Not for children, these
Dark shadows of Alice cast;
Few innocents here.
In these eighteen stories and poems, Alice, Wonderland and the denizens of Wonderland and the Looking Glass are reimagined in diverse ways. Many of the tales are darksome, twisty, like a threatened cat lashing its tail. Fluidity of gender, appearance, and orientation are recurring themes; as are cats, be they named Dinah or Cheshire. Another theme is that, as we find and define our purpose, so we find and define ourselves.
Some of the protagonists are too broken by life to hope for more than escape, be it by madness or death, or a strange doorway that leads who knows where. Others endure, perhaps creating a bit of wonderland in the world.
“My Own Invention”, by Delia Sherman, is told from the perspective of the gentle, clumsy White Knight, whose geas is to defend each dreaming Alice, guiding his guest to the last leap of the dream quest. Another Looking Glass Land tale is “Lily White and the Thief of Lesser Night”, giving the anthropomorphized chess pieces center stage and their own adventures. (Clearly I was not the only reader who wanted more time with the chess people. Thank-you, C.S.E. Cooney!)
“Conjoined”, by Jane Yolen, has - for its jumping-off place - the traveling wonderland and flimflam of Barnum’s Circus, as narrated by an orangutan from Sumatra who wears a tuxedo. A talking cat appears, partly and in parts, and invites the man-ape to a different Wonderland, where he can be more than a sideshow freak, and where conjoined twins who have been separated may be welcomed. This one is full of wordplay and puns, well worth re-reading, or reading aloud.
In “Mercury” by Priya Sharma, Alice and her father want a way out of debtors’ prison, even as they suffer the infamous madness of hatters caused by handling mercury. Their mundane reality, and the people in it, run such a close parallel to Wonderland that surely they can cross over….
Richard Bowes “Some Kind of Wonderland” describes a surreal movie version of Alice filmed in 1965, in the run down, abandoned warehouse district of Tribeca. Fifty years later, the film has been rescued from oblivion and is being presented anew, with the surviving cast members as presenters. The descriptions of old New York as a kind of Wonderland are extraordinarily effective, likewise the characterizations of the young, substance-abusing model cast as Alice and the streetwise kid from Jersey who plays the Cheshire Cat. This is one of the outstanding tales of the anthology.
Deeply troubling is Mathew Kressel’s “In Memory of a Summer’s Day”, which has as its premise the commercialization of Wonderland. A self-medicating tour guide takes groups to Wonderland, but only after they sign a waiver that should give them serious pause. Especially if they are taking children along.
Seanan McGuire’s “Sentence Like a Saturday” is a fierce, heartfelt confrontation with the law of conservation of magic and the nature of doorways. If Alice gets into Wonderland, something has to take her place on this side. A Cheshire kitten finds herself stranded this side of a rabbit hole in human guise. Time passes erratically on either side of an activated Wonderland rabbit hole, so decades pass as the cat waits and watches for a chance to return home. If this is your first Seanan McGuire story, you are in for an adventure. Then look her up, and be sure to check out her songs, including “Wicked Girls Saving Ourselves”, since the lyrics include Alice in the roster.
Worrity Worrity" by Andy Duncan is the most unexpected story of the lot, taking for its protagonist John Tenniel, the half-blind artist whose inked illustrations graced the first edition and all classic reproductions since. Zelazny gave Tenniel a cameo role in Sign of Chaos, but here Tenniel gets all the attention. So why did he urge his friend Dodgson to delete a chapter from the story? I loved this one, for its inventiveness and for giving us a vivid sense of the gentle man behind the wonderful illustrations.
The collection opens with a shape poem, “Gentle Alice” by Kris Dikeman. It concludes with Jane Yolen’s grimmer “Run, Rabbit, Run”. ~~ Chris Wozney
For other collections edited by Ellen Datlow click here