The Wondrous Animals of Alice in Wonderland

The gathering of creatures for the Caucus Race

The gathering of creatures for the Caucus Race

I’m in the midst of writing a research paper regarding the significance of animals and animal hybrids in the Alice stories.  I also will relate the general use of animals in children’s literature in the Victorian era.  To assist me in this, I researched scholarly writings on the topic and found that there were few readily available to me; I found this to be a good news/bad news situation.  The good news is that the topic I chose is relatively unique as a study; also, the sources that I have found contain a goodly amount of diverse information that I can sort through, combine with my own reading, and then synthesize with my own interpretation.  The bad news is, source material is limited and I have to work with what I have.  None-the-less, I have over 200 pages of material to work with and the direction of my paper is taking shape.  I’m a bit behind schedule in my writing, in part because of the time spent reviewing the sources, but have a pretty good idea of where I’m going with what I’ve written to date.  Then again, just like the Alice stories, an odd twist may present itself causing the focus to shift or adding another element not yet foreseen.  The research and writing process involved in this project may be yet another adventure involving Alice!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1972)

Theatrical Release Poster 1972

Theatrical Release Poster 1972

I was amazed to discover the plethora of movies made regarding Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that either stuck fairly closely to the original story or incorporated elements of the Alice stories.  In addition to movies, there were also television shows, one of the more interesting ones was a short lived, Canadian courtroom drama entitled This is Wonderland with the lead character named Alice De Reay.  With so many interesting choices, it was difficult to decide where to focus my attention.  I chose to watch and report on the 1972 British musical film Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

This film stayed fairly close to Lewis Carroll’s original story with the major exception of incorporating the scene with Tweedledee and Tweedledum from Through the Looking Glass.  This scene was inserted after Alice’s conversation with the caterpillar and prior to arriving at the Duchess’s house for the pig and pepper scene.  The screenplay omitted some minor elements but, being a musical, expanded on others.  The verses used in the book that made it into the movie where converted to song, for example “Will you Walk a Little Faster, Said a Whiting to a Snail” featuring Mock Turtle, the Gryphon and Alice.

To see the clip, click on this link:  Will You, Won’t You Join the Dance…

Alice (Fiona Fullerton)

Alice (Fiona Fullerton)

In the book, Alice was seven years old; in the film, her age is indeterminate but she appears older.  Fiona Fullerton who was 16 years old when the film was originally released played Alice.  Because of the special effects of Alice shrinking and growing throughout, the only “give away” that she is older is the Lolita-like appearance of her face.

The costume designers did a wonderful job portraying the various Wonderland characters as close as possible to the characters drawn by John Tenniel in the first edition of the novel.  However, as with the book itself, I found the characters to be disturbing in their appearance.

Tweedles

Tweedledum and Tweedledee

The White Rabbit

The White Rabbit

 

 

 

 

 

The Cheshire Cat

The Cheshire Cat

As mentioned earlier in this post, the film was fairly true to the book.  But, this is primarily in relation to the story line.  What was lost in the film was some of the exquisite word play used by Carroll throughout Alice.  None-the-less, the spirit and intent of the fantasy remains and, as a musical the addition to the Mad Hatter’s tea party was one of my favorites.  I think you will enjoy it as well, The Pun Song

Walt Disney’s Retelling of “Alice In Wonderland”

DVD Cover - IMDb

DVD Cover – IMDb

According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) Walt Disney released Alice in Wonderland in 1952. As with most Disney movies, this film featured many catchy jingles for many scenes throughout. After reading and watching the movie for the first time I unquestionably noticed a handful of similarities and differences.

