Literature: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
"Why is a raven like a writing desk?"
"Curiouser and curiouser!"
A parade of the surreal, with all the logic of a dream — and invoking the madness of quite a lot of mankind's so-called "logic" — Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
(1865) is a children's classic, filled with allusions to Victorian trivia, most of which is now long forgotten
. (The book The Annotated Alice
by Martin Gardner explains all of these, from jokes to basic trivia. It contains both volumes, with Tenniel's original illustrations.)
The story was first told by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Pen Name Lewis Carroll
) on a boating trip with a friend and three little girls, one of whom was Alice Liddell. It was meant as a gift for her and the fictional Alice is based on her.
The story begins when Alice follows a white rabbit, who just happens to be wearing a waistcoat and a pocketwatch, down a rabbit hole. She falls, very slowly, into a corridor lined with doors, all locked, and a key that fits only into the smallest one. After some misadventures with food and drink that make her change size, she escapes in a pool of her own tears. Outside, she finds a land filled with strange creatures and talking animals. Few are entirely rational. After several bizarre incidents, including the Duchess' Cheshire Cat and the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, Alice defies the tyrannical Queen of Hearts and wakes up. It was All Just a Dream
— definitely-third person narration clearly states that this is so.
In the sequel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There
(1871), Alice goes to sleep and then dreams she steps into a mirror, where she becomes a pawn in an allegorical game of chess
. On her march across the board, symbolised as countryside divided up by brooks, Alice meets more strange characters, mostly taken from nursery rhymes
, before eventually reaching the other end of the board, becoming a queen, and having a coronation party, which rapidly gets out of hand. Seizing the Red Queen, she wakes up and finds she is holding a kitten.
The books have contributed many phrases to the English language — "chortle" was coined by Lewis Carroll — and, thanks to their large cast of characters, are especially popular for adapting into ensemble films loaded with veteran actors.
Movie adaptations of the story go back into the earliest days of film: the first adaptation, a short subject made in 1903, contains some of the earliest examples of special effects in film. Walt Disney made some of his first animated films adapted from the Alice tales, and featured a live-action actress against animated characters. Of course, more popular is Disney
's 1951 feature film
, which is considered among the studio's most surreal titles. Again under Disney, Tim Burton
has made a new 2010 movie
with Johnny Depp
as The Mad Hatter, though it's actually a sequel to both this book and Through the Looking Glass
. An unrelated television movie reimagination, Alice
, was produced in 2009 by the Syfy
Channel. The Looking-Glass Wars
is a trilogy by Frank Beddor based on the idea that Alyss
was heir to the throne of Wonderland and was forced to flee to our world by her evil Aunt Redd. And
there's an animated series by Nippon Animation (the same group that made the Biene Maia
and A Dog of Flanders
animated series). A pop musical version, simply called Wonderland
, is playing in Tampa, Florida as of late 2009. The book also inspired various manga. Pandora Hearts
and Are You Alice?
are the two most prominent. Among the many video game adaptations are American McGee's Alice
. Many adaptations involve Grimmification
to some degree. Due to its copyright expiring long ago
, Alice is popular base material for commercial transformative works, including a musical porn film from 1975 and a special adaptation
that features many characters from a far darker
story known as Code Geass
as the cast of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
. The most surreal adaptation would be "Alice" (1989) by Jan Švankmajer
Now has a Character Sheet
under construction. For tropes related to the adaptations, see below the trope list for the books.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass provides examples of the following tropes:
- Abusive Parents: The first time we meet the Duchess, she's throwing crockery at a screaming baby, shouting "PIG!" Alice attempts to rescue the baby, but it turns into a pig.
- Adaptation Dye-Job: The real Alice Liddell had short, black hair, unlike the girl seen in Tenniel's illustrations. There is some evidence that the illustrator based the character on a photo given to him by Dodgson of another child-friend.
- Ambiguous Gender: The animal characters in the book, even important members of the cast like the White Rabbit, are almost always referred to with neutral pronouns; usually, they are assumed to be male.
