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Borgel and Alice in Wonderland: A Comparison

What does a classic children's tale from a hundred years ago have in common with a sci-fi journey through time, space and the other? The world has seen more advancement and change during the last century than in all of the history of mankind. It would seem at first glance that very little could survive the sweeping change of the twentieth century.

Lewis Carroll revolutionized children's literature in 1898 with his novel Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Alice was the first children's book that was meant for entertainment and not education (Anon. v). Thousands of books have followed since, and one modern parallel of Alice is Daniel Pinkwater's 1991 publication of Borgel. From start to finish, there are many clear similarities between Borgel and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

Nineteenth century children would not understand the concepts of television, time and space travel or even automobiles that are prevalent in Borgel. Likewise, the children of this generation are not familiar with treacle, mock turtle soup, or the significance of tea at six o'clock. However the only major difference between Alice and Borgel is the time of the setting. All other aspects of both novels seem to coincide uniquely. That is not to say that Borgel was patterned after Alice. Nor does it mean that the similarities are at all intentional. The only definitive statement that can be made from this is that some themes never go out of style.

Putting away themes for the moment, let us first concentrate on the most obvious parallel: the protagonist. The protagonist in Borgel is an eleven or twelve-year-old kid named Melvin Spellbound. He is intelligent, levelheaded and quick-witted. He is probably somewhat mature for his age. Melvin lives in a regular apartment in the city with his parents and older siblings. Melvin's parents are good people but don't play any special role in his life. His brother and sister are "…more or less perfect. Honor students. Extra good manners. Religious. Boring" (Pinkwater 5). Melvin's independence is shown early on through the fact that he lacks a bond to his family.

The protagonist in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is Alice, a stubborn and intelligent but flighty girl whose age can be guessed to be around ten. Alice lacks Melvin's maturity but makes up for it in bold independence. Although little is said of her family initially, she does have an older sister who is boring, much like Melvin's. The book opens with Alice becoming restless while her sister reads a book with "…no pictures or conversations…" which Alice finds to be utterly pointless (Carroll 1). It can be inferred throughout the rest of the book that Alice's home life is boring as well by her many references to the dreadful lessons she must memorize and the social graces that she desperately tries to recall (Carroll passim). It is apparent that her and her childhood are given little latitude, as was common at that time when children were to be seen and not heard.

Despite both Alice and Melvin's independent nature, they both give way to worrying once their own liberation has been established. This, particularly in the case of Borgel, results in a role reversal where the child has to become the adult. It is first shown that Melvin is predisposed to distress when he fears that his one hundred and eleven-year-old great-uncle Borgel has stolen a car:

The engine was coughing and sputtering. Borgel stamped on the gas pedal. The car was moving. We were criminals. I was an accessory to grand larceny. I knew this because I had watched a lot of police shows on TV. Grand theft auto was what I was an accessory to - a felony. I thought you could get about seven years for that. (Pinkwater 25)

Alice becomes anxious as a result of her constantly changing size and often speculates what her life would be like if she were that size forever. At one time when she has just grown very large, she believes that she couldn't grow up any more than she already has. "But then," thought Alice, "shall I never get any older than I am now? That'll be a comfort, one way - never to be an old woman - but then - always to have lessons to learn! Oh, I shouldn't like that!" (Carroll 21)

Both characters assert their independence by leaving home on a whim without giving too much thought about it. A puzzling white rabbit interrupts Alice's boredom as she sits with her sister in the yard. "In another moment down went Alice after it, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again" (Carroll 2). Melvin left more out of concern for his great-uncle Borgel, whom he feared may have been going a little soft in the head. "If you're going, I'm going with you,' [Melvin] said" (Pinkwater 22).

This point brings up the similarities between more minor characters as well as the main character. Both books have a catalyst for the protagonist's leaving home: the white rabbit in Alice and Uncle Borgel in Borgel. Although the roles of these two characters differ in a few ways, they were both responsible for Alice and Melvin's adventures.

In both books there is a family pet which adds to the image of the average American family. In Borgel, the family dog, Fafner, accompanies Borgel and Melvin on their trip (Pinkwater 22). Alice's cat Dinah stays behind but is addressed by Alice several times (Carroll passim).

Alice and Melvin encounter many fantastic creatures during their escapades in mythological lands. In Wonderland we meet characters like the Caterpillar that talks and smokes in chapter five, the Gryphon and Mock Turtle in chapters nine and ten, and the Mad Hatter, March Hare and Dormouse at their unconventional tea party in chapter seven. Melvin's acquaintances along the Intergalactic Highway include the Clown Men from Noffo; an industrious albeit revolting Anthropoid Bloboform; giant, pale green talking gorillas; and the supreme being, the Great Popsicle. Both books also contain one nefarious antagonist: in Borgel, Freddie the Grivnizoid (Pinkwater 84) and in Alice, the evil Queen of Hearts (Carroll 51).

The plots for both stories develop in the same manner. The protagonist is bored with life at home and so decides in a moment to leave for the while being. After leaving s/he happens upon many characters and events which are seemingly unrelated to each other, yet all lead up to the climax. Both must undergo physical changes to exist in the fantasy world, and both are quite distressed at these changes. Melvin becomes two-dimensional and transparent while Alice grows taller and shorter. Both end with the protagonist returning home at the very end.

The primary theme I believe both Pinkwater and Carroll were trying to relay was that young people are individuals, able to make their own decisions. Society has long had a tendency to remove the humanity of a child simply because it isn't as big as the rest of us. We tend to take for granted that children are also very capable, imaginative people and not just the larvae of a grown adult. Children need to know that they are people too, and these young people deserve and should be given as much respect as anyone. For adults to admit that they are no more of a human being than anyone else, regardless of age, size, sex or color, is a very noble thing. That is the attitude that can change the world.

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