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Just resurfaced after an extended Alice Days holiday, and had a chance to update my list of Alice movies with several new ones (mostly awful, but one really interesting short art film from the 80s). Check it out (toward the bottom of the page) the next time you need an infusion of Wonderland!

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Today, November 4, marks the day that Alice went through the looking glass (exactly six months after she went down the rabbit hole). In celebration, I am holding a mini-version of my annual Alice Days event, with movies and decorations and treats and intoxicants.

How will you venture into Looking-Glass Land?

51QkZ7yuSiL._SL160_At first I thought Splintered by A. G. Howard was simply going to be a re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland, but it ends up being a reasonably original story, and a Girls Underground example in its own right.

Alyssa, 16, is living with the legacy of being descended from the original Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll’s muse. Insanity runs in her family, and for years she has been able to hear the conversations of insects and plants. She suddenly begins to recover lost memories of a boy who would come to her in dreams, and to uncover signs that perhaps Wonderland is actually real. When her institutionalized mother is sent for shock therapy, Alyssa believes that going down the rabbit hole like Alice did will make things right. She is accidentally accompanied by Jeb, her long-time crush.

Wonderland is indeed real, but is not quite what Carroll described – all the elements are there, but much more sinister. Alyssa is simultaneously trying to break her family curse, save Wonderland, and save her mother. She is alternately helped and challenged by Morpheus, the one from her childhood dreams, who seems to be a companion but eventually is revealed as her Adversary, albeit a complicated one. In the end she must face his lies, defeat the Red Queen, and rescue her love. She returns home a very different girl than the one who left.

As I mentioned in my last post, I just spent two weeks in England, and of course on the top of my list of places to see was Oxford, birthplace of Alice in Wonderland. Right off the bat when we arrived in the city, we started seeing Alice references:

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Then we began our Alice tour in earnest. We visited Folly Bridge, where Lewis Carroll and the Liddell girls set off on their boat ride down the Isis that fateful day, and Carroll began spinning the tale of Wonderland.

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We stopped at Alice’s Shop, a wonderland of souvenirs set in the very same shop that Alice used to visit when she lived there, the inspiration for the Sheep Shop in Through the Looking Glass.

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And then we went across the street to Christchurch College, where Lewis Carroll (under his real name, Charles Dodgson) studied and taught, and where he first met Alice, the daughter of the dean, Henry Liddell. Guided by a booklet we picked up at Alice’s Shop, we toured the campus and found many Alice-related things.

a very Alice-looking door in the garden wall

a very Alice-looking door in the garden wall

Tom Quad - Alice walked through this frequently

Tom Quad – Alice walked through this frequently

Door to the Deanery

door to the Deanery

statue of Henry Liddell

statue of Henry Liddell

Christchurch Cathedral, stained glass designed by Edward Burne-Jones, the Binsey Treacle Well (a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages)

Christchurch Cathedral, stained glass designed by Edward Burne-Jones, the Binsey Treacle Well (a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages, inspiration for the treacle well in the book)

Christchurch Cathedral, stained glass designed by Burne-Jones and made by William Morris, memorial for Alice's sister Edith who died tragically on the day of her engagement announcement - the central figure is St. Catherine, but is said to resemble Edith

Christchurch Cathedral, stained glass designed by Burne-Jones and made by William Morris, memorial for Alice’s sister Edith who died tragically on the day of her engagement announcement – the central figure is St. Catherine, but is said to resemble Edith

The dining hall at Christchurch College (also the inspiration for the dining hall in the Harry Potter movies) - setting for the rest of the following photos

The dining hall at Christchurch College (also the inspiration for the dining hall in the Harry Potter movies) – setting for the rest of the following photos

portrait of Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll

portrait of Charles Dodgson, aka Lewis Carroll

these strange figures in the fireplace are said to be the inspiration for the scene in the book when Alice's neck grows very long (and the bird cries "Serpent!")

these strange figures in the fireplace are said to be the inspiration for the scene in the book when Alice’s neck grows very long (and the bird cries “Serpent!”)

stained glass in the dining hall featuring Wonderland characters

stained glass in the dining hall featuring Wonderland characters

stained glass with portraits of Carroll and Alice

stained glass with portraits of Carroll and Alice

The next day, I got my long-awaited Alice-themed tattoo. After mulling over many possibilities in the months beforehand – including some of the Tenniel illustrations of my favorite scenes, and even some of Carroll’s own illustrations of the characters – I finally decided on just a simple bit of text (as I’ve got text tattoos for my other favorite stories). To encapsulate the Girls Underground theme, I chose “Down, down, down” – obviously from Alice’s fall down the rabbit hole – written in Lewis Carroll’s own handwriting from the original Alice’s Adventures Under Ground manuscript, along the curve of my ankle.

