One of the most powerful and influential aspects the greatest works of literature share is the ability to expand their genre. For instance, with Hamlet Shakespeare annihilates the structure of the revenge tragedy by adding, among other things, psychological complexities to his revenger. Likewise, Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland presents quite a few contradictions of expectations to what one would find in a typical fairy tale.
Question: Having worked on the tale, what do you consider to be the ways that Lewis Carroll’s tale expands the fairy tale genre?
John Reppion: Whilst Alice is an outsider in Wonderland she is much more in control than the characters in other, more traditional, fairy tales ever are. Whilst things might worry or upset her, Alice is never in any real danger. In that sense perhaps Wonderland sanitises the genre a bit, removing the (metaphorical) dangers of wolves and witches and lonely woods and replacing them with problems of etiquette and conversation. At the time of Carroll’s writing the story, the children he was writing it for were living a very comfortable life and I suppose the lack of real danger in Wonderland represents, to some extent, the lack of real danger in their lives. In that sense, perhaps Wonderland is a middle (or upper) class fairy tale?
Question: Characters such as Gatsby, Hamlet, Hester Prynne and Captain Ahab, can easily be looked at as not very likable and are often described as careless, indecisive, seductive and obsessive. Alice, as well, can be considered a less than pleasant girl who at most times is stubborn, curious and opinionated. How do you feel about Alice, is she a likeable character? And what opinion do you hope readers develop from your adaptation of her?
Leah Moore: I have to say that Alice is for the most part, quite rude, and quite pleased with herself. The bit that struck me was where she is trying to work out if she has been swapped with another child, and reels off their distinguishing qualities to compare with herself. The fact that she points out that they don’t have any toys, that they don’t know anything, or that they live in “a poky little house” really shocked me. I have kind of expected a Dickens-style sentimental view of the poor, and to hear Alice being so snooty was strange. In reality though, children do make their judgements based on these things, and if we are honest I think adults do too. Possibly even judging Alice by our own modern day sensitivities is unhelpful, as her behaviour might not have seemed so uncharitable at the time. In our adaptation we have retained as much of the original dialogue as we possibly could, so I think a lot of her character will remain the same. We haven’t taken out the parts where she seems a bit stubborn or aloof, because it’s all part of the character of Alice. Her way of conversing with the other characters drives the plot along, and the other characters are not exactly innocent of exactly the same type of behaviour as Alice. The Hatter is certainly as rude, the Caterpillar is very blunt and annoying, and there aren’t actually any characters who you feel are genuinely easy going carefree people. I think the most sympathetic character in Wonderland is Bill the poor lizard who gets fired out of the chimney, wedged upside down in the jury box and generally mistreated the whole way through. My other favourites are the guinea pigs who have to be suppressed; they seem to have the right idea!
Question: Along with being part of the fairy tale genre, the lack of logic and unpredictable nature of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland places the tale in the genre known as literary nonsense. This often creates an endlessly fun discussion of the lessons, or lack of, to be learned from Alice. Do you think there is a lesson to be learned From Alice, or do you think that the joy is in its having no lesson at all?
Reppion: The moral of the story is certainly not the driving force: we are not being propelled towards a resolution which will put everything into context and give the story a meaning. I don’t think there is any real moral to Wonderland, it’s very much a story for story’s sake – “getting there” and the route we (and Alice) take is the real reason for its telling. Carroll even plays with the concept in a conversation between the Duchess and Alice where the former keeps trying to find the moral in everything. I tend to think of Wonderland as a cleverly constructed maze – there is a far shorter and easier route from A to B but getting lost on the way is the true source of the fun.
Question: Lewis Carroll (and artist John Tenniel) filled Alice with caricatures of personal, political and professional acquaintances. Along with many others, the author even represents Charles Dodgson (who wrote under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll) as the dodo in Chapter 3 "A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale." Are all of these references included in The Complete Alice? And should readers be on the look out for any new additives?
