The Mad Hatter’s Missing Brother: Dalton Madigan

Dalton Madigan had worked hard to be a Milliner for the ages, and his skillset—that of a ninja, US Army Ranger, Navy Seal, MI6 agent, and KGB operative rolled into one—now surpassed his instructors’ expectations, their estimates of his potential, as high as they had been, having proven too conser­vative. Yet technically, Dalton was still a student, a cadet at the academy where generations of select Wonderlanders had trained in hopes of becoming members of the queendom’s most accom­plished security force.

The morning of his graduation, Dalton spent his last hours on campus walking the grounds in quiet contemplation, every sight a touchstone to memory. There, next to the sprit-dane topiary, was where he’d tended wounds that his younger brother Hatter had suffered while toying with a wrist-blade. ---

There was the patch of grass inside the service gate, which Dalton had fre­quently used as his own private training area, spending count­less hours perfecting hand-to-hand combat fundamentals. And there—the curving path to the kitchens that he and Hatter had first taken eight years earlier, when they had been brought to the Millinery to live as its wards after their parents Belmore and Lydia were killed on a mission.

“He’s so little!” Cook exclaimed of Hatter.

Dalton placed a protective hand on his brother’s shoulder. “He’s the son of two of the greatest Milliners in history.”

“Of course!” Cook said and gave them each a plate piled high with jollyjelly scones.

Dalton strolled on, past the banquet hall and the Wonder­ground practice field. The Millinery had, unsurprisingly, become more than just an institution to him; it was home. But every­body had to leave home some time.

At only twenty years old, Top Cadet in his class, Dalton Madigan had been awarded the post of Queen Theodora’s per­sonal bodyguard, the highest possible honor a Milliner could receive in Wonderland.

Dalton Madigan deploys his Milliner Blades

Carrying a dusty old box, Dalton found Hatter (aka the Mad Hatter) in his newly assigned dorm room. It was a small, minimally furnished space, but a decided improvement over the basement apartment where he, too, had lived before formally beginning his education.

“I might not have a chance to see you alone again before I go,” he said.

Hatter merely nodded, shy around the queen’s new bodyguard.

Say something about how you’re going to miss him, Dalton prodded himself. Tell him you’d rather not leave the only family you still have.

Dalton pulled a battered stovepipe hat from the box he was carrying. “It belonged to Dad,” he said, offering the hat to his brother. “It’s the first one he ever wore as a Milliner. I was wait­ing to give it to you until you started your education.”

“Dad’s?” Hatter faintly echoed, his lips twisting in either per­plexity or displeasure, Dalton couldn’t tell which; and belatedly, the older Madigan realized: unimpressive as the hat was, it was nothing if not a stinging reminder of their parents’ absence.

Dalton opened his mouth to say—what? That the stove­pipe might inspire Hatter to accomplish great things, as it had inspired him? It felt like a lie. The hat had inspired him, but more from negative connotations than positive ones. The brothers hadn’t resided long at the Millinery before Dalton started hearing rumors that Belmore and Lydia had compromised themselves somehow, not only abandoning Millinery procedures, failing to perform up to the level of its least impressive graduates, but possibly engaging in treason.

Dalton, just twelve at the time, might have imagined worse than the truth. But since he never learned the truth, throughout his teen years he waffled between missing his parents, revering them as he had when they’d been alive, and being angry with them for having, by their deaths, abandoned him and Hatter— though not before compromising the Madigan reputation.

And Dalton’s worst assumptions were still with him. Which was why he’d worked so hard to excel at the Millinery Academy, to ensure that the Madigan name would again reverberate in people’s heads with respect, awe.

He must know the rumors, Dalton thought, watching Hatter wipe dust from the crown of their father’s hat. They hadn’t talked about it, but . . . he must know.

“I wish I could be around for you,” Dalton offered.

The words sounded false to his ears. Like many such orphaned siblings before him, he had tried to be everything to his younger brother—mother and father, all while keeping on top of his stud­ies. An impossibility. No doubt he hadn’t always been around when Hatter had needed him, and here he was, pretending he could make up for earlier neglect with a futile comment about the future.

