In Lewis Carroll’s sensational two-part story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass, we fall down the rabbit hole and walk through the mirror into the whimsical world of Wonderland.
Practically everything in this place contradicts logic. Of course, Carroll uses this reversal to underscore the madness of everyday life, and he gets away with it because he shows the adventures through the eyes of a child and within a place that may or may not exist.
Here we are, 150 years after the original publication of the story, and we as society are still fascinated by this tale of madness and adventure. In fact, for over a century the infatuation has led to multiple adaptations. In those adaptations, though, there seem to be some odd common threads that don’t exactly have any foundations in the original story, and those threads are as follows:
- An older version of Alice.
- A love story between Alice and the Mad Hatter.
The original story shows Alice as a child. Her actual age is never listed, but judging by her lack of interest in a book that has no pictures or conversations, one could guess she’s old enough to read but not old enough to appreciate heavier literature, so perhaps somewhere between ages 8-14. There are several instances throughout the story that show Alice demonstrating some Victorian rules of proper conduct, although these rules often don’t apply in Wonderland. Nevertheless, her knowledge of such manners could mean she’s probably closer to 14. However, since she does have an older sister, she could simply be mimicking the actions of her older sibling.
Carroll must have chosen the age of his character with some specific intent. For instance, he may have hoped that by using a child as the main character, perhaps readers would be more open-minded, since they were seeing the foreign place of Wonderland through the eyes of a child who had yet to be introduced into the rigid rules of society.
Why then have so many adaptations aged Alice?
One possible answer: It’s all about the audience.
Several of the adaptations have been extremely edgy, and as a result they have placed Alice in a more brutal version of Wonderland. Therefore, to survive the perils, she HAS to be an adult. The audience could not hold their collective suspension of disbelief if they were watching a child negotiating her way through such tribulations.
There is some leeway with the aging process that relates back to the book. For example, in both the Tim Burton adaptation as well as the new Once upon a Time in Wonderland series, Alice first visited Wonderland when she was a child, and, for whatever reason, has since returned as an adult. This method of aging Alice shows a clear tribute to the original story, but it also shows how Wonderland changes over time, just like any other place. Some might even say that Alice’s perspectives as a child were much different from her perspective now as an adult. Of course, the change in her viewpoint could also be the result of how aging and adhering to societal rules typically closes our minds and reduces our muchness.
Extrapolating Love Stories
If we accept an older version of Alice within these adaptations, as we all have, then we have to expect that an older Alice will face different challenges, including emotional challenges, such as falling in love. But in Wonderland, a place where lunacy is the norm, who does one fall in love with?
Within the various adaptations over the past two decades, most of the stories have paired up the older version of our heroine with none other than the Mad Hatter.
As beautiful and interesting as this pairing may appear on screen, why has the Hatter been chosen as Alice’s love interest?
Once again, I think these adaptations are pandering to the audience.
First of all, if you are going to write a different version of the story, you have to remember that an adaptation still has to include parts of the original story. In many ways, those parts are the iconic images everyone thinks about.
In regards to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, most people think of Alice, the White Rabbit, the mad tea party, the Cheshire Cat, and the crazy Red Queen. Most of the story from Through the Looking Glass doesn’t really play within the social consciousness – thank you Disney – but there are a few parts from the second half of the story that the majority of people may remember, such as the Jabberwocky.
Therefore, with these iconic images, anyone trying to produce a love story adaptation has a limited selection of potential suitors for sweet Alice. Pretty much the only human male option in the story is the Mad Hatter, since most of the major adaptations thus far have pushed the heteronormative pairing model.
Just because the Mad Hatter is one of the few available human males from the original story doesn’t mean he should be the only option. Many of the adaptations, including Malice in Wonderland as well as SyFy’s Alice changed all of the animal, insect, and whatnot characters into humans, and each with very quirky personalities, to say the least. Regardless of more options, though, Hatter has still remained the number one choice for Alice.
Perhaps the reason for the pairing deals more with how Alice and Hatter relate to one another on a character level.
In the stories where Alice is returning to Wonderland, Hatter becomes a familiar face and a friend who can guide her through the new chaos. By doing so, the two characters form a bond. Whether that bond is passionate love or platonic love remains questionable, although several of the adaptations have pushed for passion.
In other adaptations, Hatter and Alice get thrown into the fray together, and as the native of Wonderland, Hatter becomes Alice’s guide for whatever reasons deemed by the plot. In these versions, Hatter is usually a person of questionable morals, and his reasons for helping Alice are generally self-serving. Through helping her, however, he falls in love with her and becomes a better person because of that love.
But what about Alice’s character?
In nearly every adaptation, Alice always seems like a character with something to prove. She needs to believe in herself, but she doesn’t know how to do so. In order for her to achieve this goal, most plot lines push for her to develop a crew of friends who will support her as she learns to have faith in herself. Hatter is often her strongest supporter, which creates major emotional dissonance. She doesn’t want to believe in herself, yet this crazy man believes in her without question, which leads to arguments between the two. The moment she accepts herself, she in turn accepts his belief, which can signify her acceptance of his love and trust.
Again, this acceptance does not necessarily need to result in a romantic entanglement, but audiences love lovers, and writers do write for their audiences.