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Do Annotations Ruin a Reader’s Own Discovery Process?

November 16, 2009
This is a question to my fellow classmates that are participating in the Alice project.
Just like watching a movie before reading the book it was based on, I feel that reading The Annotated Alice without reading Carroll’s original, unannotated story first spoils the latter.

Upon completion of The Annotated Alice, I found it difficult to, as Mr. Long would say, ‘discover’ anything that had not already been noted in the annotations. It seems just when I would get an idea for an interesting argument or I read something that would prompt further research, I looked at the next note and the thing I hoped to ‘explore’ or ‘discover’ already had been–and in extreme detail.

Being a children’s story, I also find it difficult to find symbolism in the very straightforward text. Unlike Lord of the Flies, in which nearly every page had something I deemed important or notable, I have marked very little in my Alice book. Perhaps my thoughts are so severely occluded by the annotations that I cannot seem to grasp something more than what they present.

That is not to say that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland does not possess a heavy amount of ideas to research. I don’t doubt that had I read simply the original manuscript, without the supplementation of annotations, that there would be much for me to ‘discover’. Thus, my complaint is the fact that we are reading The Annotated Alice. We are reading a book so intricately laced with notes that it leaves, in my opinion, very little left to note.

Thus, is it a mistake to read The Annotated Alice if you have not yet read (and wondered about or even perhaps ‘discovered’ something in) the plain, vanilla, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

Are any of my fellow classmates finding it difficult to find something to ‘note’ that has not yet been noted?
5 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2009 12:47 am

    Yes. I get where you are coming from, and I am actually relieved that I am not the only person. When I was reading Alice I almost thought that I was completely missing the story because there was very little that I would mark in my book.

    Another thing is that the annotations were sometimes distracting. I would be reading along and all of a sudden this annotation pops up and it has nothing to do with Alice, it just is something that someone else mentioned in one of their books. It would just throw me off of what I was reading and it was hard to get back into the flow.

    • Kristen K permalink
      December 3, 2009 9:22 am

      I agree, the annotations were very distracting. I somewhat believe that Gardner, our overzealous annotator, was a bit scatterbrained. Or, perhaps, he had studied aspects of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Lewis Carroll so passionately that he simply could not leave them out–if only to pay homage to all his work.

  2. Carl K. permalink
    December 2, 2009 4:33 am

    Yes! I could barely find anything to highlight, or ‘note.’ It was a little easier with Lord of the Flies, in my opinion, because after awhile, you start to pick up on Golding’s writing style, and clues are left on every page. But about The Annotated Alice, I highly disliked the annotations. First off, there were WAY too many of them. Pretty much to the point where they would totally distract you from the story, which is kind of irritating to me. And second, most of them went into GREAT length in detail, and I think some were just plain irrelevant. I can see where these annotations would practically ruin the entire story for someone. Some people are curious, and are eager to find out what the “hidden message” is (or something to that effect). Plus you make a good point, this is a children’s book. Wouldn’t you think that there would be very little to annotate about? I mean really, it’s a children’s book. After reading this version, I think we could all agree with Mr. Chesterton that it’s wrong to over-analyze Alice.

    • Kristen K permalink
      December 3, 2009 9:18 am

      I am glad to see I was not the only one having difficulty finding something to mark. Again, as a children’s story, it seems unlikely that there was further symbolism than what was presented clearly in the text and annotations. I suppose the purpose of annotations are to flesh out all the secrets, however I would have liked to read the story plainly first and mark what I found and then compare my notes with The Annotated Alice.

      Sigh. I guess there is no going back now.

  3. Hersh T. permalink
    November 16, 2009 9:03 pm

    The idea that you can’t “unthink” an idea is one we have discussed in class. I think you hit that on the head. Good point. How are we to truly enjoy the story and the book if we have already begun analyzing it. Often the analyzations are only possible because of something further along in the book. I am sure you have noticed that often these annotations contain a note that says something along the lines of, “and you will see this again in the next chapter.” The first time I read this I flinched. I really dislike when someone ruins a book or a movie and so this was truly a good point. Congratulations.

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