Alice in Wonderland may seem highly unusual; however, one doesn’t have to look far to see that it is one of the most influential stories of all time. It’s hard to believe that it is over 150 years old–harder still that it came about because of a real-life encounter with not one, but 3 little girls, and only one of whom was actually named Alice.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (that’s the actual name; nerd fact, I know) doesn’t have a long history to it. The author, Lewis Carroll, supposedly wrote the series of stories after sharing them with the daughters of a family friend. One of the girls, named Alice, liked them so much she asked Carroll to write them down. Whether or not this story is true, Alice in Wonderland went on to be a popular children’s book, and even got a sequel called Through the Looking Glass (or Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There).
The most commonly known iteration of Alice in Wonderland is the 1951 Disney animated film. As is often the case with Disney adaptations, the film overshadows the source material. Few remember that it was a book to begin with, same as Tarzan (known as Tarzan of The Apes) and The Arabian Nights.
This is not to vilify Disney, for their movie did much to turn Carroll’s story into a timeless and accessible classic. The 1865 original is rife with archaic language and dated references not present in the film, making the ladder much more digestible for modern children.
Other prolific adaptations include the Tim Burton live-action films. The original novel was lauded for pioneering the “literary nonsense” genre, while also making use of fantasy elements to create a truly magical and wondrous experience. The Burton films instead focused on Wonderland’s fantasy aspects to expand the story into a sort of epic. A grown-up Alice returns to Wonderland as a heroic figure tasked with liberating the land from the Queen of Hearts.
The most to take from the Burton films is the message of “madness”. Alice is portrayed as someone who breaks the mold, someone who will never fit in no matter how hard she tries. Much like the children in the Narnia series, she returns from Wonderland having learned a crucial life lesson: her “madness” is unique and to be celebrated no matter what anybody thinks.
The adaptations of Alice in Wonderland, as well as other works inspired by its visual motifs and colorful characters, are numerous. I could go on forever about the plays, tv series, and verbal references such as those in The Matrix–even a Batman villain inspired by the Hatter! Carroll’s story is insanely (no pun intended) influential to this very day, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon. Not bad for a children’s story about falling down a hole.