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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?
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
And a scan of the original text:
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.
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).
As long-time readers know, for ten years now I’ve been celebrating my self-invented holiday extravaganza, Alice Days. But while I may sometimes take it to a level of insanity few others would dare, there are many other people having Alice-themed parties – especially now that the Tim Burton movie has renewed general interest in Alice. To view some of these creative events, see this post from A Fanciful Twist – in the comments, readers are invited to share links to their own mad tea parties, and many do! Some of my favorite photos:
And finally, from the original post at A Fanciful Twist
While neither Carroll’s or Tenniel’s original illustrations depict it as such, it has often been imagined that the caterpillar’s mushroom from Alice in Wonderland was an Amanita muscaria, or fly agaric.
I’ve been personally very interested in A. muscaria for years, and have just started up a side project documenting its many appearances in modern Western culture. Go have a look.
It’s November 4, the day that Alice stepped through the looking glass (exactly six months after she went down the rabbit hole). To celebrate, a quick round-up of all the Alice-related posts on this blog so far:
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.)
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!