The tattoo shop I chose just happened to be across the street from Christchurch College, and the studio was on the second floor, so as I had his words tattooed on me forever, I got to look out over the buildings Lewis Carroll himself lived and worked in. It was pretty amazing. Here it is:

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And a scan of the original text:

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And thus completes my Alice adventure in Oxford.

While I came up with the concept of Girls Underground, I certainly am not the first person to notice similarities between some of these stories. Especially between any of them and Alice in Wonderland (which may account for the high number of Alice references in GU books – consciously or unconsciously, the authors know what type of story they’re telling). Here’s a great visual examination of some of the parallels between the movie Labyrinth and Disney’s Alice (via Fuck Yeah, Labyrinth). It’s quite remarkable.

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Alice Day is almost here again! To celebrate the day Alice went down the rabbit hole, I always set aside a few days to watch Alice movies, dress up, make Alice-related culinary concoctions, and live in a state of non-stop intoxication. The association between Alice and altered states of consciousness is pretty old, for obvious reasons (DRINK ME). Many people associate the fly agaric mushroom with the stories, but it was never actually depicted specifically in the original illustrations of the caterpillar. In any case, here are a few animated gifs which mash up Disney Alice frames with popular intoxicants (attribution unknown).

I just discovered a clever, entertaining webcomic called Cheshire Crossing. It tells the story of Alice, Dorothy and Wendy meeting in what they think is yet another mental institution (they’ve all been diagnosed with dissociative disorders), getting to know each other and their powers (because the ability to visit places like Oz and Neverland isn’t just an accident, it’s a special gift). They end up crossing between their respective otherworlds several times, encountering each other’s adversaries and companions.

Unfortunately, it seems to be on hold for now, but there are four issues to read for free on the website.

(Interestingly, this isn’t the only comic-style meeting of these three characters, as they are the stars of Alan Moore’s Lost Girls graphic novel, although that is perhaps aimed at a more, ahem, mature audience.)

As an aside, I found this via the tvtropes page for “Down the Rabbit Hole” which not only covers many GU plot points and examples, but links to my Girls Underground website!

Last night I ventured out for the midnight premiere showing of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie. I dressed up a little – nothing over-the-top, just all my subtle Alice accoutrements – but there were a lot of people there in full costume, as well as a local vintage shop doing a whole production including an amazing White Rabbit suit. They even led a raffle based on our ticket stubs and I won an Alice wristwatch!

Well I didn’t get home until around 3am so I’m a little groggy right now, but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked this movie. Don’t get me wrong, I expected to enjoy myself, considering that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp and Alan Rickman were involved, among others, and it is Alice after all. And I knew the special effects and 3D would be great. But I wasn’t getting my hopes up about anything else.

I will start with the caveat that there were a few things I could have lived without in this movie, the foremost of which was the “real world” set up and conclusion. It was a bit heavy-handed about its message (know who you are, live your life for yourself, etc.) when that same message was conveyed perfectly well in the Wonderland part of the movie. I just didn’t feel that it added anything. However, that’s a fairly negligible percentage of the entire film, and I’ll just focus on the good parts.

First of all, they did a great job with the effects, as expected, and the tumble down the rabbit hole was instantly one of my all-time favorites. I wish he’d taken it a little slower overall, but it was still a great ride, with lots of detail and a real feeling of being underground, roots and all. The transitional effects when Alice grows and shrinks were done seamlessly, and I like how they addressed the issue of her constantly growing too small or large for her clothes.

But the best part for me came when we arrived at the mad tea party. A combination of great writing and excellent comedic timing and inflection on the part of the actors (most of whom were voice actors) made for one of the best tea party scenes I’ve ever scene. It managed to be silly, menacing, bizarre, hilarious and creepy all at once, which is no small feat, but a perfect mixture for that tableau. Depp’s Mad Hatter had these wild eyes with differently-sized pupils that added an extra touch of insanity to his entire demeanor. I also appreciated that Burton had him occasionally go into a very dark place with his moods and behavior, and then bounce back to silliness again.

The acting really stood out in this. I’ve seen a lot of Alice movies, and sometimes it feels that the actors are just going through the motions, given such familiar material, but this cast really made the characters their own. Rickman as the Caterpillar, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat (which was extremely well voiced and animated), Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen, all very impressive.

I find it interesting that it often happens that someone will adapt a classic Girls Underground story like Alice or Oz, and in the process of changing and adding things to make it their own, will actually end up with even more Girls Underground elements than the original. This was definitely the case here. The constant questioning of her identity (and if she was “the right Alice”), the way she had to battle the monster to save the kingdom, the rescue of the imprisoned Hatter, these are all more in line with Girls Underground than the actual book, which doesn’t have nearly as much dramatic tension and action. I know there were a few lines in particular that really resonated with me at the time, but I guess I’m going to have to go see it again (soon!) to jot those down, as this time I was too fully engrossed and then too tired to recall.