- An Aesop: Subverted. Alice is notable for being the first work of Victorian children's literature that sought to entertain rather than to teach dull morals. Though one could argue that Alice teaches an indirect moral of enjoying your childhood while it lasts, and to never forget it during adulthood.
- All Just a Dream: One of the few examples where it worked, mostly because Wonderland worked by dream logic.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: In Through the Looking-Glass, Alice (who has already encountered, a gryphon, talking flowers, elephant-sized bees, among other oddities) expresses surprise that Unicorns exist.
- Author Appeal: Lewis Carroll's love of mathematics is evident.
- Author Avatar: According to some sources, the Dodo in (Charles Dodgson had a stutter, and would introduce himself as "Do-do-dodgson") and the White Knight in Through The Looking Glass.
- Other sources point out that Dodgson actually stammered, and so would not have repeated syllables. The theory about the White Knight is widely believed by most scholars, however (given the fact that he was the only character in either book who seemed genuinely kind and polite to Alice, seemingly representing Dodgson's friendship with the girl he based the character on), although Dodgson himself never confirmed nor denied it.
- Big Creepy-Crawlies: One of the few times this Trope is played for laughs. In the second book, Alice meets a large gnat ("about the size of a chicken" as she describes it) who details the weird insects in the forest, like the Rocking Horse Fly, the Bread and Butter Fly, and the Snapdragon Fly.
- Black Comedy
"After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs! How brave they'll all think me at home! Why, I wouldn't say anything about it, even if I fell off the top of the house!" (Which was very likely true.)
- Martin Gardner pointed out that an exchange between Alice and Humpty Dumpty is both the blackest and most easily missed joke in the books:
"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 enquired.
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."
- Blind Mistake: The White Rabbit and the Bird in the Tree are short-sighted and mistake Alice for Mary Ann and a snake, respectively.
- Board Games
- Brick Joke: The book has a couple:
- In chapter 7, the Hatter tells Alice how he performed at the Queen's concert (singing a parody of Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star) and the Queen ordered him executed for "murdering the time". Later, in chapter 11, when he's called on as a witness at the trial, the Queen looks at him closely, and then asks a servant to bring her a list of the performers from the concert. (Clearly, she's remembering the incident he mentioned. The Hatter is noticeably nervous about it.)
- Also, in chapter 6, the Duchess growls, "If everybody minded their own business,' the Duchess said in a hoarse growl, `the world would go round a deal faster than it does." Then, in chapter 9 (when Alice meets her in a much better mood) there's this exchange between them:
Duchess: Tis so. And the moral of that is, "Oh, 'tis love, 'tis love, that makes the world go round!"
- As you might expect, the Duchess doesn't get the hint.
- Butt Monkey: Bill. First he's catapulted out of a chimney, then Alice is kind of mean to him when he's part of the jury.
- Calvinball: The Caucus Race, in which everyone runs around at random for half an hour, after which it is announced that "EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes".
- Cats Are Magic: The Cheshire Cat.
- Cats Are Superior: Or at least Cheshire Cat thinks so.
- Cheshire Cat Grin: Despite being regarded as the Trope Namer, the Cat is mostly harmless; he's a mischievous creature, but not malicious to Alice or anyone who doesn't seem to deserve it.
- Chess Motifs: Takes it further than most, and is itself a huge inspiration for stock chess metaphors.
- Children Are Innocent: The author's belief. Alice herself epitomizes innocence.
- Church of Saint Genericus: In the second book, bishops are not mentioned at all in Carroll's text among the living chess pieces (although some are present in Tenniel's illustrations), possibly to avoid offending the clergy. (Carroll himself was an Anglican deacon.)
- Cloudcuckooland: Naturally.
- Comically Missing the Point: Alice is mistaken for the White Rabbit's housekeeper Mary Anne and sent into his house to find his gloves. She spends a lot of time worrying about running into the real Mary Anne and being turned out of the house before she gets a chance to find the gloves.
