Alice in Blunderland: An Irridescent Dream
By John Kendrick Bangs
Published by LibriVox
Read by Lars Rolander
I sometimes enjoy a good political satire, but this was not it. In my usual bit of fairness, once I decided I did not like the book, went to see how it fared with other reviewers. I was a bit surprised that others found it funny and insightful. I found it quite boring, lacking in anything humorous and so predictable that I saw where it was going from the start so that the only surprises were in the order the story was told, not in the content.
Here’s a brief synopsis of the story: Alice has been inexplicably moved from an English country estate to a New York City apartment without any particular reason given or apparent notice on Alice’s part for that matter. One boring afternoon, Alice is visited by The Mad Hatter and some of her other Wonderland friends and they take her off on what promises to be an exciting tour of the Mad Hatter’s brand new city, Blunderland, which is run along original lines that makes it a veritable Utopia. Need I say it fails to live up to the promise?
Well, Alice is too dense to notice the problems, so this is another difference between Bangs’ and Carroll’s works. In Wonderland she did seem to know what was silly and what was not, but here she just soaks up the whole thing, at least until the final chapter when it starts to apply to her personally. Yes, okay, one could say that is part of the message, but I still maintain it is not true to the character.
To give Bangs his props, this was written in 1907 and pokes fun at (or rather ploddingly criticizes) socialist and capitalist states in a day when socialism had still not been applied on a national scale, but one can see from the very start, or at least from the second chapter when they actually arrive in Blunderland, exactly where this is going to go and I maintain that the readers of 1907 saw it all coming too. Then again this was during the height of Vaudeville so maybe these thoughts were new to Bangs’ readers? On the other side, I should not criticize Vaudeville, considering the plethora of what passes for entertainment on TV these days.
One sometimes forgets that satire is not the same as comedy and a satirical piece is not required to be funny. However, a bit of actual humor mixed in with making socialism look ridiculous might have helped. I think it seems clear that Bangs did not really think any form of governance was ideal (a notion I will usually agree with). Maybe I’m reading too much into that. Bangs spent much of his professional career editing humor for Harper’s, Puck and other magazines and an entire subgenre, Bangsian fantasy is named after him. That is a genuine accomplishment!
Bangsian fantasy, by the way involves literary and historical personalities having adventures in the afterlife. Perhaps it is unfortunate that Alice in Blunderland is not a work of Bangsian fantasy. Alice in the Afterlife really might have been interesting. Conversely, it might have been yet another reimagining of Dante’s Divine Comedy, although after this book I was perfectly happy to consider the Mad Hatter dead.
Perhaps the problem is that the Mad Hatter was not mad enough. Indeed, he comes off as implausibly sane even if the ideas attributed to him are not sensible. However, it might just be that I do not appreciate Bangs’ literary style. As I said at the start, others found this amazing funny and maybe you will too.
Lars Rolander has an interesting accent and it took me a track or two to get used to it, but as I listened I decided that he read the story well. I will admit that whenever I hear a reader using a strong accent of almost any sort that my first reaction is frequently, “Yeesh! This is going to be hard to listen to,” but generally so long as the reader is consistent, I adapt quickly and by the end of an audiobook, I barely hear the accent at all. The key, I think, is consistency and also the ability to speak clearly regardless of accent.
This is very different from the “funny voices” complaints I frequently have. That is when a reader uses a vast array of accents (usually poorly thought-out and voiced) and vocal mannerisms to differentiate characters. Mister Rolander, does not resort to such techniques, but like most of LibriVox.org’s readers he reads the text as though the listener is in the room with him. He puts emotion, when appropriate, into his voice, but for the most part he is just reading the text and that good!
I know I have said this before, but it does bear repetition. Most professionally produced audiobooks are slicker that those by LibriVox. They sometimes have sound effects and are often performed, rather than read, by actors. Some even have full casts with each part performed by someone else. The audiobooks by Librivox may seem a rough-hewn in comparison, but most of the time they are a breath of fresh air in the landscape of audiobooks.
So, unless you really like reading turn-of-the-20th Century, ham-fisted, trudging political satire, you may want to give this book a miss, but if you want to listen to a more than passable reading of it, this might just be the recording for you.