As an avid viewer of Once Upon A Time right from the beginning, I was initially reluctant when the spin-off show Once Upon A Time In Wonderland was announced. This changed to excitement when the preview trailer was released. But I quickly realized that to more fully enjoy this new show, I should finally read my copy, bought long long ago, of the twin stories featuring young Alice. For you see, at this point my only exposure to these stories was through the Disney cartoon from decades before. And that movie bored me to tears.
So with this rambly twisty turny history of this children’s book and I all babbled out, I set out to read my hardcover volume of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.
And that became one long, hard sludge for me.
To start with what happens, Alice is a young girl who takes off after a rabbit as it goes down a hole in the ground. This allows her to float into Wonderland, a strange place where imagination rules and logic does not really exist. She quickly becomes trapped in a hallway, where the only escape is through a tiny door. But to access this, she has to drink a size changing potion.
And this is probably the last time this story feels like it makes a shred a sense.
That doesn’t work, leading to Alice travelling though Wonderland like a rollercoaster. Scenes shift and change randomly, with each separate circumstance landing Alice into entirely new problems every few pages. These madcap adventures go on and on, with Alice meeting the Mad Hatter, the Queen and the Cheshire Cat along the way, and end even more non-sensically and suddenly. An obvious out is given, but I will not spoil a book published in 1865, but I am fully confident the answer to the ending is evident to all paying attention to this wackiness.
The follow-up for Alice is called Through The Looking Glass and came out in 1871. She is still a little girl, playing with her pet cats on a snowy night, when she pops through a mirror, aka the looking glass, and enters a warped version of her living room and house. After various adventures and a journey to get out of the house, Alice ends up a strange life sized chess game out in a forest. She meets Tumbledum and Tumbledee, which pretty much completes the introduction of major culturally known characters these books house. The ending to this one mimics the first, but injects some ambiguity into the situation.
I could really hate and diss these stories, but the reality is, these are simply not my style. Both volumes are meant to be whimsical, dreamlike, child friendly (mostly), fantasies of the ultimate variety. Young kids would probably find the majority of what Alice does and whom she meets as fascinating, silly fun. Occasionally you can feel the time period seeping through, whether it is with demented nursery rhymes or the caterpillar using illegal substances or parodies of then current political figures, but no worries. Each section whizzes by fairly fast, so if you don’t like one part, the next is literally a page turn away. It is also obvious Carroll applied abit more structure to Looking Glass, with the chess match being the backbone for everything.
The strangeness of these tales should not surprise me. Once I finished reading, my own adventures led to finding out more about author Lewis Carroll and his real life muse Alice Liddell, whom the books are allegedly, supposedly, maybe, about. Carroll, whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, was a lecturer at Oxford University when he met the Liddell family, with Alice being one of the young children herein. While on a boat ride with them, he concocted the original draft of what came to be known Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. A massive cottage industry has arisen over the last century or so, not only of movie and television adaptations of Alice, but of biographies and analysis of Carroll and Liddell themselves. An amateur psychiatrist could have a field day dissecting these twin stories, and mixing and matching how all the symbolism fits into the lives of Carroll and Liddell and whatnot.
With all the baggage Alice lives with, from emotionally to intellectually to imaginatively to symbolically, the show Once Upon A Time In Wonderland has plenty to play with. Taming the narrative for weekly television might present a challenge, but I am confident they will go the rabbit hole with great success.
…is currently reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling.
P.S. Once Upon A Time In Wonderland premieres on Thursday, October 10th, 2013. The parent show, Once Upon A Time, is back with season three on Sunday, September 29th, 2013.