- Crazy People Play Chess: Lots of Wonderland in the second book.
- Crazy-Prepared: The White Knight:
You see, it's as well to be provided for everything
. That's the reason the horse has all those anklets round his feet. Alice:
But what are they for? White Knight: To guard against the bites of sharks.
- Dances and Balls: The Lobster Quadrille.
- Deadpan Snarker: The King of Hearts, who seems to be the only one who is deliberately trying to be funny. For example, when he tells the Hatter he may stand down, and the Hatter says he can't go any lower, the King remarks, "Then you may sit down."
- Disproportionate Retribution: The Queen sentences the Hatter to death by beheading for "murdering the time" at the concert, the players at the croquette game for missing their turns and threatens to do so to everyone present if the Cheshire Cat isn't taken care of. in fact, the narrative says that ordering an execution is her way of dealing with any problem. Alice is noticeably relieved when she sees the King pardon the condemned, and the Gryphon later tells her that none of the executions are ever carried out.
- Down the Rabbit Hole
- Dream Apocalypse: Tweedledum and Tweedledee tells Alice this will happen to Alice herself if the Red King wakes up.
- Dream Land
- Everyone Calls Him Barkeep: Besides Alice, only a few minor or unseen characters have names. The rest are only known by their species (the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Mock Turtle etc.), their title (the King, Queen and Knave of Hearts, the Duchess) or their profession (the Hatter, the Cook, the Footmen).
- Expy: From one book to the other. The White King's messengers in "Through the Looking Glass" are Hatta and Haigha (Hatter and Hare).
- The John Tenniel artwork makes it more blatantly obvious, one drawing in "Through the Looking Glass" has Hatta in prison looking no different from Hatter's illustrations in the previous book. This is probably more The Cameo than expy.
- Faeries Don't Believe in Humans Either: When Alice meets the Unicorn, it asks what she is. When told that she is a child, it replies, stunned, "I always thought they were fabulous monsters!" When Alice confesses that she always believed that unicorns were fabulous monsters, the Unicorn says, "Well, if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you," to which Alice agrees.
- The Fair Folk: Not in appearance; but in their erratic Blue and Orange Morality and Lack of Empathy? Oh yes definitely.
- Forgotten Trope: Carroll's Alice stories have outlived much of the Victorian trappings they satirize. His poem about the "little crocodile" parodies Isaac Watts's saccharine original about the "little busy bee" — an example of a whole class of Victorian poems that children were taught in order to instill virtue.
- God Save Us from the Queen!: Queen of Hearts, well known for her catchphrase, "Off with their heads!" In her defense, she's hardly much worse than the other residents of Wonderland (the Duchess calls for Alice to be beheaded as well, for no reason at all) and is ignored when it comes to her orders for executions. (The King quietly pardons her condemned victims later, and Alice is relieved later when the Gryphon tells her that "They never executes nobody." The Queen herself apparently revokes the sentence against the Duchess on her own, so long as the Duchess vacates the property immediately.) On the other hand, the White Queen and Red Queen fully subvert this. Despite being respectively nutty and stern with Alice, both are still quite kind.
- Gonk: The Duchess. The Queen of Hearts is usually portrayed as this, though her physical appearance is not described in the text.
- Hair-Raising Hare: The White Rabbit, in the darker adaptations.
- Hanging Judge: The Queen of Hearts, although according to the Gryphon, they never executes nobody. How reliable the Gryphon is as a source is open to interpretation, as are the number of negatives in his assertion. There is one scene where the King quietly pardons everyone who she sentences to death at the croquet game, which makes Alice feel a little better.
- Ironically, at the actual trial of the Knave of Hearts, the King - not the Queen - is the judge.
- Hybrid Monster: In addition to the Gryphon, there's the Mock Turtle, a turtle with a calf's head, hooves, and tail. (This is likely because mock turtle soup, which the Queen says is made from mock turtles, was once made from the discarded parts of a calf, much like the discarded parts of cows are used to make low-grade hamburger in modern times.)
