alice i have been, alice in wonderland, frank beddor, gregory maguire, katie roiphe, l. frank baum, lewis carroll, melanie benjamin, still she haunts me, the looking glass wars, the wonderful wizard of oz, wicked
I’ve talked previously about my love of adaptations of fairy tales and other well-known stories. I love how they can give a reader a different, unique perspective, whether it’s just taking familiar elements and throwing them into a completely new universe for you to find, like a literary Where’s Waldo?, or shedding some new perspective on a story you thought you knew.
Having recently finished a re-read of The [Wonderful] Wizard of Oz, I thought I’d finally get around to starting Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. I’m admittedly only a few pages in, but the prologue is a scene where the Wicked Witch of the West is spying on the four travelers sent to kill her, and overhears them discussing all sorts of horrible myths they’ve heard regarding her character and how she came to be Wicked. It was a bit startling to hear the Tin Woodsman and the Cowardly Lion discussing hermaphroditism and castration, but you can’t deny that it’s a unique perspective. The Land of Oz is, if at least through the movie alone, a landscape well-known to most people, although one populated by fantasy and characters that are strange, but magically strange. To provide elements from our own world (although, if I read Wizard of Oz correctly, Oz itself does exist in our own world, on our own Earth) and hint at a dark underbelly is certainly intriguing.
Another dark underbelly comes from Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars series, which takes the Alice In Wonderland characters and inserts them in a new, twisted Wonderland, where Alyss is a Princess studying the powers of White Imagination, the playing cards are an army, and the Mad Hatter isn’t so much mad as he is a trained assassin. It’s both grim and fantastical, but the part I liked the most was when an escaping Alyss makes her way to our world, where she attempts to blend in as a non-magical commoner, and ends up coming across Lewis Carroll, whom she tells all about Wonderland.
The idea that Carroll scripted Wonderland from the seemingly insane ramblings of an actual inhabitant is maybe easier to swallow than all the rumors surrounding his actual friendship with Alice Liddell. That story is covered in two novels, Katie Roiphe’s Still She Haunts Me and Melanie Benjamin’s Alice I Have Been, which both gloss over the more sordid rumors about the real Alice’s relationship with mathematician Charles Dodgson, but still focus on the perceived unnaturalness of it, the former from Dodgson’s perspective, the latter from Alice’s. Knowing the relationship between author and intended recipient of the novel isn’t integral to understanding or appreciating the work, but it is interesting to speculate, nonetheless. Is the story really designed as a way to preserve young Alice as a girl forever? Or was it just a way to pass the time on an afternoon journey? Knowing doesn’t change fictional Alice’s adventures in any way, but admit it, the first time you found out there really was a girl called Alice, you got a secret thrill that made the book more real.