Moore: We haven’t specified to Erica that she should alter her artwork to include specific people’s likenesses, so unless she draws the character very like how Tenniel draws them, the reference will only be present in the dialogue, which we have tried to give you as completely as we can. Some of the characters have a really distinct way of speaking (the Gryphon for example) and we have always tried to keep in any characterisation there. Also if Carroll has a character acting in a certain way, we have tried to get that into the scripts, to pass on their demeanour, their way of standing or moving, so the comic doesn’t lose anything of the original. The best example of this is the really horrible part where the Duchess turns up at the croquet ground and walks along with Alice, with her pointed chin digging into Alice’s shoulder. This is such a weird thing for someone to do, and the Duchess is such a frightening character, we really wanted to make sure the reader of our adaptation felt as uncomfortable reading it, as we did reading the book.
Question: Although the hero journey of typical fairy tale heroines such as Cinderella and Snow White contain important lessons, it can be said that their journey contains an incomplete or unsatisfactory reward due to their marrying the prince, which prevents them from becoming the master of their worlds or returning to the journey. Alice, of course, is a less typical heroine and her ending is also quite different. How would you define Alice’s ultimate reward? Would you say it is more or less satisfactory than the typical marrying of a prince?
Reppion: Alice’s ultimate reward is being herself in a stable, normal world. If Wonderland does have a moral it could be argued that it is “be thankful for what you have”, although that seems rather too humble in face of all Alice’s snootiness. In that sense it is a far more satisfactory reward than the re-defining of a person’s character via marriage or the acquisition of riches or similar because Alice is still just Alice and she is thankful for that. She will grow up naturally (without the aid of cakes or mushrooms of bottles labelled “drink me”) and become the person she is supposed to become. The natural order of things is restored.
Question: That said, how would you explain the sunset ending of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?
Moore: I think its more Carroll letting the reader relax again. Alice’s adventures are fraught with disturbing changes in location, in size, they have characters who are for the most part either threatening (the Cook, the Queen, the Duchess) or who change their behaviour depending on who they are with. The Hatter is argumentative unless he is near the Queen. He seems really at the mercy of Society. The White Rabbit is really horrible to his servants, and then really scared of Alice when she grows and then really scared of the Queen, but then bolder with the king, he is very much more diplomatic, or more of a social climber perhaps? Certainly he’s no Machiavelli, or Iago, but he does have a public face and a private one. When Alice escapes the courtroom and wakes up under the tree she escapes a world that seems very much fuller of adult cares and concerns rather than children’s ones. Wonderland is full of ‘High Society’ and the etiquette of that world, social strata are indicated mainly by playing card suit, a kind of weird caste system really, and the other characters seem to be distinguished from each other by how much education they have received, their relative intelligence. In the real world she knows the boundaries she operates within, she can remember her lessons and play games, and not have to worry about being trapped in complex arguments with strange people. The framing of the whole story with Alice’s big sister who tries to imagine the world Alice describes is really interesting, as that is presumably Carroll’s role in the narrative. He tries to imagine the wonderful things that would amaze and amuse this small girl, and yet at the end he knows she will grow up one day too. The final part of the first book is a wish that the adventures Alice (and presumably her readers) has in childhood are passed on to the next generation of little girls and the next. I imagine he would be pleased to see that this is exactly what has happened, in many media and internationally too.
Question: And finally, if Alice were to ever return to Wonderland, how do you think she would get there and what would she find?
Reppion: After she passes through the looking glass you mean? Well it all depends on how old she was and what sort of life she had really – Wonderland is a dreamscape and reflects what is going on in Alice’s mind at that time. There’s been a tendency to re-imagine Wonderland as this dark, ruined place after it has been “neglected” by Alice – a nightmare version of the dream – which, I suppose, is perfectly possible. If we’re talking about Alice Liddell though, although her life had its ups and downs, she seems to have been quite happy and well off for the most part. You could argue that, without the confusion and excitement of childhood, Wonderland might be rather a boring and mundane place to visit. That said, our dreams are different every night aren’t they?