“I wish . . . ” Dalton started again, but his voice petered out.

He knew that everyone at the academy thought him as emo­tive as a quartz slab. Not infrequently, he longed to bust free of the rigid exoskeleton under which he stowed all feeling.

Stepping forward, Dalton awkwardly put an arm across Hatter’s shoulders, unable to remember the last time he had touched his brother with more than a handshake.

The Hat of Belmore Madigan, passed down to Dalton and Hatter

It would be his last act as a cadet: to impress upon the incoming Millinery class a sense of what they might accomplish if they put in the effort.

Outfitted with his full complement of gear, Dalton stood in the open space of the academy’s Holographic and Transmutative Base of Extremecombat, a state-of-the-art training arena commonly called the HATBOX.

Floor, walls, ceiling: all were checkerboards of large blue and white tiles. Temporary bleachers had been erected at one end of the otherwise barren room, and the new cadets—Hatter among them—took their seats and waited in anxious silence for . . . they didn’t know what. Expressionless, immobile, Dalton also didn’t know what he was waiting for— not exactly. He had asked not to be told in advance, wanting to react instinctively to adversaries.

A sound like escaping steam came from the bleachers, the audience gasping in near unison as—

Zzmp.

Fourteen white floor tiles flipped to reveal a platoon of card soldiers from the Diamond Deck. The soldiers charged Dalton, and he shrugged to activate his Millinery backpack; it sprouted an array of blades—C-blades, J-blades, daggers, corkscrews— all of which he put to excellent use. ---

Succumbing to Dalton’s weapons, soldiers folded in on themselves. Only two were left. Leaping over the Four Card, midair, Dalton threw a dagger into its vitals. Landing, he dodged left to avoid the sword of the Three Card, whose life he deftly ended with a J-blade to the heart.

Breathing heavily, Dalton stood in the ringing silence, no longer aware of the bleachers’ worth of cadets holding their collective breath. He was alive only to his own survival.

Zzmp.

The tiles supporting the dead card soldiers flipped; up came a set of white chessmen—pawns, knights, and rooks—and they raged toward Dalton. In a single fluid motion, he snatched the top hat off his head and flicked it flat into spinning rotary blades, which he sent slicing into the nearest pawn. The blades took out two more pawns and a rook while—

“Yah! Ugh!”

Dalton defended himself against a pair of knights, the wrist-blades of one hand activated—a centrifugal blur of Wonderland steel that served as a shield against the knights’ thrusts. He lifted his free hand to catch his spinning hat blades as they boomer­anged back to him.

Thuuunnk!

A cannonball dropped from the ceiling—so close that it took out one of the knights. Dalton staggered backward, unable regain solid footing before the ball doubled in size, morphing. Nodules protruded. Panels retracted. Eight long mechanical legs unfolded. Dalton found himself backed toward a wall by what we on Earth might describe as a giant steampunkish arachnid. Like all cannonball spiders, this one had pincers capable of sev­ering a Milliner in half.

Dalton slashed his way through a converging scrum of chess­men and ran to meet the advancing spider, diving head first between its legs and taking up position underneath its “belly.” The spider scuttled about, trying to get out of its own way, as it were, its pincers clacking air.

Thuuunnk! Thuuunnk!

More cannonball spiders dropped from the ceiling. A pro­jectile the size and shape of an ordinary playing card whizzed past Dalton’s head, shot from a rook’s AD-52—an automatic dealer capable of shooting razor-cards at the rate of fifty-two per second. Dalton pulled a tab on his backpack’s shoulder strap; a complex of rods and blades telescoped up and out of the pack, arranging themselves into a horizontal propeller that whirred over his head, lifting him into the air.

Kkkrrchkkrchkchk.