- Hurricane of Puns: The Mock Turtle; all of the classes he tells Alice about are puns of school subjects. (Reeling and Writhing, Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision, Mystery, ancient and modern, Seaography, Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils, Laughing and Grief. note
- Iconic Characters
- Iconic Outfit: Alice's dress in John Tenniel's original colored illustrations. It even has its own Wikipedia article.
- Identical Twin ID Tags: The Tweedles have their names embroidered on their suits.
- I Fell for Hours: Alice's descent down the rabbit hole, which takes an incredibly long time.
- Ignored Epiphany: Well, kind of. It is stated that "Alice often gave herself very good advice, but she very seldom followed it."
- Incredible Shrinking Man
- Inner Monologue Conversation: When Alice is on the train in Through the Looking-Glass, the other passengers can apparently hear her thinking, and respond by thinking in chorus. Even the narrator isn't quite sure how.
- Insane Troll Logic: Humorously faulty logic is a running theme throughout the books, and this is clearly a case of Author Appeal.
- For example, the Pigeon thinks Alice is a snake. Why? Because Alice eats eggs. And you know what else eats eggs? A snake! In the Pigeon's defense, though, Alice also had a long neck because of the Caterpillar's growing mushroom.
- Also: Cheshire Cat — Dogs are sane. Dogs wags their tails when they are happy and growl when they are angry. Cats wag their tails when they are angry and growl (purr) when they are happy. Cats are the opposite of dogs. Cats are therefore mad.
- Interspecies Friendship: There are several, such as the Hatter and the March Hare, the Gryphon and the Mockturtle, as well as the Walrus and the Carpenter.
- I Resemble That Remark:
"You never had fits, my dear, I think?" [the King of Hearts] said to the Queen.
"Never!" said the Queen furiously, throwing an inkstand at the Lizard as she spoke.
- It Was a Gift: Humpty Dumpty says his cravat was a gift from the White Queen for an "unbirthday" present.
- Kangaroo Court: One of the most well-known examples in literature. example. The judge (the King of Hearts) asks the jury to consider their verdict before any evidence is given (the White Rabbit convinces him to hear the evidence, although none of the witnesses contribute anything useful), and the Queen has an odd view of how proceedings should go, believing that the sentence should come before the verdict. Also a blatant conflict of interest, as the Queen is the victim of the alleged crime.
- Kid Hero
- Lilliputians: Everyone in Wonderland. Alice has to drink the potion to fit the size of the place.
- The Mad Hatter: Strangely enough, the Hatter himself didn't offer many lines that exemplify this Trope. If any character fits, it would be the Cheshire Cat:
Cat: Oh, you can't help that, we're all mad here.
- Magic Mushroom: The Caterpillar's mushroom is probably the Trope Maker. Eating one side of it made Alice taller, eating the other made her shorter.
- Magic Pants: In the original John Tenniel illustrations and in nearly all adaptations, Alice's dress grows and shrinks with her. It's Wonderland — nothing else makes sense, so why should this? Averted in the Tim Burton version, however.
- Meaningful Name: Alice has a name that means "Noble". Although this may have been a coincidence, as the name was that of a girl Carroll knew in real life, it becomes appropriate in the ending of Through the Looking-Glass.
- Merlin Sickness: The White Queen.
- Mirror Chemistry: Alice wonders if looking-glass milk is good to drink; this is likely the Ur Example as it predates the scientific basis for the trope.
- Murder Ballad: "The Walrus and the Carpenter"
- Nursery Rhyme: Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledee and Tweedledum are characters from nursery rhymes.
- Nervous Wreck: The White Rabbit.
- Nice to the Waiter: Alice is kind and polite to everyone she meets. This is in contrast to the White Rabbit, who apparently is upper-class enough for a servant, to whom he speaks rudely, and we later see him boot-licking the Queen of Hearts. Although in the Victorian era, Alice would have been considered a rude and impatient little girl. Etiquette has changed over the years.
