There’s something about Alice

A S Byatt in The Guardian:

Alice-by-arthur-rackham-001 As a child, I think, I kept the Alice books in a different box in my brain from other books about imaginary children. I don't think they were read to me – there was “a war on”. I think I puzzled them out when I was about seven or eight, younger than ­Alice Liddell was on the famous “golden afternoon” in 1862 when she and her two sisters rowed from Folly Bridge, Oxford, to Godstow with the 30-year-old Lewis Carroll and his clerical friend Robinson Duckworth, and were told the first version of the story. A child reader's imagination inhabits the world of a book in many different ways, depending on the book. She walks deep into imaginary forests; she saves desperate beasts; she flirts with brave boys. The Harvard academic Maria Tatar has observed wisely that children do not usually “identify” with fictional children – they stand a little apart inside the fictional world and intensely observe the people and the action. But Wonderland and the world through the Looking Glass were, I always knew, different from other imagined worlds. Nothing could be changed, although things in the story were always changing. There was, so to speak, nothing going on in the hinterland of the clearing with the Mad Hatter's tea party, or beyond the Red Queen's garden gate. Carroll moves his readers as he moves chess pieces and playing cards. This is not to say that the reader's experience of the world is not vivid, enthralling and ­entirely memorable. It is just different.

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