It wasn’t the smoothest liftoff, ascending through the body of a cannonball spider. The propeller jammed more than once. Dalton veered at chest height amid chessmen, kicking at them to get free. A spider’s pincers tore off half a trouser leg, but then . . . up, up he went, pulling his knees close to his chest, extending his arms below, and flexing his fists to activate his wrist-blades as shields from the chessmen’s razor-cards and crystal shot.

The cannonball spiders started to climb the walls. Dalton, nearing the ceiling. deactivated his wrist-blades, and a hand again went to his shoulder strap. The propeller retracted, his backpack returned to its everyday innocuous appearance, and he punched his belt buckle to open the sabers at his midsection; the longest blades he possessed flicked out out from all sides of him.

He let himself drop, spinning like a blender into the chess­men below.

Swink, swink, swink, swink!

Pieces of pawns, rooks, and nights lay all around him. AD52s and crystal shooters littered the floor.

The cannonball spiders jumped from the walls as Dalton armed himself with an AD52 in one hand and a crystal shooter in the other. He aimed between their pincers, sending missiles down their mechanical gullets. Most of the spiders burst into pieces. Some wobbled, then folded their legs, forever inert.

Dalton again stood, out of breath, in a ringing silence.

Zzmp.

The HATBOX floor tiles flipped, clearing the arena. The exhi­bition was over. Every cadet in the audience, having ducked or crouched to avoid cannonball spider shrapnel, now sat with their eyes wide and their mouths hanging open, the name Madigan reverberating in their heads with respect, awe.

Dalton Madigan Rides a Spirit-Dane

The life of a queen’s bodyguard: constant vigilance, but so far, for Dalton at least, no combat. He told himself that he wasn’t get­ting soft, that just because he spent his days amid the splendors of Heart Palace, where royals sipped tea and strolled in gardens while Queen Theodora occupied herself with diplomacy—none of this meant that he was falling out of top Milliner shape, phys­ically or mentally.

He wasn’t entirely convinced.

More and more, as he stood discreetly within sight of the queen while she confabbed with the Lords and Ladies of the Diamond, Club, and Spade families, Dalton would be flanked by the Heart princesses, Rose and Genevieve. Was he always so stiff and somber? Rose would tease. She was a constant flirt and decidedly less conventional than her sister.

“How can you effectively fight against Dark Imagination if you don’t know what it feels like?” she asked one time.

“I don’t need to be a criminal to thwart a criminal,” Dalton answered. “An assassin to thwart a murder—

“But you are an assassin when called upon to be one, aren’t you?” Rose laughed.

His brain always went fuzzy in her company. He tried not to notice the way her tongue poked out deliciously from between her teeth when she was privately amused. He tried not to notice the curves of her body, so tauntingly outlined by the tight dresses of jabberwock-hide she favored. But he couldn’t help it; his head, his thoughts, kept turning in Rose Heart’s direction.

It wasn’t instantaneous but a gradual wearing down of his resolve. Dalton came to feel that he didn’t have much choice; he surrendered to Rose and let himself be seduced. Having an affair with the princess, the daughter of the queen he’d sworn to pro­tect: he could be expelled from the Millinery for such a breach of ethics.

He had no intention of being like his parents, sabotaging his reputation, and he vowed to himself to end the relationship. But every time Rose called for him, he went to her, and he soon discovered that he liked secretly breaking the rules. As long as no one found out, he wouldn’t be like his parents.

He knew that Rose dabbled in Dark Imagination, and more than once, as he guarded Queen Theodora’s rooms at night, she messaged him, asking him to retrieve her from some illegal establishment that she’d sneaked off to visit, too far gone on artificial crystal to make it back to Heart Palace on her own. The more wild Rose became, the more he liked her. She was so unabashed, so disregardful of etiquette, norms, expectations, so unafraid to just be. He “liked” her? No, he loved her.

Then something happened. Queen Theodora quarantined her eldest daughter. It wasn’t like Rose to tolerate such treatment, but Dalton couldn’t get any information out of Genevieve as to the reason for the quarantine or for Rose’s tolerance of it. When, after what felt like an excruciatingly long time, he saw Rose again, he didn’t know that she had given birth to a girl, allegedly stillborn. But along with everyone else in Wonderland, he did know that, on account of Rose’s rebellious behavior, Queen Theodora had removed her from succession to the throne.

