Having been making some long car trips, we've got a CD of Alice in Wonderland to keep Sidney happy. He's 6 and perhaps a bit young but he is fascinated by the story. I'd never heard the whole thing read aloud before, and when I did I suddenly realised why some WW1 soldiers are said to have taken "Alice in Wonderland" into the trenches with them, and why some people still read it when they feel low.

Alice Liddell doesn't sound as if she was a very likeable or indeed very interesting adult, but in the story she comes over as a clever, quaint and assertive little girl, the type who would be quite a useful companion in a tough situation.

My theory - which I go into in the book - is that Carroll wrote both his "Alice" books when he felt in need of some escapism. I can now see how the memory of the "real" Alice could provide that for him.

How delightful to wander through life with someone who is naively courageous and basically optimistic in a puzzling world, and who always deals politely and yet effectively with whatever madnesses life sends her way, and is never downcast for long.

When I read the book from now on, I will see the shadow of Carroll accompanying her through the miseries which were afflicting his own life at the period. I will understand emotionally, not just intellectually, how it made him feel better to have her around.