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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).

My little obsession here has caused me to read many a book, and watch many a film, that I didn’t particularly like but fit the archetype too perfectly to ignore. (As a side note, I may have to stop doing that and raise my standards a bit now that every other YA novel is some kind of Twilight-y knockoff featuring a dark, sinister male lead that the girl falls for but is scared of – something that seems to fit the story but really just skims the surface – and they are all too awful to read.)

Resident Evil was not a very good movie (perhaps it was a better video game?), not even very scary for a “horror” movie, but it is indeed a Girls Underground story. And they seem to know this, as they use Alice in Wonderland references – the main character is Alice and the artificial intelligence that appears at first as a nemesis is called The Red Queen (manifesting as a little girl, since we all know little girls can be creepy).

Alice begins the story already forgetting herself, and is quickly transported underground to a place called the Hive, where she slowly regains her memories as her companions are killed off one by one by zombies – zombies that were created by a virus that was being stolen, something it turns out Alice is partially responsible for. When it is shown that the Red Queen was really trying to contain the virus (even if it killed everyone inside as a result), the focus shifts to a mutated monster as the main adversary, which they eventually kill. Along the way, Alice is betrayed by one of her companions (a common theme) and ends up trying to save another.

I don’t know if the many sequels continue the Girls Underground theme, but I just can’t bring myself to sit down and watch any of them.

Alice in Wonderland

`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.

“If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn’t. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn’t be. And what it wouldn’t be, it would. You see?”

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

Other links:
Alice in Wonderland, an interactive adventure
Lewis Carroll homepage
Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland site
Lauren’s Alice in Wonderland site
The White Rabbit
Alice’s Shop

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.

The Oracle


THE GIRLS UNDERGROUND STORY ORACLE - tapping into the Power of Story for guidance and insight. Learn more here.

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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