The film by Disney is a combination of Lewis Carroll’s “The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass”. Disney’s retelling introduces us to Alice she listens to her history lesson while playing with her cat, Darna, while in the book she is sitting next to her sister reading a book. Since this is a children’s movie, it’s possible that Disney incorporated the subject of History in an educative manner to interest their children viewers in history. Children often look up at Disney princesses and characters as role models. Perhaps introducing the subject of History would spark interest in children to be like Alice and take interest in History. In the film, Alice follows a white rabbit and falls through a rabbit hole. In the movie Alice lands directly in the hall of the doors. In the Lewis Carroll’s original book, Alice has to follow the rabbit in order to get to the miniature door. In the film, as typical for Disney (giving life to inanimate objects) the miniature door speaks to Alice telling her to take a potion to change in size from a table that magically appears. However, in the text “Alice in Wonderland”, the table is already in the scene and the potion has instructions for her to drink it. Accurate however, was the scene of the pool of tears.

A major difference I spotted in the film was the appearance of Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, characters that appear in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass. Most significant was Tweedle Dee’s and Tweedle Dum’s recitation of “You are old, Father William”, which Alice recites in the book to the Caterpillar. Their characters however were very well illustrated in the film as they were in the original text – obnoxious and annoying. The character of the Queen was also exact as the book, with the Queen screaming “off with his head” to resolve all issues.

In Disney’s movie, the Caterpillar (as in the text) sits on a large mushroom smoking hookah. In the film the Caterpillar transforms to a butterfly where in the book the Caterpillar did not transform; it was only insinuated as Alice only talked about how the Caterpillar would one day transform into a butterfly.One of my favorite scenes from both the film and the book was of the Mad Hatter’s tea party. In the film, the white rabbit appears with the recurring motif of the watch complaining about lateness and tardiness. The Mad Hatter takes it from the white rabbit and says that it’s defective. In an attempt to fix it he begins to smother it with jelly, tea, sugar and other items from their tea party. In Carroll’s original book, the Hatter takes out his watch and asks what time it is, the white rapper makes no appearance in this scene. After she leaves the tea party Alice gets lost in the woods and meets very odd creatures, another very Disney styled animation.One of the scenes I found to be exact as the book was of the cards painting the roses red. In the movie, the cards sing a jingle that tells why they’re painting the roses red – as is explained in the book. Alice chimes in, sings along and helps them.

As the movie came to an end, Alice was chased by all of the creatures until she reached the miniature door again. She peeped through the keyhole and saw herself asleep beside a tree. Disney illustrated Alice escaping wonderland waking up to reality and going in to drink tea as instructed by, who from the book we assume is her sister. The book also ends with Alice waking up from a dream, however in the book she wakes up to her sister instructing her to go in for some tea.

A few pieces from Carroll’s original book I found were completely omitted from the Disney movie were: the concept of the chess game, the scene of the queen and the pig, the Mock Turtle, the dormouse story from the tea party, the Gryphon, the Jabberwocky, and the Lobster Quadrille. I feel that these are scenes that Disney did not incorporate in their retelling because they were scenes that perhaps children would have trouble understanding.

Disney movies, especially the retelling of “Alice in Wonderland”, are marketed and geared towards the children audience. Their films feed to the child mind, and this retelling of Alice’s curious and imaginative world explored just that. It allowed for the child mind to explore and engage in Alice’s endless possibilities.

A Word Cloud to Illustrate Alice in Wonderland’s: Advice from a Caterpillar

The fifth chapter of Alice in Wonderland, Advice from a Caterpillar, introduces Alice to a wise insect. Alice comes upon a mushroom and sitting on it is a caterpillar smoking hookah. The caterpillar questions Alice and she confesses her current identity crisis, compounded by her inability to remember a poem. In an attempt to analyze this passage by using a digital humanities method, I created a word cloud using a tool provided by Voyant. The world cloud generated a visual analysis of this passage. The words in the original text are strategically prepared and weighted according to the number of occurrences in the text.

wcl

At a glance, the word that is graphically represented as the largest and consequently appears most in the text is the word “the”. The word that is graphically represented as the smallest and thus appears the least in the text is the word “replied”. These two words although not extremely significant key words to this passage like William, Alice or caterpillar, are important to the analysis of this passage. Lewis Carroll, author of the popular novel, makes excessive use of the word “the” when speaking of the caterpillar. The caterpillar does not have a name; as a result Carroll cannot address him as caterpillar but as the caterpillar. The word replied is least used because Carroll uses dialogue when illustrating a conversation versus a he said, she said, he replied, or she replied approach.

