know any other term to use for an African-American. He does befriend Jim and helps him escape slavery. He is sometimes conflicted about helping Jim and wonders if it’s wrong, but this is, of course, because of how he’s been taught by Aunt Polly and the surrounding culture. In the end, what he does is noble.
I really need to read The Girl of the Limberlost again, because I do not remember it well anymore, other than the fact that I really loved it. Gene Stratton-Porter was a naturalist, and her love of nature comes out in all of her writings. The Girl of the Limberlost is really a coming of age story where the main character, Elnora Comstock, collects moths to pay for her education. More recently, I read her book, Laddie, which I also really enjoyed. What I remember most from Limberlost is the beautiful descriptions of nature and music. I hope to read more from this author.
I first got introduced to Michael Phillips in reading the Stonewycke series, which he wrote alongside Judith Pella. Both writers wrote many books together as well as separately. That series was my first introduction to Christian historical fiction. My next favorite series from him (so far) is The Secret of theRose set during World War II with romance and characters acting nobly to help the Jewish people during that time.
Did I overwhelm you with all of my many favorites? What are some of yours?
My Family and Other Animals is the first title in The Corfu Trilogy, memoirs of British naturalist, Gerald Durrell, who is captivated by nature and animals and the study of them from a young age. It is the inspiration behind the Masterpiece Theatre series, The Durrells in Corfu.
I haven’t seen the PBS series. I have seen trailers for it and was intrigued by them, partly because I was attracted to the period feel and partly because I have enjoyed other Masterpiece Theatre series. After reading the first book in this trilogy and after reading more about the PBS series, I’m intrigued but cautious. I can’t imagine I would like the show more than the book … which I enjoyed very much. I’m not saying I would not give the series a chance, but I know words would be pared down to dialogue — which may or may not be true to the book — and it would be missing all of the beautiful narrative language from the books.
I knew I was in for something good when even the book dedications in the opening pages were full of humor. The title, of course, is also light and funny, suggesting that his family was just another species of interesting animals to be studied. After reading a chapter or two, I persuaded both my mother and father to read it and helped them download the trilogy for Kindle. Amazon prime members can read the Kindle version of the trilogy for free. The trilogy includes Birds, Beasts and Relatives and The Garden of the Gods.
I am an Amazon affiliate, and, if you purchase through links on this site, I may get a little commission.
I thought Dad would like the book, because the main character, the writer himself, Gerald or Gerry, is a boy with scientific curiosities, much like Dad, and I felt Dad would appreciate the humor. The story also involves a few boating adventures I thought my father would like. I thought Mom would like it, because she often prefers biographies to fiction, and she enjoyed James Herriot’s books. While Durrell’s and Herriot’s style and subject are a bit different, they do have a few things in common … animals and funny anecdotes, which mostly involve animals. Neither parent has yet finished the first book, but it seems, so far, that my recommendation to them is a good one.
I mentioned earlier that the book is set in a past time period. It was tricky for me to exactly place the period for the setting at first. I don’t remember reading mention of any years, but there were a few clues. One of Gerry’s mentors, Dr. Theodore Stephanides, fought in World War I. The book mentions “an ancient Dodge” and a gramophone and other references to the technology of the time. At first, I placed the period somewhere in the twenties. Then, I read on to a scene where the mother of the family was described as wearing a frilly and old-fashioned bathing costume which the daughter describes as looking like it were from 1920. I was able to place the period more precisely when I learned from durrell.org, that Gerald was born in 1925. The first book describes happenings while he was ten years old which must then be 1935.
The book is divided into three sections themed by three villas where the family lived in Corfu: the strawberry-pink villa, the daffodil-yellow villa and the snow-white villa. Their reasons for moving each time, at least the way they are described in the book, are all humorous. The family moves from England to Corfu, because they are all ill and the eldest son, Larry, suggests it, seemingly on a whim. The climate would be better for their health. The second time, they move to a larger villa, because Larry, who is an aspiring writer, has invited seven or eight of his artistic friends to stay with them. Later, they move to a smaller villa, because an annoying relative from England wants to stay with them and they need an excuse not to take her in.
My father, after beginning his reading, got curious about the island and did some armchair exploring via Google maps. He found a location on the island labeled as the Durrell Family White House. I can only suppose this is the snow-white villa. If you go to the link, you can explore it yourself, get a good view of the villa and the sea and a sign that says, “White House Restaurant.”
Here is a view of the sea from Corfu, looking towards the Albanian coast.
Many of the stories in the book involve Gerry’s family, not just the animals that interested him … thus, the title. He describes his eldest brother Larry as someone absorbed with books, taking two cases of books with him to Corfu, and writing, always typing away at his typewriter. It did make me wonder if Larry became a successful writer or if Gerald became the writer of the family. I did find out that Lawrence Durrell published several books as well, both fiction and travel writings, including the Alexandria Quartet.
His brother Leslie is described as someone obsessed with outdoorsy sports like hunting and boating. He does build Gerry a boat as a birthday gift, which Gerry names the Bootle-Bumtrinket. I really wondered at the meaning of “bumtrinket,” since the boys’ mother seems a bit shocked and embarrassed at the name, and because I know “bum” is Brit-talk for butt. The only definition I could find is that a bumtrinket is “an annoying person.”
Sister Margo is described as someone very concerned with her appearance and worried about her weight and acne. Gerry himself becomes fascinated with wild life and spends a lot of time, being outdoors and studying insect life, bird life and other animals. He is frequently bringing home insects in jars or other small animals he finds and keeps as pets. In this first book, you will meet his dog, Roger, a tortoise named Achilles, a pigeon named Quasimodo, a scops owl named Ulysses, a gecko named Geronimo, a mantis named Cicely, some magpies, simply called Magenpies based on their Greek friend’s pronunciation of the bird, a gull — Larry calls it an albatross — named Alecko and a baby donkey called Sally.
More dogs join the family, including two messy puppies named Widdle and Puke, and their mother’s dog, a Dandie Dinmont terrier named Dodo. There are also some un-named animals, and animals that Gerry simply observes but doesn’t capture. You’ll learn about Quasimodo’s eccentricities and love of music, doing his own version of waltzes and marches to music on the gramophone, Achilles choosing body parts on which to practice mountaineering and the trouble it caused when Dodo becomes popular with all of the male dogs in the neighborhood.
The writer does a wonderful job of interspersing stories of his family drama, often goofy incidents, with descriptions of his natural history discoveries. I sometimes wondered at his powerful memory of detail in these early events of his life. I think I found the explanation, as Gerry had a series of tutors, and one of them encouraged him to note down his observations of nature and also to keep a diary.
I would recommend the book for those who love animals, enjoy travel writing, enjoy funny stories involving family life and animals and for those who enjoy beautiful, descriptive narrative. Here is an example …
“This doll’s house garden was a magic land, a forest of flowers through which roamed creatures I had never seen before. Among the thick, silky petals of each rose bloom lived tiny crab-like spiders that scuttled sideways when disturbed. Their small translucent bodies were colored to match the flowers they inhabited: pink, ivory, wine red or buttery yellow. On the rose stems, encrusted with green flies, ladybirds moved like newly painted toys; ladybirds pale red with large black spots, ladybirds apple red with brown spots, ladybirds orange with gray-and-black freckles. Rotund and amiable, they prowled and fed among the anaemic flocks of greenfly. Carpenter bees, like furry, electric-blue bears, zigzagged among the flowers, growling fatly and busily…”