Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Butt-kicking Alice

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor was published in England back in 2004, so I've been hearing about it for a while. The basic idea behind the story is that Alice, of Alice in Wonderland fame, is not a British child at all but a refugee from Wonderland who finds herself trapped in Victorian England where she is adopted by the Liddell family. She is actually Alyss Heart, a princess (from the red suit), whose mother, the Queen of Hearts, is overthrown by her evil sister Redd. Alyss is saved by Hatter Madigan, her mother's head of security, but her tall albino tutor has to stay behind.

She meets Charles Dodgson, the only person in our world who appears to believe her story, and he tells her he'll write a book about her experiences. She thinks this will prove once and for all that she's not making this stuff up. But when the book is finished, she's horrified to find that Dodgson has turned Hatter Madigan into a mad hatter and her tutor into a hare. Her entire life has become nonsense.

She tries to acclimate herself to her new world, but at the moment she's about to be married, her subjects find her and take her back to Wonderland so she can join the battle against her facist aunt Redd.

The Looking Glass Wars appears to be somewhat polarizing with a lot of readers disliking it. I'm not finding much in the way of raves for it anywhere, either.

Inspite of some technical complaints, though, I thought it was an entertaining read. A number of critics objected because many of the characters aren't exactly deep. And some felt there was too much violence. (After listening to Sabriel by Garth Nix, my tolerance for violence in YA has skyrocketed.) My own wonky fingerpointing has to do with some flipping among characters as the story is being told and the use of italics for Alyss's thoughts. Her internal life wasn't worked into the narrative at all. (I know, I know. Some people are going to say she didn't have an internal life.) The italics would just pop up, stopping the flow while the reader works out in her mind that this is Alyss thinking and what these thoughts say about her.

But, really, this is an action book. It's plot driven. You have to accept it for what it is. If you don't consider the original Alice books holy scripture and thus untouchable, you can have a good time with The Looking Glass Wars. It's the first in a trilogy, and I don't know how I'll feel about going on with the story, particularly if it no longer messes with the Alice stories. But if Beddor does go off on his own in Wonderland, it might be interesting to see if he can maintain a book without the connection to Lewis Carroll's work.

Beddor has already written a four-part graphic novel series The Looking Glass Wars: Hatter M..


Anonymous said...

I had some serious personal problems with the book myself. I mean, first and foremost, what is up with Wonderland? It's shown for a good four pages and then blown to hell before the reader has any clue as to why the place might be kind of cool. The author also has a great deal of contempt for Lewis Carroll. So much so, in fact, that "The Looking Glass Wars" is entirely without even so much as a drop of humor. The violence didn't bother me, but the half-assed pseudo-serious writing did.

Ah well. Hopefully someone else will take the "real Alice" idea and run with it instead. Someone less obsessed with the idea of creating a video-game in the shape of a book.

Sorry to kvetch all over you. This one just rubbed me the wrong way, I guess.

Jennie said...

I loved "The Looking Glass Wars". Not the best piece of writing, but it was fun (if suprisingly bloody). I, too, am interested in seing where the series is going to go after this...

Gail Gauthier said...

I haven't read the original books since grade school so I don't recall humor. Even if I did, I don't have a problem with an author taking a humorous book and bringing a serious take to it--or bringing an action hero or videogame take to it. Just as I wouldn't have a problem with someone doing a humorous version of, say, Jane Eyre. That's what reworking a classic is about. And while I agree there was a lack of subtlety to some of the writing (while I appreciate the feminism at the beginning of the book, it was heavyhanded and, personally, I think it's pretty obvious that Molly is Hatter's child) and some awkwardness, I've read a great deal worse.

Others have not been happy with the videogame aspects of the book, either. I'd be very interested to hear how kids feel about it. If a videogame in the shape of a book works for a particular group of readers, I don't see why that's a particularly bad thing.

Here's something interesting, though--this book is getting a lot of support from its publisher. The marketing plan is spelled out on the back of the arc. Did this book do really well in England, in spite of the mixed reviews? Which to many publishers would justify a marketing push when it's published here?

Anonymous said...

Well, it's a smart concept. I mean, if you walk up to someone and say, "Alice In Wonderland - The Real Story", THAT is interesting. The book sells itself. Add in a graphic novel and a shiny cover and BAM! Instant hit. How's it selling over here, I wonder?

Little Willow said...

I love the original two Alice books to the nth degree. Thus, I have read many fiction and non-fiction books related to Wonderland, but nothing has ever come close to the originals for me.

I have yet to get TLGW. I am wary of it. It sounds like the concept itself puts Charles down, like "he got it all wrong," etc. It also seems as though half of the reviewers loved it and the other half loathed it. Hot and cold extremes.

Have you read Alice Through the Needle's Eye? Yeah. Don't.

Go for Still She Haunts Me by Katie Roiphe instead. REALLY good.

Gail Gauthier said...

I really didn't feel as if Beddor was bashing Carroll/Dodgson. But, as I said, it's been a long time since I read the original books. I also always enjoy seeing classic concepts altered. The only thing I liked about the first Mission Impossible movie was that Mr. Phelps was the bad guy. I had family members who were horrified.

Camille said...

Since I am Alice neutral I did not expect to be pleased or displeased by this book. I thought it was an entertaining read. I did think the characters ages were a problem. Alice is a seven year old in the beginning of the story but seems much older. Then when she gets back to Wonderland she is all grown up.

I liked the Hatter and the boy who fetched Alyss home, I forget his name.

I didn't think Dodgson was being knocked, he was just one more person who didn't believe Alyss and her story.

I wonder if I would be so ambivalent if it was Lord of the Rings?