In an attempt to filter out words that I felt were less important or significant I used Voyant’s Taporware tool to adjust my word cloud to themes and words I thought were more noteworthy. As a result, a second word cloud was generated.

wcl3

After filtering out a few words, I think the second word cloud is a better representation of the advice from a caterpillar passage. This word cloud allows the reader to focus their attention on the larger words illustrated: Alice, Caterpillar and youth allowing for an enhanced illustration of the themes and key words of this passage. In this customized word cloud the word “caterpillar” is the largest, occurring 24 times in the text. Coming in second place, the name “Alice” appears 22 times.

Upon analyzing the word cloud and exploring other tools on Voyant I discovered that the word trend graph best illustrates the exchange in conversation regarding the advice the caterpillar is instilling upon Alice.

word grapgh

While the word trend graph allows to clearly see the exchange in conversation, the word cloud allows us to visually analyze themes and key words.  The word “caterpillar”,  suggests a theme of evolution or transformation. This is particularly evident for Alice because it exemplifies Alice’s quest to find herself taking on advice from the caterpillar.Words such as “youth”, “minute”, “life”, “youth”, “old”, and “beginning” suggest a theme of a self-journey to find one’s self. Words like “inches”, “mushroom”, “height”, “little”, “grow”, and “size” illustrate the caterpillars instructions for Alice to eat in certain ways to grow or shrink in any given situation. The words “father” and “William” appear fairly small suggesting that they are not words that are often repeated in the text. While this is a true statement, these two words encompass a deeper meaning to the chapter being analyzed. By simply seeing these two words on the cloud it is not evident that in this passage the poem “Father William” is used as a tool to trigger Alice’s memory.

After experimenting with a word cloud as a method of analysis it is not until after the word cloud has been customized to our own liking that it will make sense to us. From the first word cloud created it wasn’t clear what the centralized theme of the passage was. It wasn’t until I filtered out a few words that the theme and key words were more apparent. However, the word cloud does not necessarily provide a close reading of the passage. It allows only for a visual to be explored for further analysis. Thus, in any case I don’t think it’s an accurate means to analyze a story by its word cloud.

The Encounter with Mock Turtle in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland”

John Tenniel`s original (1865) illustration for Lewis Carroll`s "Alice in Wonderland".  Alice sitting between Gryphon and Mock Turtle.

John Tenniel`s original (1865) illustration for Lewis Carroll`s “Alice in Wonderland”. Alice sitting between Gryphon and Mock Turtle.

It has taken me 57 years to finally read Alice In Wonderland; if I had waited another 57 years to do so I would not have felt a loss.  Taken on face value without delving into the irony and parody the author may have intended, it reads like the mad wanderings of someone using too many hallucinogens.

Pick a passage, any passage, and you will find yourself thoroughly perplexed and asking, “What’s the point?”  Take for example the scene dealing with the history of the Mock Turtle, which is probably one of the more lucid scenes in the story.  The Queen of Hearts, literally a playing card with human qualities, tells Alice that she must hear the Mock Turtle’s history.  The Queen escorts Alice to a Gryphon, a creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion, and directs the Gryphon to take Alice to see the turtle.

The history of Mock Turtle (who looks mostly like a turtle but appears to have the head, rear hooves, and tail of a calf) is sketchy at best.  This melancholy, tearful creature begins his story with the revelation that once, he was a real turtle.  He then continues on to tell Alice that when he was little he went to school in the sea.  He states, “The master was an old Turtle – we used to call him Tortoise,” at which point, Alice interrupts him to ask, “Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?”  To which Mock Turtle angrily replied, “We called him Tortoise because he taught us.  Really you are very dull!”  This exchange is in keeping with what seems to be an underlying theme throughout Alice’s time in Wonderland.  Alice is continually questioning or correcting the inhabitants of Wonderland based upon her perceptions, formed in her world, or her own faulty knowledge.  The implication being that Alice, or any of us, is often too ready to apply her standards to others when in fact, there may be more than one way of doing things and her way of seeing or doing may not be the only way.

