Wednesday, 14 September 2011

I'll Tell Thee Everything I Can...

Watched Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland film the other night and it confirmed for me once again what odd books Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass are. The film, as you probably know, is actually a sort of sequel with a teenaged Alice being bullied into marriage and escaping down the rabbit hole. According to Burton disliked the original stories as they had no plot. It was just Alice meeting various odd people/animals/chess pieces and then waking up*. This, apparently, was not acceptable to young Burton so he provides us with a story involving the Red Queen ruling Wonderland as a capricious tyrant and Alice has to find the vorpal sword in order to slay the jabberwocky and so free the Mad Hatter, the Caterpillar, the Cheshire Cat et al.


All this goes to confirm to me once again what deeply odd books these two Lewis Carroll classics are. Tim Burton is meant to be one of the most imaginative and ‘off-the-wall’ film directors operating at the moment yet when faced with adapting these books to film, he had to impose a, let’s face it, rather standard to the point of clich├ęd storyline involving a quest, a wicked queen and a good queen (the White Queen in this case) and heroic helpers to aid in said quest (the Mad Hatter, the Dormouse and so on). He also gives everyone names apparently unhappy that all of Carroll’s characters are known only by their title with the only exceptions of Alice herself, Dinah (her cat), Humpty Dumpty and Tweedledum and Tweedledee. I don’t think anyone else is named in either book but feel free to correct me, preferably without too much smug superiority, thanks. My point however stands. Tim Burton seemed to have thought that these were books that needed to be tamed. Certainly they are deeply subversive, more so than is initially apparent. After all, Looking Glass must be one of the few children’s classics to have a joke about child murder in it.Honest, it’s in the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ chapter after he’s asked Alice’s age:

‘Seven years and six months!’ Humpty Dumpty repeated thoughtfully. ‘An uncomfortable sort of age. Now if you’d asked my advice I’d have said “Leave off at seven” – but it’s too late now.’

‘I never ask advice about growing,’ Alice said indignantly.

‘Too proud?’ the other inquired.

Alice felt even more indignant at this suggestion. ‘I mean,’ she said, ‘that one can’t help growing older.’

One can’t, perhaps,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘but two can. With proper assistance, you might have left off at seven.

As I said. Odd.

The last word though, goes to Charles Lamb who made this helpful observation in a letter he wrote in 1808:

Why do cats grin in Cheshire? Because it was once a county palatine and the cats cannot help laughing whenever they think of it, though I see no great joke in it.