- No Name Given: Alice's sister.
- Old Money: The Hatter's hat has a tag that reads "10/6". This is a price tag and indicates the hat costs ten shillings and sixpence; or a little over half (52.5%) of a Pound Sterling (and exactly half a guinea [21 shillings]). (Supposedly, the hat is one from his inventory.)
- One-Paragraph Chapter: Put together, chapters 10 and 11 of Through the Looking-Glass (in which Alice wakes and the Red Queen becomes a kitten) have only 57 words (and two pictures).
- Only Sane Man: Alice often plays this role to the various characters she meets along her adventures, though she herself sometimes does things that are a little peculiar (talks to herself, wonders whether she is Mabel, recites original whimsical poetry, has previously tried to box her own ears for cheating in a game of croquet against herself, and, in Through the Looking-Glass, she constantly converses with her cats). The Cheshire Cat asserts that everyone in Wonderland, including Alice, is "mad".
- Indeed, just about anytime a candidate for this trope appears they quickly subvert it; the White Rabbit is more stable and competent than his servants, but is a Nervous Wreck around everyone else. The Cheshire Cat is the only one in the Duchess' house who isn't yelling or throwing things, yet proudly considers himself mad. The Gryphon seems to fancy himself to be this, but is just as wacky as anyone else in Wonderland. And then there's Alice mentioned above. Out of all the characters in the story, the only straight examples seem to be the Caterpillar and Alice's sister.
- The Pardon: the King of Hearts is as free with these as the Queen is with sentences of beheading, though he's lower key.
- Playing Card Motifs: Take a wild guess. The King and Queen of Hearts hold court in Wonderland, with their Mooks being the lower-ranked cards. In fact, the lower ranks are further identified by their jobs: Spades are gardeners, Clubs are soldiers, Diamonds are couriers, and hearts are younger members of the royal family.
- Portmanteau: While Carroll did not invent the word, its use in Alice inspired its shift of meaning to the current one.
- Power-Up Food: "Eat Me"; "Drink Me"
- The mushrooms; one side makes you taller, the other makes you shorter.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: Most adaptations cut out the satirical elements the books were originally known for. In many cases, this is since satire on mid-nineteenth century English politics and culture is going to be lost on 99% of the audience. (In fact, many of the poems Carroll satirized only survive because he did so in the books. And in some cases, even that wasn't enough!)
- Precious Puppy: Alice meets one when she shrinks down to a tiny size. Unfortunately for her, it's gigantic from her point of view, and runs the risk of devouring her.
- Public Domain Character: Though Disney would have you think it was their property.
- Real Dreams Are Weirder: Pretty much the entire premise.
- Riddle for the Ages: "Why is a raven like a writing desk?" The riddle was never intended to have an actual answer, but authors have hazarded several famous answers, including:
- They both have inky quills.
- Because Poe wrote on both.
- Because there's a B in both and an N in neither.
- Because it slopes with a flap.
- They both only work right if put on their legs.
- One is a rest for pens, the other is a pest for wrens.
- Because they should be shut up.
- Eventually Carroll supplied his own: "Because it can produce a few notes, tho they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front." ("nevar" being "raven" spelled backwards; editors for over a century saw fit to "correct" this.)
- Schrödinger's Butterfly
- Significant Reference Date: Wonderland implies that it takes place in May (when Alice thinks about the March Hare) and that it is the fourth of the month (when asked what day of the month it is by the Mad Hatter). Alice Liddell was born on May 4, 1852.
- Sleepy Head: The dormouse.
- Spoof Aesop: In one chapter the Duchess responds to every piece of news with a moral, ranging from statements which are sensible but irrelevant to complete nonsense.
- Smoking Is Cool: The hookah-smoking caterpillar, naturally.
- In Disney's adaptation, he's even cooler, able to blow colored smoke rings in the shape of letters.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: The entire book was cooked up off the top of Carrol's head; it would only be later, and after some persisting, that he'd write the whole thing down.
- Textile Work Is Feminine: The Sheep knits.
