Remember What the Dormouse Said

The last time I wrote about something that succeeded across multiple platforms, it was Carmen Sandiego, a relatively recent creation. But there are plenty of titles and characters whose popularity stretches back through time, and have been adapted again and again and again. Alice in Wonderland is a textbook example. There's no way I could even compile a full list of Alice-themed entertainment options, let alone consume them, but happily, I've managed to delve into a good number.

I should mention the original books by Lewis Carroll first. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There were published in 1865 and 1871, respectively. Both books are genius. It's easy to see how they captured the world's attention and have endured through the ages. They're deeply layered, complex, fanciful, fun stories. The references and in-jokes are fairly archaic, though, so I was pleased when I got my hands on The Annotated Alice (1960) and More Annotated Alice (1990) - modern publications that analyzed every line, and gave explanations and theories as to what Carroll may have had in mind. They even went so far as to seek hidden meaning and jokes in John Tenniel's illustrations. Reading these books gave me a ton of new insight into the original works; it was almost like I was reading a whole new set of stories.

Naturally, when most people think of Alice in Wonderland, the first thing to spring to their minds is the Disney animated film (1951). Sure, it's old-fashioned, but it's one of my favorites from the Disney golden age. You have no idea how much the caterpillar delighted me as a kid. Very little of the books' complexity made it into the Disney adaptation, but as the goal was ostensibly to make a decent G-rated, musical cartoon, it succeeded admirably. Here we are in 2013, and I still find myself singing "Golden Afternoon" in the shower for no reason.

Those are the famous Alice works, but like I said, there are countless others. It's a safe bet that when Meryl Streep is asked about her ten greatest works, Alice at the Palace (performed on stage in 1981 - filmed for television in 1982) won't come up. It doesn't even have a wikipedia page, but it's one of those strange things that has become hopelessly entrenched in my brain. Like the Disney film, it's also a musical, but a lot more pensive and ponderous. In a lot of Alice-themed properties, her dream is treated as either horrifying or enchanting, but Alice at the Palace is the one that treats it most like an actual dream - it's very otherworldly. I don't know that I'd recommend it to others, but I enjoy it.

Speaking of horrifying, I should at least mention the Alice game, though I never played it. It's a fascinating take on the character, envisioning a psychologically-shattered Alice that returns to a nightmare version of Wonderland that she must battle through. It's unlikely that I'll ever play through it, but it's certainly a clever twist on a canonical character. Alice has always made a good template to layer another story over - even if it's just as a framework to pose logic problems:

Raymond Smullyan has written a bunch of logic problem books, and though I enjoy all of them, Alice in Puzzleland (1985) is my favorite. There's something so natural about Wonderland as a setting for puzzles about lying and truth-telling, and it's very easy to envision capricious chess queens putting Alice through a rigorous test of quirky mathematical questions. I guess that's why Alice has withstood the test of time - her dreamworld can be molded into whatever we want it to be.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: A+
Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There: A
The Annotated Alice and More Annotated Alice: A-
Alice in Wonderland: B+
Alice at the Palace: B
Alice in Puzzleland: A-


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