Yesterday was Mad Hatter Day, a day to enjoy life's inherent silliness, celebrate our un-birthdays, and believe six impossible things before breakfast. The date was selected because the original illustrations for Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland," drawn by artist Sir John Tenniel, showed the Mad Hatter as wearing a hat marked "10/6." (This means, naturally, that if you travel to Europe, you get to celebrate the holiday on June 10.)
The original illustrations of the Hatter, Alice, and the rest of the characters have become iconic; when you think of Alice, she is blonde and wearing a pinafore, just as Tenniel drew her. That doesn't mean, though, that she has to be doing the same thing in every version of the story.
J.T. Holden's "Alice in Verse: The Lost Rhymes of Wonderland" is a book of poetry that seeks to explain the unanswered questions that Carroll left behind. Who really stole the queen's tarts? What happened to the Walrus and the Carpenter after they'd eaten all the oysters? The author stays true to the classic Wonderland vision, but goes beyond the surface of the story and into its small mysteries.
The 2010 Disney version of "Alice in Wonderland" shows Tim Burton's re-imagining of the story. In this story, Alice is 19 and has returned to Wonderland after many years, where she reunites with the old friends that she thought she knew only in a long-forgotten dream. Can Alice remember enough, and learn enough about herself, to end the Red Queen's reign of terror? In fitting Wonderland style, this movie is a little bit off-kilter; the film is live-action, but the director has slightly warped the actor's images, making Helena Bonham Carter's Red Queen have a head twice as large as normal!
Frank Beddor took Wonderland and turned it on its already-topsy-turvy ear in his "Looking Glass Wars" trilogy. When his story begins, Wonderland has just started to recover from a civil war, leaving the Queendom struggling to adjust to a time of peace. Alice is really the young princess Alyss Heart, whose life is threatened by her evil Aunt Redd's faithful assassin, the Cheshire Cat; among those protecting her is knife-wielding bodyguard Hatter Madigan. These books are so compelling, they've been turned into a graphic novel series and a card game.
All of these books focus on the fictional Alice, but "Alice I Have Been" by Melanie Benjamin takes a different approach, and fictionalizes the life of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for the original story. In this title, Alice, now 80, reflects on her life as a wife, mother, and widow, and the fact that, despite all she has accomplished, she will forever be remembered as the girl who fell down a rabbit hole. What a frustrating legacy for the girl who discovered a whole world beyond Wonderland!
Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday.