Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Rating: 4/4 (Remains a most fantastic dream trip to this day!)

There are a few memories from childhood which remain vivid to this day. One of them is possessing and reading a hardcover copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This children novel by Lewis Carroll was presented by my dad and I was proud because it was one of the first unabridged novels I read. A little while after this, it would fall into the vicious hands of a cousin, who merrily proceeded to mercilessly vandalize its every page! With age the memory of this book has only grown fonder and I have kept an eye out for this particular edition of the book everywhere, but the search has been futile! ๐Ÿ˜

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” – The King of Hearts

On a whim, I recently picked up a 1950 edition by Arcadia House to re-read this classic. There is a certain comfort in reading a well worn tale. Alice falls down a rabbit-hole and lands in a Wonderland. She comes across magical drinks, cakes and mushrooms, which when consumed cause her to grow or shrink in size. She meanders through this Wonderland without any purpose, talking and meeting with its creatures. Some of these creatures have now become eponymous in English literature. The Cheshire Cat is probably the most famous, with his transparent appearance, calm demeanour and magical smile. The White Rabbit is always hurrying about, checking his pocket watch for the time and always late for his next appointment. The mad trio of the March Hare, the (Mad) Hatter and the Dormouse, who are stuck in a weird time-warp whereย  it is always tea time. The coolest creature is probably the Caterpillar who sits on a mushroom sucking on a hookah! And finally the Queen of Hearts who tries to behead anyone she does not like.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland unfailingly brings up a dream universe when reading it. Much like a dream, the story has no direction of any sort, things just happen. This is not surprising since the story was conceived by Carroll to entertain a few kids on a boat journey. The conversations between Alice and the creatures are both non-sense and profound at the same time. The reader can imagine quaint metaphors for every little scene or incident in the book.

“I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, Sir, because I’m not myself, you see.” – Alice

Like all modern editions, this Arcadia House publication too lumps together the sequel Through the Looking-Glass along with the original. I tried reading the sequel, but gave up. It is neither fun nor easy to read. It is hard to imagine that the same Lewis Carroll wrote that one or that a kid could enjoy it. The original Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland remains a most fantastic dream trip to this day! ๐Ÿ™‚

“We’re all mad here.” – Cheshire Cat

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Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Rating: 4/4 (Takes the reader on an inter-dimensional journey!)

If you dip your toes into any general reading involving dimensions, space or topology, Flatland is the book that comes heavily recommended. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions was written by Edwin Abbott Abbott more than a hundred years ago in 1884. It is a fictional story narrated by a resident of Flatland. As its name might imply, Flatland is a 2-dimensional world, whose residents are straight lines and regular polygons. The book is seemingly written by A Square, a square Flatland resident, who now finds himself behind bars for proselytising the existence of a higher dimension (3D). The first half of the book introduces the layout and beings of Flatland. A strict class system is in force in this land, based on the number of sides of the polygonal residents. Straight lines (line segments to be precise) are women, the lowest class, they receive no education, have no careers and exist mostly for procreation. Isosceles Triangles are soldiers and workers. The more sides the polygon has, the higher his class. The highest class are the Circles, who are actually polygons with innumerable tiny sides. All irregular sided polygons are either fixed or killed to prevent their spread. Flatland residents perceive each other by sight and touch (feeling). The most interesting event in Flatland’s history was a Color Revolt which threatened the existence of the entire class system. This revolt, ironically, would have given residents the freedom to color (paint) themselves as they wished to. However, this revolt was cleverly put down by the Circles whose authority it undermined.

More interesting events occur in the second half of the book. One night A Square has a dream where he visits a 1-dimensional world called LineLand. Residents of LineLand are line segments of different lengths, they all live and die on a single straight line, which is their entire world. A Square shocks the king of LineLand when he is able to not only enter and leave their world at will, but can see their entire world and their insides too. Soon after this dream, A Square is visited by a Sphere, a being of SpaceLand, a 3-dimensional world. He takes A Square to his higher dimensional world and introduces him to the existence of solids. Being a 2-dimensional being, A Square initially finds it very hard to perceive this 3D world. But, by using analogy Sphere is able to convince A Square. For example, A Square already knew that a Point when moved along a direction formed a Line and a line moved parallel to itself formed a Square. Using such analogies, Sphere educates him on the existence of polyhedrons such as himself and Cubes. Together they visit the 0-dimensional world of PointLand, where a single Point is the sole happy resident. Unsurprisingly, the Point is found to be quite full of himself! ๐Ÿ™‚ A Square’s story though ends in tragedy. On his return to Flatland, he tries to spread the Gospel of 3 Dimensions, only to be punished with life imprisonment for this heresy.

Flatland is a tiny book and has undergone lots of editions over the years. I read the Princeton Science Library (1991) edition, with an introduction by Thomas Banchoff. In my opinion, it is better to read this introduction after reading the novel. Banchoff introduces the life and times of Abbott. He lived in Victorian England, when education was not yet provided to women and the class system was in play. Both of these are well satirized in Flatland, by representing women as lower-dimensional (1D) entities and by the rigid polygonal class system. The eradication of all irregular polygons is also a representation of Abbott’s times, when anyone who deviated in form or thought was labeled as a freak.

Flatland is above all a dimension-travel book. It is surprisingly easy and light to read. By anthropomorphizing polygons, Abbott skillfully makes all dimensions easy to understand. After reading his book, the reader cannot but believe that higher dimensions must exist! Even if seeing such a higher dimension is beyond us, Flatland provides us the signs and hints of how such a higher dimensional being will appear and affect our world. For example, a 4D being could see inside us and could appear and disappear at different places at will. It is no secret that Abbott might believe that God is such a higher dimensional being. The book does not deal with space-time, where time is the 4th dimension. This is not surprising since space-time became popular only after Einstein. But, even then, I believe time would be (or is) a different kind of dimension, not a strict topological higher dimension. Flatland is a highly recommended read that is sure to take the reader’s mind on an inter-dimensional journey! ๐Ÿ™‚

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A few quotes from the book:

Sphere: “I had hoped to find in you — as being a man of sense and an accomplished mathematician — a fit apostle for the Gospel of the Three Dimensions, which I am allowed to preach once only in a thousand years: but now I know not how to convince you.”

I: “[…] take his servant on a second journey into the blessed region of the Fourth Dimension, where I shall look down with him once more upon this land of Three Dimensions, and see the inside of every three-dimensioned house, the secrets of the solid earth, the treasures of the mines of Spaceland, and the intestines of every solid living creature, even the noble and adorable Spheres.”

“That Point is a Being like ourselves, but confined to the non-dimensional Gulf.ย  He is himself his own World, his own Universe; of any other than himself he can form no conception; he knows not Length, nor Breadth, nor Height, for he has had no experience of them; he has no cognizance even of the number Two; nor has he a thought of Plurality; for he is himself his One and All, being really Nothing.ย  Yet mark his perfect self-contentment, and hence learn his lesson, that to be self-contented is to be vile and ignorant, and that to aspire is better than to be blindly and impotently happy.”

“It fills all space […] and what It fills, It is. What It thinks, that It utters; and what It utters, that It hears; and It itself is Thinker, Utterer, Hearer, Thought, Word, Audition; it is the One, and yet the All in All.ย  Ah, the happiness, ah, the happiness of Being!”

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