What is it about Alice?

07Mar10

I’m planning on seeing Tim Burton’s Alice, but I’ll go understanding this is his story, not Lewis Carroll’s. I remember at least two other Alice in Wonderland movies/TV movies with more grown-up Alices, and one with a grouch. None of them was quite like the original book.

But what fascinates me is why people love it so much. Wikipedia says that since it was published in 1865/66 it has never been out of print, and it’s been printed in over 100 editions in English, and published in 125 languages–including Latin. Which begs the question . . . how to translate:

Twas Brillig, and the slivey tove/ did gyre and gimbol in the wabe.

All mimsey were the borogove/ and the mome raths outgrabe.

My spelling is approximate because that’s definitely from memory.

I was talking with Jan this morning about seeing the new Alice, and we got onto the subject of why people love it so much. Of course, there’s no one answer but it is a dream, and like a dream or a fairy tale it expresses unconscious desires and fantasies in a disguised way. . . but the disguise here is a lot of fun.

from Wikipedia

Looking at it, it is a hero’s journey in structure. And an amazing hero’s journey for 1865 since the hero was a young girl and there was no boy or adult to guide her or to rescue her. She survived on her own, and did seem to grow through the story, since at first she was deferential to the adult-type characters she met, but by the end of the dream she was able to confront the queen and tell her that she and her court are all just a deck of ridiculous playing cards. Though it’s less clear what she brought back from the dream.

The basic underlying theme is quintessentially Disney (and I don’t mean that in a deprecatory way): separation-individuation. The mom figures–the queen and duchess–are angry and ineffectual, and the males . . . what can you say about the white rabbit, the mad hatter and the walrus and the carpenter? The emasculated king of hearts seems to be the only father-like figure in the story.

Bumping the age of Alice out of latency makes a thematic difference, but I want to see Burton’s film before I talk more about that.

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