After seeing Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, I resolved to find the books and read them. I saw the Syfy reimagination. I’ve also seen once again the Disney cartoon version. There have been dozens of adaptations of these books and so far, everything I’ve seen is nowhere near as good as the books.
The writing is, of course, wonderful. The many poems and clever quips that are quoted over and over again from Lewis Carroll’s books are just the beginning. The stories are filled with puns and clever wordplay. As a fan of the twists and turns of language, I found this to be totally delightful.
The illustrations are essential to the story. I don’t know if the books are ever published without them, but that would be a tragedy if true. I read that the illustrator, John Tenniel, vetoed a chapter because it couldn’t be illustrated. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (the proper title of the first book), chapter IX, Carroll writes, “(If you don’t know what a Gryphon is, look at the picture.)”
The stories are, of course, nonsense, although nonsense of the highest quality. This would seem to make them unfilmable, but the illustrations form a bridge to make them enticing. This is proven by comparing the films and TV shows to the illustrations, which are always slavishly followed.
No adaptation that I’ve seen includes all the chapters or even stays with one book. They all borrow from both stories however they want. While this is arguably not an issue since it’s all nonsense, I’d love to see an adaptation crafted with the flow and pacing that Carroll used. Through the Looking-Glass, in particular, is a journey across a chess board, and needs to be explored in that context. Alice begins as a pawn and becomes a queen in the eighth rank.
The most wonderful part of the stories is the character of Alice. She talks to herself constantly, she sits down and cries, she soldiers on in the face of the most peculiar adversity. She is fearless and takes no guff from anyone, be they an insect or a queen. We are with her in her head on the journey, and we see how she struggles to behave properly even when abused by every strangely talking creature she meets. Alice is one of the finest heroines in literature, and I’m sure that was a shock to her readers in 1865.
I loved both these books dearly and I recommend them as highly as possible.