THE GREAT AMERICAN READ: “WHO AM I?”

September 19, 2018 at 5:15 am

We go in search of Alice as we peer into the looking glass of literature.

For more information about The Great American Read click here.

Aired on September 18, 2018. 

Transcript Print

>> WHAT IS THE USE OF A BOOK
THOUGHT ALICE, WITHOUT PICTURES?
ALICE IN WONDERLAND FIRST
PUBLISHED IN ENGLAND, THE STORY
HAS STOOD THE TEST OF TIME AS
GENERATIONS OF CHILDREN ARE
DELIGHTED BY ALICE'S ADVENTURES
IN THE MYTHICAL UNDERWORLD.
JOINING US IS ROBERT FAIR HURST
AT MAUG DE LYNN COLLEGE AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD.
IT WAS THE CHESHIRE CAT WHO
FAMOUSLY PURRED, WE'RE ALL MAD
HERE.
PROFESSOR, WELCOME TO THE
PROGRAM.
>> THANK YOU VERY MUCH, IT'S
GOOD TO BE WITH YOU.
>> ONE OF THE THINGS THAT GAVE
ALICE HER STAYING POWER ASIDE
FROM HER DELIGHTFUL 19th CENTURY
CHARM.
I WANTED TO START TAKING US BACK
TO THE TIME AND PLACE THAT THIS
BOOK WAS CREATED, BECAUSE
NOTHING COMES OUT OF A VACUUM,
WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT
ENGLAND IN 1865.
>> WELL, IT WAS JUST A FEW YEARS
AFTER DARWIN HAD PUBLISHED THE
ORIGIN OF SPECIES.
IT WAS A WORLD WHERE EVERYTHING
SEEMED TO BE ON THE MOVE.
ANIMALS SEEMED TO BE STICKS.
THE UNDERGROUND WAS STARTING TO
BE FULL OF LIFE, SO THE FIRST
UNDERGROUND RAILWAY WAS JUST
ABOUT TO OPEN.
SEWERS, AND GAS PLAINS WERE
BEING LAID.
WHEREVER YOU LOOK, THINGS SEEM
TO BE CHANGING.
>> ONE OF THE OTHER THINGS THAT
I THOUGHT WAS INTERESTING, SO
MUCH OF THIS BOOK ISN'T WHAT IT
SEEMS.
LOUIS CAROL WAS A PSEUDONYM.
>> HIS REAL NAME WAS THE
REVEREND CHARLES DODSON.
HE WAS LIKE TWO PEOPLE WHO
SHARED ONE SKIN.
HERE IN OXFORD, HE WAS A RATHER
DRY, RATHER PRESSCY
MATHEMATICIAN AND FIRM UPHOLDER
OF THE CHURCH OF EVERYTHING
LAND'S VALUES.
AT THE SAME TIME, HE WAS PLAYFUL
AND NONSENSICAL AND LIKED MAKING
UP STORIES FOR CHILDREN.
>> THERE'S A LOT OF DEVIATIONS
BETWEEN THE WAY ALICE IN
WONDERLAND IS PRESENTED ON STAGE
OR IN FILMS AND WHAT'S ACTUALLY
IN THE BOOK.
>> WHEN WALT DISNEY FIRST DOES
ALICE FILMS, IT'S BACK IN THE
1920s.
HE DOES 56 LITTLE FILMS.
THERE ALICE IS A YOUNG GIRL.
LATER ON WHEN SHE PRODUCES THE
FIRST CARTOON, SHE SEEMS TO HAVE
BEEN GROWING UP, AND SHE'S BEEN
GROWING UP AND UP AND UP EVER
SINCE.
>> SO MANY OTHER ANIMAL
CHARACTERS IN THE BOOK HAVE
GAINED A LIFE OF THEIR OWN.
WE HAVE THE WHITE RABBIT, THE
MAD HATTER.
AND, OF COURSE, THE CHESS IRE
CAT.
I'M WONDERING WHY IT IS THAT
THESE SEEMINGLY RANDOM AND
MYSTERIOUS CHARACTERS LEAP OFF
THE PAGE INTO THEIR OWN SORT OF
EXISTENCE.
>> THE CHESHIRE CAT IS AN
INTERESTING EXAMPLE, IN THE
STORY WE'RE TOLD THAT THE CATS
HAVE VERY SHARP TEETH AND VERY
LONG CLAWS.
EVEN THAT'S A KIND OF DARWINIAN
CREATURE, THE FIRST THING THE
MOUSE MENTIONS IN THE LIST OF
THINGS BEGINNING WITH M IS MOUSE
TRAPS.
THIS IS A DANGEROUS WORLD.
BUT A LOT OF THE CHARACTERS THAT
WE THINK OF AS BEING ABSOLUTELY
INVENTED BY CAROL WEREN'T REALLY
INVENTED BY LIMB AT ALL.
THE MAD HATTER ISN'T CALLED THE
MAD HATTER IN THE BOOK, HE'S
JUST CALLED THE HATTER, AND HE
WAS BASED ON A REAL PERSON.
AND IN FACT, QUITE A LOT OF THE
CHARACTERS THAT ALICE COMES
ACROSS, ARE LIKE STRANGE PLAYFUL
DREAM LIKE DISTORTIONS.
IT'S ONLY RIGHT AT THE END OF
THE BOOK, OF COURSE, YOU
REMEMBER, WE REALIZE THAT THIS
IS ALL A DREAM.
AND WHAT WE'RE SEEING IS A KIND
OF CRAZILY JUMBLED UP OF THE
REAL ALICE LIFE ABOVE GROUNDS IN
OXFORD.
LOUIS CAROL DELIBERATED CREATED
A WORLD IN WHICH CHARACTERS AND
EVENTS FLOWED INTO EACH OTHER,
LIKE A REAL DREAM.
EVEN WORDS START TO LOSE THEIR
BOUNDARIES, THEY START TO SHIFT
AND BLUR, CAT, RAT, BAT.
THIS IS SOMETHING THAT IS MUCH
MORE PLAYFUL THAN WHAT WE'RE
USED TO.
>> HERE IN NEW YORK CITY WE HAVE
A FAMOUS STATUE OF ALICE IN
WONDERLAND IN CENTRAL PARK,
SHE'S SITTING ON A MUSHROOM.
AND AROUND THE MUSHROOM IS THE
POEM OF THE JAWAWAKI.
>> HE SLICES OUT IN THE MIDDLE
OF THIS NEW STORY.
IT'S A GOOD EXAMPLE OF HOW HE
LIKED TO WORK AS WELL.
>> WELL, THAT IS A GREAT NOTE TO
END IT ON, I WANT TO THANK YOU
FOR JOINING US.
AND FOR GIVING SOME CLARITY INTO
THE UNDERWORLD OF NONSENSE THAT
IS ALICE IN WONDERLAND.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© 2019 WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019