11. The Looking Glass Wars - Frank Beddor - 384 pages (3 stars)
This is a young adult re-telling of Alice and Wonderland without a lot of the surrealism--it has morphed into a young adult series that has both elements of science fiction and fantasy, and I'm still on the fence as to how I feel about it.
The premise of the story is that the Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass stories that we know are false lies cobbled together by Reverend Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll. Alice, or Alyss Heart as her name is in Wonderland, started as a princess in Wonderland, but after a coup by her Aunt Redd, who toppled Alyss's mother Guinevere from the throne, Alyss finds herself in our world and is adopted by the Liddell family.
Wonderland has the elements of the Wonderland we know, but they are shifted. The Mad Hatter is actually a bodyguard of the Millinery named Hatter Madigan, and fights with wrist knives. The Caterpillars are oracles who sound hilariously like the Beatles in the audiobook version. The White Rabbit is an albino tutor of Alyss's. Jabberwocky are beasts that live in lava lands.
Wonderland also has elements of science fiction. They have electricity far before the Earth we know does, and I remember a mention or two of nanorobots (yes, odd, I know). The cover of the UK version screams science fiction to me, from the giant mushrooms to the robot-looking card soldiers. But the focus is on the power the imagination holds the fight between White and Black imagination (or magic). With the Victorian setting, it even has a whiff of steampunk to it as well.
I did find the way Beddor integrated his various sources interesting. He wove together true facts from Carroll's life, such as his friendship with Alice Liddell, as well as utlising many of the characters from the original novels.
But for all of that, the novel didn't sit well with me. I love the original sources and the strange, dreamy opium-fueled atmosphere of wonderland. The atmosphere wasn’t in Beddor’s version. Everything has been sensationalized. The Mad Hatter is no longer a satire on how men will drive themselves insane for their profession (the glue for the hats drove many hatters insane in the Victorian Era), and instead he’s the sleek talented fighter-protector you get in nearly every fantasy novel. The series cheapens the original. Evidently they’re making this into a film (probably Beddor’s original plan for writing the books as he’s a film producer), and I can’t help but curl my lip a little at the thought.
I can see why it would appeal to young children, and I’m all for getting the youth to read. It’ll make them pick up and read the originals when they may have not. But I’m tired of this trend of writing fanfiction of literature that is perfectly wonderful on its own, like Carroll’s Wonderland. It will always be his.
(P.S. This is my book reviewing journal/blog of an ex-pat American in Scotland. I like new friends!)