“It wasn’t as good as the book!” That’s the usual refrain you’ll hear from people who watch adaptations and then scowl at them later. Luckily, you won’t have to do that since Disney’s upcoming, Tim Burton-directed Alice in Wonderland is meant to be a sequel to the book. That’s all well and good, but what if you’ve never read the book? What if you’ve missed the countless other adaptations and are worried about going in without the benefit of knowledge? We’d never do that to you, dear readers. So press on, arm yourself with an education in Alice in Wonderland and go in forewarned. You’ll be able to chuckle knowingly at the obscure characters, and tip your hat to the small nods to Lewis Carroll. You know, if you were the kind of person who wore a hat and tipped it.
Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson made up a story to entertain three young sisters (one of whom was named Alice) while on a rowing trip in 1862. The real-life Alice (10 years old at the time) asked Dodgson to write the story down for her, which he finally did two years later. He presented her with a handwritten manuscript entitled “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground”, complete with his own illustrations. However, he had also decided to nearly double the story in size and publish it on his own, and in 1865 “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” first appeared, with new illustrations by John Tenniel. Dodgson also used his pen name Lewis Carroll for this publication, which was explained in Moron Cohen’s “Lewis Carroll: A Biography” as this: Lewis was the anglicised form of Ludovicus, which was the Latin for Lutwidge, and Carroll an Irish surname similar to the Latin name Carolus, from which the name Charles comes.
The initial print run of 2,000 books sold out quickly, and it has been in print ever since and translated into more than 125 languages. Pretty impressive for a goofy story that Dodgson / Carroll based loosely on his friends and the locations around Oxford. It also spawned a sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There” in 1872, and since then there have been numerous other Alice-inspired creations, including books, movies, television shows, songs, comics books, and more.
If you haven’t read the book by now, shame on you. It’s a completely fun and perfect example of literary nonsense. It’s about a young girl named Alice (shocker, right?) who is sitting in a garden one day when she sees a White Rabbit wearing a vest scoot by. He’s checking his watch and complaining about being late, so what would you do if you saw an animal doing this? Naturally, you’d follow it. Alice does, right into his rabbit-hole, and this sends her tumbling end over end in an impossibly long fall. When she lands, she’s in a corridor full of doors, all of them locked. There’s one small key on a table, and she finds out that it opens a tiny door in the room, but it’s much too small for her to fit through. She soon finds a drink labeled “Drink Me,” which causes her to drink, and soon afterwards a cake that says “Eat Me” on it, and that causes her to grow.
However, when she’s huge she cries because of her predicament, and when she’s small again she soon finds herself swimming in a pool full of her tears. Before long she’s on a shore somewhere, and she runs into the White Rabbit again, while small-sized. In fact, there’s a lot of growing and shrinking in this book as Alice also drinks a potion she gets from the White Rabbit which makes her huge, and two halves of a mushroom that she gets from a Caterpillar smoking a hookah, which makes her larger and smaller as she wishes. Very psychedelic. Soon she returns to normal size, and is off through a forest where she meets a Duchess and a Cook who receive invitations to play croquet with the Queen of Hearts from a Footman who looks like a fish, and a Footman who looks like a Frog.
Despite this interruption, the Duchess and the Cook are fighting with each other, without much regard for the baby that the Duchess is nursing, and when things get crazy the Duchess throws the baby at Alice, who escapes with it. However, back in the woods, the baby turns into a pig and runs away. I swear to you, I’m not making this stuff up. Afterward, Alice officially meets the enigmatic Cheshire Cat who talks and can vanish at will, and who will also be at the Queen’s croquet match. From here she heads on to the Mad Hatter’s tea party, after being warned by the Cat that both the Hatter and the March Hare are both mad. In fact, everyone there is mad, according to the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
Alice soon finds the Hatter’s tea party, which is attended by the Hatter, the March Hare, and a Dormouse. Time has stopped for the Hatter, since the Queen accused him of murdering it, so it’s always six o’clock teatime at the table. Alice endures a lot of buffoonery, and is asked by the Hatter “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?” She doesn’t have a very enjoyable time, and she soon leaves in a huff. She spots a tree with a door in the trunk, and heads through it and finds herself back in the corridor of doors. This time, she gets her sizes right, snatches up the key, shrinks down, and heads through the tiny door and into a beautiful garden. Unfortunately it’s also the garden belonging to the Queen of Hearts, who is fond of ordering beheadings.
In the Queen’s garden, Alice comes across three gardeners who look like playing cards, and they are busy painting white roses with red paint, because they’d planted the wrong kind. However, the Queen comes across the entire group and yells “Off with their heads!” to just about everyone when she discovers what they’ve done. However, Alice hides the gardeners in a flower pot, and the Queen invites her to play croquet with her. It’s a bizarre game, with flamingos for mallets, hedgehogs for balls, and playing card soldiers serving as the arches. She endures this for awhile before running into the Cheshire Cat again, and he immediately pisses off the King of Hearts, and his execution is ordered. But he makes his body disappear, and everything devolves into a debate over whether or not it’s possible to behead someone who has a head that’s not connected to anything.
Good lord, this is almost as long as the book. So, to sum it all up quickly, Alice then goes to meet a Mock Turtle, hears his story, meets a Gryphon, watches a bunch of lobsters dance, attends a trial about the Queen’s stolen tarts, is chased by the Queen’s soldiers, and when they begin attacking her, she wakes up next to her sister. It was all a dream. OR WAS IT?!