- Took a Level in Kindness: The Duchess is in a much better mood and is a lot nicer to Alice the second time they meet; Alice surmises that the pepper is what made her so foul the first time. (Unfortunately, now she's a little too nice.)
- Trapped in Another World
- Twin Banter: The Tweedles, naturally
- Up to Eleven: Through the Looking-Glass actually makes less sense than Adventures in Wonderland.
- Victorian Britain: The setting of the real world portions — obviously, The Present Day when it was written, but notable since most adaptations keep the time period.
- Villain Protagonists: The Walrus and the Carpenter from the poem of the same name, although calling the two of them villains may be a bit of a stretch. Regardless, Alice finds both of them to be rather unlikeable.
- What Happened to the Pig Baby?: While plenty of characters get dropped from the plot abruptly, the Duchess' Pig Baby is a notable example; after he turns into a pig Alice lets him go. The Cheshire Cat implies that he's looking for the baby later, but the baby never shows up again and the Cat never mentions him after materializing in the Queen's croquet ground.
- White Bunny: The White Rabbit
- Write Who You Know
- Alice was based on the real-life Alice Liddell.
- The members of the boating party that first heard Carroll's tale show up in the Caucus Race; Alice's sisters Edith and Lorina, are inserted as the Eaglet and Lory, respectively. Rev Robinson Duckworth is the Duck and Carroll himself is the Dodo.
- Alice and her sisters appear again as Elsie, Lacie, and Tillie in the Dormouse's story. Elsie (L.C.) is Lorina (middle name Charlotte), Tillie is Edith (nickname Matilda), and Lacie is an anagram of Alice.
- Alice's two other, lesser known sisters (Rhoda and Violet) make appearances in the second book, as the rose and the violet in the talking flower garden. The mouse who gives the "dry lecture" and the Red Queen were seemingly based off of Alice's governess. The Queen of Hearts and the Duchess were seemingly caricatures of Queen Victoria and her mother respectively.
- World of Chaos
- World of Pun: Both books are famous for their word plays and allusions.
Adaptations with their own trope pages include:
Other adaptations of Alice in Wonderland provides examples of:
There was also an animated series by Nippon Animation, fondly remembered by many in Europe and other parts of the world not the US. English dub of first episode.
Fushigi no Kuni no Alice provides examples of:
- Butt Monkey: Little Bill. If there is a problem that needs to be solved, just call him. Even if you have to drag him kicking and screaming to it.
- Cain and Abel: The Queen of Hearts and her sister, the Queen of Spades. One episode reveals that the Queen of Spades threatened to invade Wonderland if it ever snowed during the summer. Which she does when Alice accidentally breaks a weather house controlling Wonderland's weather.
- Cloudcuckoolander: In a realm full of them, the croquet-obsessed White Queen is often the most blatantly out there.
- Down the Rabbit Hole: Only during the first episode and a few after it. The rest of the series has Alice primarily fading out our world and into Wonderland in the blink of an eye.
- Jerkass: The Wonderlanders' treatment of Humpty Dumpty as he's hanging by his bowtie from a tree, actively placing bets on whether he'll fall or not, does seem rather cruel.
- Large and In Charge: The Queen of Hearts naturally.
- No Name Given: Averted. Alice's sister is named Celia.
- Only Sane Man: Often Alice, but she just as often jumps right into the madness. Uncharacteristically, the Queen of Hearts also often fulfills this role.
- Royals Who Actually Do Something: Arguably, the King and Queen of Hearts. The King leads the charge to try and save his old friend Humpty Dumpty from a gruesome end, and the Queen of Hearts actively participates in the daily goings-on of the Wonderlanders (whether the Wonderlanders like it or not is another story, though).
- Scooby-Dooby Doors: There was a hilarious scene that lasted a whole minute during the second episode in the hall of doors, which involved the White Rabbit tricking Alice into going through one door while he exits through another, and the two of them running into each other and twirling around, arms linked, unable to stop themselves.