DeAnna Knippling lives in Colorado with her husband and daughter and once had one of those mugs with a disappearing/reappearing Cheshire Cat on it; as it turns out, one shouldn’t put those in the dishwasher. She recently published her obsessive Alice + zombies book, Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts, and can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and her website, www.WonderlandPress.com.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who loved Alice.
I grew up as one of those shy kids with eyes big as plates and glasses thick as soda bottles, who was most comfortable sitting the wrong way ’round in an overstuffed chair and who generally had a book and/or a cat in my lap. We had a farm cat named Cheshire Cat, an orange and white tabby who took no nonsense from cattle dogs, small children, skunks, badgers, or the dive-bombing sparrows who lingered in the gray and green elm trees on the farm, and who never ate the chickens. She was far too serious to grin.
I loved the Alice in Wonderland books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, but I feared them almost as much as I loved them: I liked Alice well enough, but I was always getting in trouble for doing the kinds of things that Alice did.
It is not safe to be a child who thinks too much, and who comments upon the things one thinks about. I learned that lesson over and over and over.
And so I packed Alice up in an imaginary box and more or less forgot about her until I was in high school. Alice made me nervous.
Then a friend of mine introduced me to Martin Gardner’s The Annotated Alice, and I bought a copy from a used bookstore in a college town, one of those magical places with book dust lingering in sunbeams. I still have the bookmark that the bookseller slipped inside the front cover, in a wooden box with other important treasures.
It was one of the seminal books of my young adulthood.
My vague sense of dread was filleted and laid open in front of me: Alice made me nervous because she was making fun of the adults, parodying their serious poetry for children, making a mockery of their very serious games, and pointing out their endlessly entitled, rude, and overserious behavior. Every poem, every line was teased apart and explained.
The books remain fantasies about a nosy, sarcastic, rude, and impetuous girl who gets away with it.
That is, fantasies, and nothing more: the Queens of Hearts of this world still do not tolerate disobedience, back-talk, or outright honesty, and they never will.
Eventually, I took to digging up some of Charles Dodgson’s history and discovered who Alice’s parents were. I looked at all the photographs (including the ones of little nude girls). I weighed the controversies: was Mr. Dodgson a pedophile? Did he try to seduce a) Alice, b) her older, bookish sister Ina, c) the governess, Miss Prickett, d) Mrs. Dodson, or e) none of the above? Why didn’t he ever take religious orders, as he was supposed to do? Why are some of his diaries so tortured? Why are four of them missing?
Personally, I think he discovered that the world doesn’t tolerate nosy, sarcastic, rude, and impetuous mathematicians of Oxford any more than it tolerates little girls, even ones who have written a famous book.
As he grew older, Mr. Dodgson became no less creative in mathematics, but far less creative when it came to writing books. “The Hunting of the Snark,” an epic poem that he wrote five years after Through the Looking-Glass, is enjoyable, but ends in one of the characters disappearing and the search unfulfilled. In nothingness.
Sylvie and Bruno, his third and last book for children (actually a pair of them, Sylvie and Bruno and Sylvie and Bruno Concluded), was written nearly thirty years after the others, and it is stiff and painfully sharp, more clever than delightful, the book of a man who can’t quite toe the line–but who can’t reach the heights of satire and whimsey that he used to, either.
Under all that delight, a fading into humdrum and dullness and adulthood. He died five years later of pneumonia.
The contrast between the stories and the history always struck me: a man who loved and punned and riddled and teased not wisely, but too well.
When I sat down to write my interpretation of the books, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies had just come out, and I laughed my way through it. Then it struck me: then what? Would the world be overcome by zombies? Of course not; that was the era of pluck and empire. Some sort of solution would arise, like quinine for malaria or lime juice for scurvy.
Thus the zombification-preventative serum was born.
Adding zombies to Alice started out as playful fun, but quickly became a window onto more than I wanted to see, that pointed back onto my own childhood as well as hers, the too-smart little girl who had to learn to keep her opinions to herself.
Which just goes to show that things unfortunately learned can, at times, be unlearned.
Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Alice, and she was partially written down into first one story, and then another, as gifts–as secret riddles from one mischievous soul to another. But the two souls were forced to grow up, and thereby grew apart, becoming estranged even as the world learned to delight in their mischief.
They never forgot each other, though; and neither did I.