Falling into the Rabbit Hole with Alice

You see it every day— someone wearing a Mockingjay pin, or a Disney meme online, or Sonic The Hedgehog showing up in a commercial for Progressive. They’re characters who are so well-loved that they begin to shape our culture with their influence. This issue’s theme of the British invasion immediately made me think of the British character who has had one of the biggest impacts in literature. Sorry Harry Potter fans, I’m not talking about the boy who lived, but rather the girl who fell down the rabbit hole.

First published in 1865, Alice In Wonderland is a story that has enchanted us for nearly 150 years. It’s been adapted and remade from its origins as a book so many times that it’s probably impossible for you not to have experienced the story in some incarnation or another. A love letter to us daydreamers, the story’s mass appeal with children and adults alike has brought us to the point that just mentioning it can conjure images of the grinning Cheshire Cat (Grumpy Cat’s long lost cousin?), rabbits, and tea parties.

American McGee’s Alice

Besides the Disney adaptations which I’m sure we’re all familiar with, Alice has sent many others chasing the white rabbit for inspiration. As an avid gamer, one of my favorite contributors to put his own spin on the story is game designer American McGee, creator of Alice and its more recent sequel Alice: Madness Returns. Taking place after the Lewis Carroll books, both games put a dark twist on Wonderland. They start after Alice’s family has died in a house fire which drives her insane. As she seeks solace in her imagination once again, she finds that the Wonderland she once knew now reflects the turmoil of her mind. The Cheshire Cat is now emaciated and adorned with piercings and tribal tattoos, and the Mad Hatter’s once charming absurdity is now full blown psychosis which drives him to turn the March Hare and Dormouse into clockwork creations against their will. Alice sets out on a journey to restore Wonderland to what it was, and in doing so, restore her sanity as well.

Writers Emulating Lewis Carroll

As an aspiring novelist, I’m no stranger to looking to Wonderland for inspiration myself in the stories I’m writing. The American McGee games have been something I’ve drawn a lot from to try to construct a similar tone with that sharp contrast between fairy tale imagination and the horrors of reality. But if that’s too much of a mood whiplash for you then I’m certainly not the only writer to borrow from the magic of Alice’s world.

Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere tells the story of an ordinary man in London who inadvertently strays into a parallel world inhabited by people who speak to rats, a kingdom that lives on a running train, and even some assassins and an angel. As fun as that sounds, the problem comes when he can’t figure out how to get back to his own world. Minneapolis Star Tribune called it “A dark contemporary ‘Alice In Wonderland’…imaginative, well-crafted [and] highly visual.” But more importantly, I recommend the book as well.

Music To Go Mad For

So that’s movies, games, and books covered, but the influence doesn’t stop there. Musically speaking, Jefferson Airplane took the idea of Alice’s “influence” a bit literally when they released their 60s serenade to stoners, White Rabbit. If you somehow haven’t heard that song, then I think you need to start looking for a new home, because you’re living under a rock.

There are still plenty of modern musicians incorporating elements of Wonderland into their songs as well. Tim Burton’s 2010 version of Alice In Wonderland was actually accompanied by the release of a whole album of artists who had recently created songs using inspiration from the story. The album, Almost Alice, featured musicians such as Avril Lavigne, Owl City, and Shinedown. My personal favorite of the bunch is Kerli, who I discovered thanks to the album. Her inspiration from Alice is no one time occurrence, as her oeuvre in general has some strong faery tale traces, such as in Walking On Air. She’s also due to release her second album any time now.

Alice And The F Word: Feminism

So Alice has had a lot of influence on our entertainment, but just because she’s a fiction character doesn’t mean that’s all she’s done. Alice is also an example of a strong female protagonist. One whose story passes the Bechdel test even. Now I know I’m not making any kind of mind blowing statement by saying this, but that’s rare, even by today’s standards. And we’re talking about a character who was introduced in 1865, almost fifty years before women could even vote! Yet Lewis Carroll’s story is still one that transcended gender stereotypes and appealed to boys as much as girls. Meanwhile here in 2013, we’re lucky if we can get a female character with enough purpose to ever serve as anything more than eye candy, or a reward for a male character. Dark Knight Rises, I’m looking at you and your portrayal of Catwoman.

We can be grateful to Alice In Wonderland for the cool, surreal aesthetics it has inspired, but more importantly, I think it serves as proof that the notion that audiences don’t want to see realistic female lead characters is bullshit. When it worked for one of the most beloved stories of all time over a century ago, what excuse do modern authors and directors really have? So how about somebody gets started on that Wonder Woman movie already? And not one starring Megan Fox either. It actually has to be…what’s the word? Oh, right. Good.

Tim Burton And The Future Of Wonderland

Like or dislike the story, there’s no denying the impact it has had upon the world. But I think its endurance through the years is a testament to its quality. Just as Wonderland is a piece of Alice’s innocence, so too does it speak to our own. So whether the recently announced plans for a sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland makes you groan at Hollywood’s gasping for originality, or gets you excited at the prospect of returning to the land of childhood imagination, I think we’re pretty much all happy to see the story living on. And I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m always happy for another adventure in Wonderland.

Photography credit to Parée via Creative Commons licensing.

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