If Asked by a Caterpillar, What Would You Answer?


“Who are YOU?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland)




I can’t even begin to estimate how many times I’ve read Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Dozens, perhaps, over a span of scores of years. Every time I read it, it touches me at a different level, the place where I am at that moment in my life.

There’s always a caterpillar to ask me the question, and I always seem to give the same answer: I knew who I was this morning, but I seem to have kept changing since then. Child –adolescent — teenager — young woman —  young mother–  middle aged woman — old woman—

At every age and stage I’ve been Alice, and I’ve been myself. We fall down the rabbit hole together, the Red Queen screams “Off with her head!” at us, we listen wide-eyed to the epic of the fearsome Jabberwock. We share adventures, comical and heroical and frightening, in strange places, among strange and fearsome people. I go with her through the Looking Glass. We’re doubles, she and I.

But Alice is bolder than I. Braver. More curious. Over the years she’s helped me grow bolder, braver, more curious. Grow more like her. Wonderlands can be frightening places, the real ones are REALLY frightening, and yet — however old I get I hope that I will never ever lose a sense of wonder. Never fail to enter Wonderland once again with my companion Alice. She is a lifelong friend.

The power of books, and the characters who inhabit them — Is there an Alice in your life?

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5 Responses to If Asked by a Caterpillar, What Would You Answer?

  1. Stef says:

    I have read Alice in Wonderland all the way through only once – in grad school, for an assignment. Texts like this one (and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and other such “classics”) just don’t do it for me. At least, not yet. Interestingly, these books DO resonate *strongly* with people I deeply respect and admire (my husband, many very intelligent, strong, witty close friends) – so perhaps I’m just not “smart” enough or “refined” enough for these classics. 🙂

    All that being said, yes, I do have several Alice’s in my life…. the above mentioned friends. And husband. Perhaps I don’t need to read the texts because I have living examples all around me?


    • Touch2Touch says:

      Well, I don’t know that “smart” or “refined” describe kids’ reading — and these are really kids’ books, even though adults often enjoy them too. I don’t know what it would be like to be introduced to Alice in grad school, for instance. And I wouldn’t put Charlie and Alice in the same box — but that could be because I only encountered him in a movie when I was a whole lot older!
      No, I think key to some kids’ books of an enduring nature (“classics” and kids, nah) is imagination. Books which are strong on fantasy, and appeal to imaginative kids more than to literal-minded kids. The Harry Potter books are the latest examples (although Book 3 was already so scary I didn’t finish it, and never went on with the others, and I was a big-time adult, i.e. OLD).
      What I was trying to expess in the post was fictional Alice’s REALITY for me. The character in the book wasn’t a fiction, she was real for me, a kind of Rorschach for my own self. Not everybody identifies with fiction and fictional characters in this way — probably for a host of different reasons.
      Then again, reading is what I do. What can I tell you? If I had nothing else, I’d read the back of the cereal box! (And have done—-)


  2. pauline says:

    I’m like you – I’ve fallen through that rabbit hole with Alice a LOT. I don’t know – I think if I had to identify with a fantasy character it would be Winnie the Pooh. Pudgy, a little dim but well-meaning and yet smart about the things that count – food, friendship, loyalty. He is a tad timid, as I am, but not afraid to do things with Christopher around (I spent a lot of time “needing” a companion). He’s clever in his own way (look at all those little songs he made up!) but like me, he’s also a bit of a loner. One just has to admire WTP for his perseverance and jolly nature. He also has great friends!


  3. Stef says:

    I like your contrast/explanation of fantasy vs literal, yet at the same time the “realness” of a fictional character. I am much more a reader of “literal” texts (ie, nonfiction) than fantasy. But I agree, w/o something to read, I have relied on the text on consumer packaged goods… 🙂


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