The girl in the pinafore with the inquiring mind is turning 150 years old this year and she's being celebrated in the style you would expect here in her native England.  

There's a commemorative postage stamp, a retrospective on "The Alice Look" at the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood in London and various teas around town are offering up "eat-me" cakes.  

From the hookah-smoking caterpillar to the Cheshire Cat disappearing behind his toothy grin, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland appears to be as much loved today as it was when it first drifted onto a drab Victorian landscape back in 1865.  

After the Bible and Shakespeare, it's said, the Alice books are the most widely quoted in the Western world. 

They've been translated into 174 languages and there will be more translations to come this year to mark the sesquicentenary. There's even a version in Cockney rhyming slang. 

But the New Yorker culture critic Anthony Lane recently mused in an essay for that magazine about whether anyone still actually reads the book despite its enduring and pervasive presence beyond the mere printed page, calling Alice a "prime case of cultural osmosis."

"Having seeped through the membrane of the original books, she has spent the past century and a half infusing herself into the language, and the broader social discourse," wrote Lane. 

"As a result, we can all too easily picture her, quote her or follow her example in the nonsense of our own lives without having read — or even feeling that we need to read — a word of Lewis Carroll."  

Artistic muse

One need only take a walk through London's vivid — some would say lurid — Camden Town, to feel the truth of that. 

The imagery sneaks up on you. There are rows of angular, steel-heeled boots worthy of any Red Queen, bouquets of pocket watches glistening in the sun and giant playing cards stuck on T-shirts and building sidings with gay abandon.  

John Leader

John Leader takes on a new look for his role in Les Enfants Terribles' production of Alice's Adventures Underground, a kind of interactive play in the vaults below London's Waterloo Station that's been running as part of the many Alice in Wonderland sesquicentenary celebrations throughout the city. (CBC)

Beyond the particular delights of Camden Town, Alice remains a muse to artists and musicians, from Jefferson Airplane's 1970s drug anthem White Rabbit to Gwen Stefani's What You Waiting For video.  

She even made into the Matrix movies. 

"I imagine, right now, you must be feeling a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole?" says Morpheus to Neo. And later: "You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes."  

Even the Queen has worn more than a smattering of hats with a sneaking resemblance to the outline of the Mad Hatter's chapeau.

Will Brooker, a professor at Kingston University in London and the author of a book called Alice's Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture, says the enduring appeal of Alice is its seemingly limitless adaptability to the concerns of any generation during any given age.  

"In the 1930s, it seemed very rich for psychoanalysis," he says. "The idea that things aren't what they are on the surface … and Freud's idea, The Interpretation of Dreams, was first published in the 1900s.

"I think at various points in the 20th century, people have taken a book that was written at a certain time in a certain context and assumed that it must map entirely onto what they were experiencing."

Picnic tale

The same would apply, for example, to those experimenting with drugs in the 1970s who assumed that Carroll must have taken drugs too, he says, even though there is no evidence that he did any such thing. 

Lewis Carroll  whose real name was Charles Dodgson) first told the tale to a young girl named Alice and her sisters while out for a picnic along the Thames in Oxford in 1863. Carroll was an Oxford mathematician and Alice and her sisters the children of the dean of Christ Church College.  

Leandro and Silas

Brazilian buskers Leandro and Silas offer Alice in Wonderland fans a chance to escape briefly into an imaginary world of tea parties on the high street in Camden Town. (CBC)

Brooker agrees that fewer people might actually be sitting down with the book and reading it.  

"You know the meaning of books changes in popular culture. And that may be the way we are seeing Alice change. Only the most recognisable visual icons are going to remain."

And a shame that would be, say Carrollians everywhere, for the joy of the books and its sequel Through The Looking Glass lies in the language. 

Carroll moulds words to his purpose like slick, wet clay or perhaps more appropriately in the spirit of Alice, like taffy being churned and stretched into shape by a master candy maker. He is, after all, the man who gave us words like chortle and galumph and portmanteau.

Borrowing from the icon

If fewer and fewer people are actually reading the book, it is a strange paradox. The book, after all, hasn't been out of print since it was first published 150 years ago.

Keeping time

The White Rabbit may have worried about being late, but the high street in Camden Town gives Alice fans plenty of choice if they fancy buying a pocket watch so they can keep their important dates. (CBC)

And even those cashing in on — or borrowing here and there from — Alice the pop culture icon are in their own way bringing the book back to people.  

Two of my favourite characters in Camden Town are a pair of Brazilian buskers named Silas and Leandro who set up a Mad Hatter's tea party on the high street every day. You get a selfie and some imaginary tea with the Hatter himself and the White Rabbit.  

You're invited to make a donation, but it doesn't take away from the fun of what they say they're trying to do.  

Silas, who plays the Hatter, calls their table the Wonderland Embassy.  

"It's about fantasy and dreams, you know," says Leandro's Rabbit. "And this is what we do here. We bring people to the book."