The quest for lost childhood is an inexhaustible theme. Tim Burton’s three-dimensional rendition of the Alice in Wonderland mythos, in which a 19-year-old Alice returns for more adventures, is the latest in a long line of adaptations of this Lewis Carroll classic.
Its appeal to Burton, a director who betrays an almost pathological obsession with coming-of-age themes, is not surprising. But Alice has been there before, making her first screen appearance in a 1903 silent British film, and in at least 20 more film and television versions thereafter. There’s surely something deeper—that makes Alice and her exploits so fertile for creative retakes.
Lost and found: (clockwise from top) Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Burton’s film; Sardana’s creation; and a still from the 1933 version. Walt Disney Pictures / The Kobal Collection / AFP
Carroll’s books Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass (1871) were highly popular in their original forms. That Alice is a perennial source of inspiration is due in part to the brilliance of John Tenniel’s original illustrations. The two great fantasies inspired dozens of imitations during the remainder of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th—so many that Carroll at one point began his own collection of Alice imitations. This primary wave slackened after 1920, but Carroll’s influence on writers and artists never fully waned. Gabriel Garcia Márquez referenced Through the Looking-Glass in his novel Love in the Time of Cholera. Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, too, was famously influenced by Alice. The book includes lines such as: “Alicious, twinstreams twinestraines, through alluring glass or alas in jumboland?”
Carroll’s “nonsense writing” has inspired eccentric retellings: In 1994, Robert Gilmore, a physicist from Drexel University, wrote Alice in Quantumland, an allegory of quantum mechanics told through the adventures of Alice’s explorations of the world of modern physics. Zlote popoludnie (“Golden Afternoon”), a 1997 short story by the Polish fantasy writer Andrzej Sapkowski, retold the story of Alice from the point of view of the Cheshire Cat. And only two months ago, Candleshoe Books released Alice in Verse: The Lost Rhymes of Wonderland by British-American author J.T. Holden, written entirely in rhyming verse.
Alice also has a neurological condition named after her. The Alice in Wonderland Syndrome, also known as the Todd’s syndrome, is a condition in which objects are perceived to be substantially larger or smaller than they are actually.
Over the last two decades, the fashion industry has observed the Alice effect too. She is the classic babe in the woods, a theme fashionistas have always favoured (remember that hair accessory, the Alice band?). American designer Nanette Lepore just launched an Alice-inspired line. Closer home, artist Nalini Malani had a solo show titled Living in Alicetime in 2006 at Mumbai’s Sakshi Art Gallery. Fashion designer Varun Sardana’s Spring-Summer 2010 line is replete with candy colours and wispy fabrics à la Alice. The song by the English rock band Smokie, that asked who Alice was, was clearly uninformed.
A Brief History Of Alice’s World
FILM: 1903 saw the first film version of Carroll’s world—silent and 8 minutes long. Most notable among its many Hollywood adaptations was a 1933 version by Paramount Pictures and a 1951 animation by Walt Disney.
POPULAR MUSIC: The Beatles count the Alice books among their many influences. Songs with Carrollian imagery include ‘I am the walrus’ (1967)—from ‘The Walrus and the Carpenter’ a poem in ‘Through the Looking-Glass’ as well as ‘Cry Baby Cry’ and ‘Glass Onion’, both in (1968)
ART: In 1969 Salvador Dalí produced 12 illustrations based on Alice’s ‘Adventures in Wonderland’
CLASSICAL MUSIC AND OPERA: American composer David Del Tredici composed several Alice-themed pieces: ‘An Alice Symphony’ (1969), ‘Final Alice’ (1976) ‘Child Alice’ (1980) ‘Haddock’s Eyes’ (1986)
PORNOGRAPHY: A 1976 film, ‘Alice in Wonderland: A Musical Porno’, is based directly on Lewis Carroll’s story.
GAMES: ‘Dungeonland’ and ‘The Land Beyond the Magic Mirror’ are role-playing game modules that were released in 1983 as gaming adventures with deadly equivalents of Carroll’s characters—the Cheshire Cat, for example, became a sabretooth tiger.
GRAPHIC FICTION: Alice is one of the protagonists in Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie’s graphic novel ‘Lost Girls’, which presents her as an adult in erotic adventures with Dorothy of the Oz books, and Wendy from Peter Pan. Partially released in 1991-92 and later in 2006
VIDEO GAME: American McGee’s ‘Alice’ is a third-person action game released in 2000.
FASHION: In its December 2003 issue, US ‘Vogue’ carried a fashion editorial by photographer Annie Leibovitz which featured model Natalia Vodianova styled as Alice by every big fashion name, from Donatella Versace to Jean Paul Gaultier to Marc Jacobs.
TELEVISION: A 2009 miniseries on the American cable television channel Syfy, ‘Alice’, reimagined Alice’s adventures 150 years into the future. On this science fiction show, Wonderland evolved to today’s standards and Alice was a dark-haired, assertive woman.
Alice in Wonderland released in theatres on Friday.