Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Writing Wonderland

So, as we (rapidly) approached the end of the year, our AP English teacher gave us the yearly research paper assignment mandated by our school board, with an exciting topic pool: literature analysis, from whatever direction you'd like to go at it. Also, instead of last year's cap of 6 pages, we would now be expected to fill 6-10 pages.

The first emotion I was struck by, was frustration. Last year, my rough draft for my paper was twelve pages long, on a topic that I REALLY cared about: Nancy Drew (and her Effects on Female Empowerment in the 1930s). That would have been perfect, and I would even have had the opportunity to dive deeper into my favorite intrepid teenage sleuth's history. While some of my friends who were more sick with senioritis urged me simply to resubmit my paper from last year, I couldn't pass up an opportunity to complete an English paper: there my # 1 fave English assignment, and what I'm best at. Researching and synthesizing information into a coherent, comprehensive format that other people can easily understand and enjoy is one of my fortes, and is actually what I want to be able to do professionally (writing non-fiction books is just as cool as the made-up stuff :) ). So, I brainstormed ideas.

One of my good friends, one who knows my Disney obsession, offered the suggestion of writing about how classic stories are adapted into Disney movies; however, seeing as though that topic encompasses so many different books, I had to narrow it down further. And then further. Eventually, I reached down into my love of British children's lit, and pulled out Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland. Seeing as though I though I felt there was more to go into with Alice, I closed the topic down to how Wonderland's storyline, characters and writing style was affected by the actual life of its author, Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll was his pen name).

In exploring this topic, I was lucky enough to read five different books, in addition to the original works of Alice in Wonderland, and its counterpart, Through the Looking Glass. However, some of these books were more helpful than others, and some I wasn't even able to read all the way through. I got a 197 out of 200 on the final paper, so I guess I was able to synthesize what sources I could well! Here's my opinion of the books I read:

1. The Alice Behind Wonderland, by Simon Winchester. (#28)
This study of Dodgson's life focused on one specific aspect of his personality: his affinity for photography, and his love of making portraits, often of children. While it was generally readable, some of it was a little dry and too fact-laden, and overall, it was really short (I read it in the space of my brother's Little League practice).

2. The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, by Jenny Woolf. (#29)
Probably my favorite of all six, this strictly biographical novel also takes into consideration setting straight the various rumors about Dodgson that have circulated in his histories. Well-written and highly entertaining in style, Woolf is also a little opinionated about her own theories on Charles' mysterious personal life, which means that for a a well-rounded essay, I had to explore other takes on a very private man's hidden vices.

3. Lewis Carroll: A Biography, by Morton Norton Cohen.  (#30)
This book is very large, and reasonably daunting, but don't let it overwhelm you. The size is directly related to the amount of knowledge contained in it, as well as the strength of the opinions voiced. This book featured some of the most beautiful writing, style-wise, out of all of the books, and was the one where I found the most quotes for use in my essay.

4. Alice in Wonderland and Philosophy: Curiouser and Curiouser, a collection of essays.
The subjects of the essays within this book are unique - like whether Alice is a feminist icon - and vary quite a bit, which means that, unfortunately, I wasn't able to really use this book in my paper. However, I have at least three friends lined up to borrow it this summer, so it's not as if it's bad or uninteresting or anything. :) Out of all of the books I read, this elicited the most covetous looks from my peers.

5. Aspects of Alice: Lewis Carroll's Dream Child as Seen Through the Critics' Looking Glass, with Robert Philips as editor.
Another book I wasn't fully able to use, due to it's large expanse of subject matter, as well as it's slightly outdated nature (it was written in the 1970s). However, most of it looks interesting, and it will be something bearing a little looking into this summer. 

All in all, it was fascinating to dive deeper into the personal history of such an amazing man, as well as how it impacted his work. As it turns out, the third most published book in the whole world, is really full of inside jokes, winks, and nods at his friends... especially one certain little girl, whom he wrote the book for in the first place: Alice Pleasance Liddell. In fact, in the course of my studies, I learned that this July 4th, marks the 150th Anniversary of the first telling of Alice in Wonderland, told off the top of Charles' head, on a golden afternoon's outing with Alice and her sisters along a gentle river. I will certainly be celebrating. :)

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