We tell ourselves that Carroll’s words are “nonsense,” (yet we would do well to remember that this nonsense was written by a logician and mathematician with a quick wit; and in that, this nonsense has a logic all its own.) Carroll’s setting may be weird and wonderful, but there is logic within the illogical — a certain sense to the ‘nonsense’ and a cleverness always.
Most importantly, we know each of us what it is like to be Alice and to be without direction, simply aiming for beauty. Some people, some things even, will set us quite literally on the wrong path, or going about in circles. Just as Alice learns from the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass we as adults know that sometimes we have to run very fast indeed just to stay in the same place.
That the Alice books are not “happy” books may not be the popular stance, it has been somewhere in the back of our mind since Carroll’s death in 1898. As Donald Rackin notes in the book Soaring with the Dodo, love and nonsense are essentially incompatible, althought it is arguable that love is nonsense. There is no Garden of Eden. There is no Wonderland. Carroll’s original title: Alice’s Adventures Underground was perhaps more apt. Love is more akin to the dark wood in which we, like Alice, often find ourselves lost, melancholy, and wholly alone. In short, we lose ourselves in love, and this is not a good thing.
Love may begin as a garden of beautiful flowers (who don’t talk back), but it soon becomes a journey in a garden of snappish flowers and foliage with plenty to say, as in Through the Looking Glass, and a journey through a giant game, in Alice’s case it is chess, out of which we must emerge without losing our singular identity.
As for Alice, as a child, looking for a child’s love and reassurance, it is not to be found. She is utterly alone — these “magical places” are more akin to Dostoevsky’s Underground Man. Love may indeed make the world go round, but it is not what saves Alice when all is said and done. The moral, if there is to be one (and Carroll, I think, wrote without intending any moral tag to his work in this case, or if he did, here, the moral is mixed. There is a magical Wonderland indeed, but the question, Can we occupy it in any “happy” way?). The moral then is that we must ultimately not only rely on ourselves, but also save ourselves and through this process, we live and we learn and we pass into the realm of adulthood where we know that the stuff of fairytales is but a pretty fiction.