There is something that happens to one’s very soul somewhere between childhood and adulthood and it is this: in some people it dies and in some people it lives. I don’t mean soul in any religious sense but that thing inside you that makes you human. Your mind, consciousness, heart, whatever you want to call it. And it doesn’t really die, it just withers into a small black stone that either sits quiet-like with the potential for reawakening or just slowly rots spreading the chancre throughout your entire body. The longer you let it sit there marinating in fixed ideas and cold resentments and failed FTTN policies, the harder it is to recover any joy in the simplest of things, like rain on a roof after a long drought or kitten batting about a bottle top. And yes, this sounds like a very middle-class view of things but do try your best not to create well-intentioned but patronising two dimensional caricatures of human beings. Instead, go out and look at some sky-kittens* or if you can’t find any recite a poem whilst balancing a shoe on your nose.
This year marks 150 years since the birth of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. But what have I done to celebrate, I hear you yell at the screen. Fret not, my pretty little petals. I’ve been representing. I’ve been using my Alice bag about town, I’ve been making tea in my Alice teapot and drinking it from my Alice cup, which I place upon my Alice saucer and which sits beside my Alice sugar pot and Alice milk jug (though I don’t take milk or sugar so these are just for show). I wear my collection of Alice brooches in rotation and, in the same way Christopher Lee would read The Lord of The Rings each year, I’ve read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass round about every year since I was quite small. But mostly, and more importantly, I’ve been mad. Quite mad. We’re all mad here.
Of course madness has different connotations for different people and I will paddle about the face with a daffodil and a wooden spoon anyone who says it has nothing to do with social class and wealth. Above a certain pay-scale, madness goes by the name eccentricity. You see, the richer you are, the more Greek and Latin your descriptors. You poor? You mad. You Germanic.
What was I on about? Ah yes, Alice. Oh look, I don’t need to tell you about it do I? You know—you must—how wonderful it is. It’s set in Wonderland. It’s a wondrously wondrous wonder.
And surely you know all about the many many film adaptations. The first was in 1903—a silent affair of course and always interesting to watch for that era’s special effects and the thirty-something woman playing Alice. In 1915, Alice was played by someone closer to adolescence and the budget was bigger. You can always tell the budget by the quality of the Duchess’s head, and the heads in the 1915 production are all manner of degrees superior to those of the 1933 production. Perhaps if they’d not wasted their money on fancy schmancy actors like Cary Grant and Gary Cooper, the Duchess’s head would not quite have resembled that of Fungus the Bogeyman. But to be fair, it is a damn fine film. If we are to speak of brilliant adaptations however, one of my favourites is the 1966 BBC teleplay starring, among others, John Gielgud, Peter Sellers, Peter Cook, Alan Bennett, Michael Redgrave and Anne-Marie Mallik as Alice. Being 1966 and all, this is one of the trippier versions you could sink your teeth into. The animal costumes are dispensed with altogether, which makes for an interesting take on the story. Somehow, when all these strange encounters are with humans rather than animals, things get weird. Well, weirder. And there are so many more. Some amazing, others ho-hum.
I could also wax lyrical about the hundreds of illustrators who have brought to life their own interpretations. John Tenniel, obviously. If you think of the quintessential illustrations you’re thinking of John Tenniel. Lewis Carroll himself illustrated it. Take a look at the facsimile of Alice’s Adventures Underground—the original story almost half the length of Wonderland. Tove Jansson’s gentle lines send shivers down my spine, especially her Mock Turtle and Gryphon. Arthur Rackham, Mervyn Peake, even Salvador Dali gave it a go—curious and curiouser. In more recent decades, John Vernon Lord and Lisbeth Zwerger’s renditions have stood out for me. The very best capture that dream-state quality and the creeping sense of danger lurking just out of sight that is essential, at least for me.
Most of all, if you’ve ever read Alice’s Adventures, you remember the magic of it. The Caucus race. Drink Me, Eat Me. The frightening Duchess and her hideous baby. Trying to make yourself sneeze with pepper. Wishing you too could have a frog footman at your beck and call. Magic mushrooms that… never mind that one (stay safe kids). A living breathing pack of cards and lots and lots and lots of nonsense.
So what is there to celebrate 150 years on? Oh, I know there are modern critics who would have you believe that all these old classics aren’t worth their salt. That Alice is and always has been a rambling nonsensical collection of unnecessary whimsy. Um… yes. Yes it has. And that is exactly why it should be celebrated.
I am often confused as to why people equate being “grown up” to being boring and serious. ‘Fraid not old chum. Being a “grown up” is about being responsible for your own decisions and knowing when to be serious, and there are five year olds who accomplish that better than some forty year olds. Being a grown up does not require wringing the joy from your very soul. Take the latest craze in adult colouring books. Turns out colouring is good for your mental health. It helps relieve stress, promotes relaxation and happens to be fun. My response to these findings was (in the most sarcastic tone you can possibly imagine) nooo, reeeeeally? Anyhow, how glad I am to see so many of you now awakening from your torpor. Embrace the joy and wonder in life. Jump about in puddles. Fall down the rabbit hole every now and then. And remember, never lose your muchness.
*That’s clouds to you and me–thank you Reece from Malcolm in the Middle