One of these days, I should probably rename this weekly feature of the blog, because novel's like Alice's Adventures in Wonderland really do need to be discussed, but they're by no means "pulp fantasy," at least as I usually use the word.
Written by an English mathematician and logician named Charles Dodgson (under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll -- a complex linguistic pun on his own name) and first published in 1865, the novel has proven extremely influential in the development of the literary genre we now call "fantasy." Indeed, for many English-speaking people, the novel, or some adaptation of it, is one the first encounters we have with a fantasy tale, at least a memorable one. And Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is nothing if not memorable.
I can still recall my own first reading of it as a boy, from an old edition my mother had in our basement, which included illustrations by John Tenniel and consequently seared into my brain ever since. That's because the novel wasn't written as what we'd today call a "children's book." That's not to say it's unsuitable for children, but Carroll didn't publish the story solely to appeal to children. Consequently, it's language, imagery, and characters are quite sophisticated and, on many levels, unsettling. That's what sticks with me after all these years: all the things I read in this book that made my young mind uneasy -- not frightened exactly, although some of it was frightening, but shaken and excited.
I think that's part of the book's lasting appeal. It's very hard to read it without thinking strange thoughts and considering odd possibilities. I hesitate to say it's a "mind expanding" novel, as that's a mite more pretentious than I wish, but there's no question that it does expand my sense of what fantasy is and could be. Speaking personally, that's a good thing, since I need little pushes into the phantasmagoric realm from time to time. My own tastes in fantasy tend to be more staid and conservative, so Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is a much needed tonic. I doubt I'll ever be much of a surrealist, but novels like this help me see the value in such an approach.
Gary Gygax obviously agreed, since he included trips to Wonderland in his old Greyhawk campaign, a tradition many other gamers have observed over the years as well. It's not hard to see why. Stripped of its specific details, the novel is the story of a person from our world journeying into a fantasy realm where the laws of reality are different. That's a standard trope of many genuine pulp fantasies, such as Burroughs's Barsoom stories, and one that was strongly influential on the development of D&D, despite the lack of citation in Appendix N. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland shows, I think, that fantasy can be intelligent without being stuffy and that there's no reason why we shouldn't let our fantasies differ greatly from our everyday experiences. Those differences can be both wondrous and unsettling at the same time and the retreat from both qualities can make fantasy -- and fantasy gaming -- all the poorer.