October 8, 2009

Alice in Wonderland

This week, since The Neverending Shelf is hosting an Alice In Wonderland Week, I thought I'd take the time over the weekend to read Carroll's classic, and also read for the first time Through the Looking Glass. It turned out to be a bit of a chore for me, much to me chagrin.

Like many others of the past few generations, my introduction to the works of Lewis Carroll came to me in childhood from the hegemony of Walt Disney. To me, Alice in Wonderland was the psychedelic odyssey that stood out as one of Disney's most colorful and psychotropic films, second only to perhaps Fantasia.

More than a decade removed from my last viewing of the movie, scenes are still seared into my memory. The Cheshire cat's wide, puckish smile descending from the heavens as a crescent moon; the caterpillar puffing opiate smoke into the face of Alice and snobbishly asking, "Who ... Are ... You?"; or the entire scene of the Mad Tea-Party, including the March Hare's immortal line--at least to me--of, "I have an idea. Let's change the subject."

It remains one of my favorite Disney films to this day. There's the nostalgia factor, I admit, as very few of Disney's modern films have gripped my imagination and enduring reverence like those classics from the early to mid-twentieth century. And even the classics have been tainted and bastardized by ceaseless cash-grab sequels and spin-offs--I thought Aladdin was an amazing film until Aladdin 2 reared its unnecessary head. I think Disney may have even egested another after that to make it an unholy trilogy. And I once heard blasphemous rumors there existed a sequel to another favorite of mine, The Fox and the Hound. I hope that's patently false.

I think the Wonderland movie may have even played a role in getting me to read at an early age. Reading Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in elementary school after having watched the movie, I felt the scenes leaping off the page with all the vivid color that the film had provided. The language was a different and a bit rough for a kid like me to read through, written in the nineteenth century and all, but I kept up with it in spite of my then vocabulary's plainer pallet and loved the story all the same.

I'm one of those dullards who is less enthralled by the language of the times than the story being told. I love Bram Stoker's Dracula, and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein even more, but the language and style are not what kept me reading. Even Charles Dickens, God love him, has a writing style that seems dated and can inspire more arduousness than avidness. It's much the same case with Lewis Carroll's works. That nineteenth century charm is lost on me. I try ... Lord knows I try. But the antique flourish of how many writers craft their stories feels dusty and outmoded. I can sometimes smell the must of the words on the page.

Like any great author's works though, the story is as solid as ever. And each scene still pops off the page. I just wish I could take a holiday from my own prejudices to fully enjoy the stories, as if a child of the times. I can be a stubborn old goat at times.

The re-imaginings and adaptations of the work help keep that kid in me alive, as I'm sure that's the case with many. I know I'm not the only one curious and with bated breath to see Tim Burton's version of Wonderland hit the silver screen. There's a very twisted trademark to Burton. And with the Alice character, the morbid side of her and the story reminds me of an old computer game that had Alice as a knife-wielding goth chick, taking out an army of playing cards. Macabre stuff, yes, but Lewis Carroll's work whether intentional or not lends itself well to that kind of mindset.

Like The Wizard of Oz, I think it is the twisted takes on the subject matter that keep me coming back to Wonderland. There's apparently a series of books called The Looking Glass Wars. I was unaware of this until only a couple of months ago, but now that I am I think I'm going to need to sample the work. While I appreciate what Carroll's original work means to everyone, including me, it's the interpretations and reiterations that are what will more likely rejuvenate my love of Wonderland, more so than reading the original children's stories.

And let's be honest. Alice could get a little insufferable at times in those old stories. I like the idea of others giving her a more personable nature.

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