The remainder of the chapter, and the beginning of the next, carry on in much the same way with Mock Turtle relating his school days and how to perform the Lobster-Quadrille (a dance).  Numerous plays on words ensue and the overall madness contained in Alice in Wonderland continues unabated.  Certainly there is a moral to this story if one chooses to look hard enough, for example: the need to keep an open mind regarding our perceptions as outlined in the paragraph above.  But, as a form of entertainment, I stand by my opening remarks.  Perhaps this story was considered entertaining fancy for the Victorian reader; if so, it has not stood the test of time.

Advice From a Caterpillar

Chapter V of Lewis Carrol’s  Alice in Wonderland introduces Alice to an odd Caterpillar smoking hookah while resting on top of a giant mushroom. During the initial encounter the two characters stare at each other in silence before the Caterpillar asks Alice who she is.Thus far, Alice had been experiencing an array of events that for that moment she could not explain who she was to the Caterpillar. The Caterpillar’s attitude and annoyance towards Alice’s inability to explain herself made her uncomfortable and as she turns to leave the Caterpillar calls her back to recite a poem, “You are old, Father William”. He knew that Alice had been trying to recite this poem since she had reached Wonderland but she had forgotten the lines. The forgetfulness and inability to define who she is allows Alice to realize that she doesn’t know who she is anymore. Her confusion and feelings of despair further intensify when the Caterpillar appears to be reading her mind. Up to this point of the scene Alice had been experiencing a dilemma trying to become her true height once again. It appears to be that every time she eats something she either got taller or got shorter. The Caterpillar had knowledge of Alice’s struggle before she could even ask him, he stated “One side will make you grow taller, the other side will make you grow shorter” (40). The Caterpillar had answered her unspoken question. She then becomes even more confused and desperate fearing that she has lost ownership of her own thoughts.

The next scene of this chapter introduces Alice to a Pigeon that accuses her of being a serpent. Alice claims that she eats eggs, and the Pigeon argues that Alice must be none other than a serpent as this egg eating trait is that of a serpent. Logically, the Pigeon concludes that Alice is truly a serpent.

The two characters of this episode, the Caterpillar and the Pigeon, question Alice’s being. While the Caterpillar offers guidance to Alice the Pigeon further accuses Alice. In both circumstances Alice found trouble defending herself and explaining who she was. She had trouble remembering a poem, and had trouble remembering who she really was after all of the changes she had undergone in such a short period of time. This episode is particularly significant because it further shows the effects of Wonderland on Alice’s brain.

(Image taken from http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/53/Alice_05a-1116×1492.jpg)

“The Mock Turtle’s Story” – Alice in Wonderland

In Alice in Wonderland, the main character is led by the Gryphon to hear the Mock Turtle’s story. Alice is indigent that all of the characters in Wonderland order her around, but she follows Gryphon because she is curious about the Mock Turtle. The Queen says that “he shall tell you his history”, and indeed, the Mock Turtle seems to be representing the stereotypical sad storyteller (71). Lewis Carroll describes him as “sitting sad and lonely on a little ledge of rock” and “sighing as if his heart would break” (72). Alice immediately feels sorry for him, but this pity becomes ironic when Gryphon says that “[i]t’s all his fancy, that: he hasn’t got no sorrow, you know” (72).

The Mock Turtle. Original illustration, drawn by John Tenniel. Via Wikipedia Images.

This episode in the story seems to serve no obvious purpose. It does not continue the basic storyline of the Duchess and the Queen and the other characters involved in the trial. In fact, the chapter and a half that deals with the Mock Turtle only seems to be a momentary lull in the chaos of the royal court. However, the Mock Turtle himself seems to draw the reader’s attention to the ironic, or even satirical elements in the story.

