`Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar. This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
When I mention the Girls Underground concept to people, they often immediately make the connection with Alice in Wonderland. This book and its sequel, over 100 years old, are probably the most widely-known examples of the storyline. And yet, in some ways it does not precisely fit the plot points, falling somewhere between the earlier fairytale examples and modern fiction and film. (Although, interestingly, Lewis Carroll’s first version of the story was actually called Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, emphasizing the journey down the rabbit hole.)
Alice is seven years old, pretty much the youngest age on the spectrum. Her parents do not come into play in the story at all, and her sister doesn’t watch her closely enough to keep her from following the white rabbit into the otherworld on a whim. While aided (and thwarted, harrassed, threatened, etc.) by various creatures along her way, Alice doesn’t really have any companions as such, which is a key element of the Girls Underground archetype. She is pretty starkly alone in that world. And while there is an adversary (female, as is usually the case in young-protagonist versions), it is not the main tension of the story. Rather, the focus is on Alice’s journey and all the strange things and beings she encounters.
However, there are several important plot points present: She spends time forgetting herself in the wood of forgotten names, as well as having drug-like experiences with the cakes and mushroom which make her change size and lead to a tenuous grip on reality and her own self-awareness. She has a showdown with the Red Queen, revealing that all of her court are merely a pack of cards. There is the episode in the sheep shop, which echoes many “junk store” vignettes from other examples. And in the second book, she becomes greater than she once was, a queen of that world.
I think, however, what fascinates me most about the Alice stories (and I am quite the fan) is what has happened since Carroll wrote them, how they have captured people’s imaginations in so many varied ways. Some people seem to see them as quaint, silly stories, while others note the drug imagery and darkness hinted at throughout. This is most explicit when looking at the myriad film and television versions of Alice that have been produced in the past century (a list of those I’ve seen, with comments, can be found here). Everything from cartoons to stop-motion animation to live action to opera to stage theatre to even a porno can be found in the Alice genre, ranging from dark and terrifying to light family-oriented entertainment. Personally, I prefer the darker versions, but that may say more about me than it does about Alice.
Each year, I celebrate all of these films and many other manifestations of the Alice books with a holiday I created called Alice Days. With thematic decorations, food, costumes, intoxicants, music, movies, games and activities, it is a surreal and terribly fun event that has only gotten better with time. I encourage others to pick this up and tailor it to their own view of Alice.
Alice is indeed a literal girl underground, descending into the earth in pursuit of the white rabbit and finding much more than she bargained for. Little fazes her. She accepts the strangeness she finds and enjoys it. Which may sometimes be the only way to deal with such a journey.
Some interesting Alice books:
Alice’s Journey Beyond the Moon by R.J. Carter
The Art of Alice in Wonderland by Stephanie Lovett Stoffel
The Annotated Alice edited by Martin Gardner
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Pop-Up by Robert Sabuda
Wonderland by Tommy Kovac
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt
All Things Alice by Linda Sunshine
Lewis Carroll in Wonderland by Stephanie Lovett Stoffel