Overall, I’d say this registers as one of my top five Alice movies so far, the others being those by Jan Svankmajer, Jonathan Miller, John Henderson and Lou Bunin (if Henson studios had done an entire feature film rather than just a few scenes for Dreamchild, I’m sure that would have been included in the list too). I’m sure it will be fantastic on regular film too, but go see it in 3D at least once in the theatre to get the full intended effect. You can even make a mini Alice Day out of it – we certainly did!

I know, I know, I said seven days, but I still have the rest of today to wait to see the new movie (I’ll be going at midnight!), so I thought I’d put together a post of all the things that didn’t fit anywhere else. So without further ado, a bunch of neat Alice links…

Courtesy of Youtube:
Low-budget short film by Davies Films with a fantastic night-time tea party scene
Another short film by “Women in Motion” with Alice and friends in the subway
Vintage commercial featuring Alice selling Jell-O
Alice montage made with Sims
American McGee’s Alice videogame intro
1970’s anti-drug Alice-themed after school special

Stuff!
Alice in Wonderland Yahtzee
Alice in Wonderland 500-piece puzzle
Alice in Wonderland playing cards with different quotes and illustrations on each card, making them an ideal impromptu oracular system (which I use during Alice Days)!
Alice tea set by Cardew (I have this whole set, it’s gorgeous)
Alice clocks that run backwards!
Eat Me Drink Me salt and pepper shakers (I have these)
Alice in Wonderland chess set
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland miniature dollhouse book
Alice pillowcases from Urban Outfitters (they also have a nice line of glasses)
Cheshire Cat mug – the cat, minus his smile, disappears when you fill it with hot water (I bought one of these recently, but I actually owned one as a child too – I remember these types of mugs being popular back then)

Alice in Wonderland: An Interactive Adventure
– this website provides hours of fun
Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland site – one of the best out there

I’ll report back tomorrow on the Burton film. So excited!

Not surprisingly, the popularity of Alice in Wonderland, its entrance into the vernacular of modern culture, and the fact that the books are long out of copyright protection, means that there has been a plethora of other Alice stories written by various authors over the years. Here is just a sampling.

Alice’s Journey Beyond the Moon
by RJ Carter. I read this one many years ago, and it was definitely interesting – it’s presented as if it were a long lost sequel to the original books, complete with annotations, and is full of similar sorts of nonsense, although in my opinion doesn’t really come close to Carroll’s work.

Wonderland by Tommy Kovac. This is a Disney-produced graphic novel that ties in (via character design) with the 1950 Disney cartoon. It follows Mary Ann (the character we never meet in the book, the one who the White Rabbit mistakes Alice for) on some adventures through Wonderland, and includes a great, creepy scene with the girls who live at the bottom of the treacle well.

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor. A young adult fantasy novel original enough that it might qualify for its own Girls Underground entry at a future date, but with many references to the characters and themes of Alice in Wonderland. Several sequels as well, although I’ve only read the first book.

Fantastic Alice. A collection of Alice-inspired short stories by multiple authors. Some good ones in there, as I recall. There are a few other such collections, including Alice Redux and Alternative Alices, neither of which I’ve read yet.

In fact, looking over some of what I’ve found, I realize I have a lot of reading to do! I admit to being more partial to film adaptations than stories, but it looks like there is some great stuff out there. Sitting in my “to read” pile right now are Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin, a novel based on the life of the real Alice Liddell, and Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot, a magnificently complex and strange looking graphic novel I recently picked up at the library.

Eventually, I also plan to read:

Alice Through the Needle’s Eye by Gilbert Adair
Automated Alice by Jeff Noon
Alice’s Misadventures Underground by Bradley E. Craddock
Still She Haunts Me by Katie Roiphe
Return to Wonderland (graphic novel compilation, several authors)
Lost Girls by Alan Moore (most likely, at least – it does feature not only Alice but Dorothy and Wendy, in graphic novel form, but I’m not sure how well I’ll appreciate the decidedly *ahem* adult content in this context. Still, Moore is incredibly talented, so I’ll probably look over it at some point.)
Wonderland Revisited and the Games Alice Played There by Keith Sheppard
Alice in Verse: The Lost Rhymes of Wonderland by J.T. Holden
A New Alice in the Old Wonderland by Anna Matlock Richards (currently available in full on Google Books)

“The traffic flow from folklore to fiction and film has always been heavy.” - Maria Tatar, Secrets Beyond the Door

An exploration of story…

In which I describe examples of the Girls Underground archetype that I have discovered in literature and film. For more information regarding the concept, including its earlier incarnations in fairytales and mythology, visit the pages linked above. Here is a list of all the examples I have covered thus far.

Alice Days

Celebrate one of the primary inspirations for Girls Underground - Alice in Wonderland - with a holiday down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass! Check out the Alice Days page for party ideas, movie recommendations, and more.

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