The first indication of this comes in the form of his name and the illustrations that accompany him. By calling him the “Mock Turtle”, Carroll draws our attention to the fact that this creature is not supposed to be a real turtle. He is not supposed to be a real turtle in the same way that he is not supposed to be a sad storyteller. Carroll toys with our expectations of what a turtle or a storyteller should be and uses these expectations to create elements of irony in the story. Mock Turtle has the head of a mouse-like animal, with  the shell and flippers of a turtle. His feet are those of a goat and tail is that of a donkey. “Mock” Turtle is not what the reader would expect of a realistic turtle, which acts as a cue to the reader that other things in this scene are also not as expected.

Mock Turtle’s sad history is also not what one is led to expect. For instance, the description of him on the rock, weeping, seems to indicate that his story will be sad. However, this is not true. His “history” is full of tales of school and dancing – the only sad element is the beginning, when he states that “once” he was “a real Turtle” (72). Alice “could not help thinking that there must be more to come, so she sat still and said nothing”. However, his statement is not followed by any explanation of his transformation, but is instead followed by memories. His reminisces recall an old man with many stories to tell who just goes on and on with no true point. Instead of the anticipated dramatic storyteller, Alice listens to ramblings that do not fulfill hers and reader’s expectations of what a dramatic storyteller should tell.

By looking at this short episode in the book as an ironic or even satirical portrayal of a character type, other characters begin to make sense as well (such as the Queen). The Mock Turtle shows that Carroll uses our traditional expectations of character type in order to “mock” or poke fun at these representations.

Favorite Books

The DVD cover of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951).

The DVD cover of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland (1951).

Greetings from the Professor! Over the next four months, this blog will become populated with posts by the students of EN 200 at Marymount University, as they share their thoughts and reflections on our class readings and assignments. You can read more about the class over on the About page. To start the semester, I’m asking the students to introduce themselves by writing about a favorite book. “What is your favorite book?” is always a tricky question. Often, the answer will depend on our mood, the time of day, the weather… any number of apparently unrelated factors. The best many of us can do is to pick one of our favorite books, or our favorite book at this time and place. That response might appear to be avoiding the question, but it also gets at the heart of one of the amazing things about literature. Every time we pick up a book, we have the potential to find a different experience. Favorite books are found and lost through the mysterious chemical reaction that happens between reader and text, and that changes every time we read.

A page from Alice's Adventures Under Ground, Lewis Carroll's first, hand-written and hand-illustrated, publication of the Alice story (image from Wikimedia Commons).

A page from Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, Lewis Carroll’s first, hand-written and hand-illustrated, publication of the Alice story (image from Wikimedia Commons).

The last time I responded to this “favorite book” prompt, I wrote about Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, but this time I’m going to choose a different book, Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Alice is actually made up of two books: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and what Alice found there. I can’t pinpoint the moment I discovered the Alice books. It may have been through the 1951 Disney cartoon (I know my dad started singing me the “Unbirthday” song at an early age), or it may have been through an abridged storybook for children. I know I watched the 1985 TV miniseries and was thoroughly scared by the Jabberwocky at the end. It wasn’t until later that I read the books and discovered that none of the film versions really do them justice. The Alice books are full of seemingly-simple episodes that can lead you into a labyrinth of references, allusions, games, and uncertainty where any word, as Humpty Dumpty says “means just what I choose it to mean” and yet nothing is straightforward (161). Due to their combination of fantasy and philosophy, the Alice books have been fascinating both young people and adults since they were published. I chose to include Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass in this class because they are stories that reward you more and more the farther you dig into them. They’re also incredibly fun, and their characters and stories continue to resonate with readers (and viewers, and gamers) today, over 100 years after they first appeared.

Work Cited: Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland. Ed. Donald J. Gray. New York: Norton, 2013. Print.