Books

Wonderland (Marie O’Regan & Paul Kane) – Review

The works of Lewis Carroll – quirky, iconic, and mostly out of copyright – have for a long time been a rich vein for creatives of all kinds to mine. The contents of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have been reinterpreted and reproduced in every imaginable form, and a vast body of work now exists that takes the characters and ideas of the books and uses them as a jumping-off point for stories that, although inspired by Alice and her adventures, may bear only a passing resemblance to the beloved Victorian originals.

In some circles, taking someone’s original characters and writing new stories about them might be called fanfic. But when these works are commissioned, paid for, and produced in paperback by a large publishing house they are usually labelled ‘a tribute’. And so we have Wonderland: an anthology of works inspired by Alice and her adventures, edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane, and freshly published by Titan Books.

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There remain questions surrounding the appropriateness of the relationship between the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and the three little girls that he photographed and told stories to, so it’s no surprise that sexual misconduct is hinted at in more than once place here. ‘Good Dog, Alice!’ by Juliet Marillier is a tale of comeuppance, featuring a little girl, a dog, and some clear Wonderland elements. It’s a story that feels light, in spite of its darker subtext.

‘The Hunting of the Jabberwock’ by Jonathan Green fleshes out the tale told in the poem, but takes a very different angle in its telling. It is reassuring to see the Jabberwock referred to correctly here, as several other of these stories insist on calling it the ‘Jabberwocky‘, which is the title of the poem but not the name of the beast itself, and it is unclear whether these misspellings are deliberate artistic license or simply mistakes from writers who do not know their source material well enough.

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Several stories position Alice as hero of the version of the world she is in. ‘Smoke ‘Em if You Got ‘Em’ by Angela Slatter places some well-known characters in a Wild West setting, with Alice as the stranger striding into town to wreak justice on its inhabitants. ‘Temp Work’ by Lilith Saintcrow is a techno tale of survival; ‘How I Comes to be the Treacle Queen’ by Cat Rambo shows Alice as saviour – although not the main focus – in a story of servitude; and ‘About Time’ by George Mann plays with the idea of the responsibility that one might end up owing Wonderland on discovering it.

The inclusion of L. L. McKinney’s ‘What Makes a Monster’ might make sense on paper, since it is set in the Alice-inspired universe of her other works, but actually it doesn’t fit at all well, and out of context seems to have no connection to Alice at all. ‘The White Queen’s Dictum’ by James Lovegrove is another enjoyable tale with only the smallest of connections to Alice, and yet it seems to better fit the ‘inspired by’ criterion.

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It really is fascinating to see the vastly different aspects of the source material that attract and inspire. ‘The White Queen’s Pawn’ by Genevieve Cogman mixes fantasy and reality as a mature Alice Hargreaves (formerly Alice Liddell, upon whom the fictional Alice is supposed to be based) is summoned to a meeting that is not quite what it seems. ‘Vanished Summer Glory’ by Rio Youers is set in a psychiatrist’s office, and again blends the real and the fictional into something completely new. ‘Black Kitty’ by Catriona Ward is a highly enjoyable and unusual take on a very specific part of the Alice story. And ‘The Night Parade’ by Laura Mauro is an atmospheric horror set in Osaka, and perhaps the most beautifully written piece in the book.

Wonderland is a solid 350+ pages of content, comprising 17 stories and two poems from an array of names extremely well-known in the worlds of fantasy and YA literature, comic books and screenwriting. The stories themselves range from whimsical to dark, from historical to futuristic, and whilst some retain only a tenuous connection to the source material others stick very closely to it. There should be something here to please every Alice fan, but don’t venture in expecting merely new adventures for Alice: this is a very different rabbit hole you’ll be jumping down.

Wonderland is out now from Titan Books.

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