alice in wonderland: where childhood is real

Tim Burton? I just don’t know what I’m going to do with you. You are a master of visual splendor. The Wonderland you created for Alice is incredible.

I saw your film with my pal Jenn Bailey and two of her three BaileyBoys–The Bandman and Lord Bluntly.  We enjoyed it, yes, but…

Tim, you don’t really get it.

Alice in Wonderland and the sequel, Through the Looking Glass are quite the subversive pieces of literature.

On the surface Wonderland is fantabulous creatures,

splendiferous beauty,

outrageous creativity,

bounteous color,

precious sentiment.

But Alice learns very quickly that she cannot let her guard down. Eat an irresistibly tempting cake and grow too large to fit through the door.

The gorgeous flowers can talk–

but they only have nasty things to say.

And if you meet a grinning, good-natured looking Cheshire cat, beware. Even he will admit, “…we are all mad here.”

I read this book approximately six million times when I was a kid. My own kids hated it. Now that I’ve seen your film, Tim, I finally understand why. It’s because the book has what you’ve left out of the movie:

Veiled menace.

I’m not talking about obvious dangers like the bandicoot or the jabberwocky.  Enemies who declare themselves are easily dealt with.  I’m talking about the darkness that comes clothed in the guise of angels, like the walrus and the carpenter:

“O Oysters, come and walk with us!”
The Walrus did beseech.
“A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach:
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each.”

We all know how THAT turned out.

“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.                                                                                                                                                                         


The Mad Hatter, who poses a riddle without an answer. The Red Queen who will chop off the gardener’s head for planting the wrong color of flower. The baby who turns into a pig.

Even though Alice is only a quarrelsome little girl, she sees these petty creatures for what they are. Chess pieces. A pack of cards. Nursery rhymes. They are grand-standers and charlatans, and she can protect herself from them.

Not your usual children’s literature from the Victorian Era, when childhood was deemed an idyllic time tended to by all-knowing adults. As kidlit writers, we know the notion of a carefree youth is a myth.

So now I get why I loved these books as a child, and why my kids didn’t like or understand them.

And Tim? Afraid you really missed the boat. There’s a rumor you’re looking at the Wizard of Oz next. If you are, think LONG AND HARD about the STORY before you start. And let me tell you a secret:

The shoes are silver.


About Lisha Cauthen

Lisha Cauthen writes YA novels for guys that girls like to read too.

Posted on March 23, 2010, in childrens' literature and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on alice in wonderland: where childhood is real.

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