“How are you?” he asked tenderly.

“Glad I won’t have the burden of ruling,” she said with seem­ing nonchalance.

A few nights later she messaged him, needing him to bring her home from an artificial crystal den. As always, he didn’t ask for a palace guard to cover his post because this would have been a public admission that he was shirking his responsibilities. He secreted himself off to the crystal den, but Rose wasn’t there, and he very soon discovered why: she’d used his absence to sneak into Theodora’s rooms and murder the queen, swearing that she would wear the crown.

With shock, anger, dismay, Dalton understood that he’d been an accomplice in the queen’s death—unwitting, but an accomplice, nonetheless.

He didn’t say goodbye to anyone—not to Rose, whom he couldn’t help loving despite all, and not to his brother Hatter. He jumped into The Pool of Tears, a portal presumed to take those who entered its waters to other worlds, though no one had ever returned to verify it.

Dalton’s impulse to run, his unwillingness to face the conse­quences of his actions, surprised him. But he refused to live with his disgrace reflected in every Wonderland eye that deigned to look at him.

The Pool of Tears

Earth is a gray and primitive place compared to Wonderland. But Dalton, going through his days as if serving a prison term, thinks it appropriate; he doesn’t deserve better. He has spent years working as a mercenary for the unscrupulous and power-mad. His self-hatred and constant proximity to corruption have smashed what was left of his moral compass. Now, unknown to him, Wonderland suffers a violent convulsion, and his younger brother jumps into The Pool of Tears.

Now, not one but two Madigans wander the earth; each lost to themselves, they might yet find each other.

The Cheshire Cat Will Take Alice’s Head

The Cat (or the Cheshire Cat as some may wrongly know him), a shape-shifting creature born of Redd Heart’s imagination—part human, part feline, all assassin—assumed his most innocent incarnation: that of a cute kitten with golden fur. He was lucky to come across seven-year-old Princess Alyss Heart (Alice in Wonderland) just outside the palace gates on her birthday; it meant he wouldn’t have to transform himself to do away with the outer guards and risk their sounding an alarm.

He rubbed himself against the princess’s leg and let her pick him up to read the card attached to the ribbon around his neck. Happy Birthday, Alyss! He began to purr, a remnant of inclinations Redd hadn’t quite eliminated from his genetic makeup, and one that he didn’t like, but he wanted the princess herself to carry him into the palace, mistakenly thinking him a loving gift from an anonymous admirer.

It worked.

As soon as Redd’s assassin was within the palace walls, he bounded out of Princess Alyss’s arms and ran, still a kitten, along heart-shaped halls, past posts where guardsmen said, “What a cute little cat,” and “Here, kitty, kitty,” all of which annoyed him so much that he almost stopped to end their lives. ---

It was always the hardest part of appearing in such an innocuous guise: that he had to tolerate everyone talking to him as if he were an unthink­ing fur ball instead of Redd Heart’s newly dubbed Minister of Extermination.

The Cat approached the palace’s Security Oversight Room and transformed himself, his limbs stretching and expanding until he stood on two muscled legs. His forelegs became two lean and powerful arms and his front paws weaponized, with claws as sharp and long and wide as butcher’s knives. His face remained catlike, with a flat pink nose, whiskers, fangs.

Smashing through the locked door of the Security Oversight Room, The Cat surprised the five guards lounging by the con­trols and monitoring crystals, and quickly left them slumped and bleeding on the floor. He ripped the master key from the waistband of the highest-ranking guard and inserted it into the security console. He turned the key and flipped release switch after release switch; all over Heart Palace bolts unlocked, doors and gates swung open, and Redd’s troops stormed in.

Shifting back into a golden-furred kitty, the assassin bounded toward the South Dining Room, where—

“My cat!” Princess Alyss cried.

“Your—?” Queen Genevieve (the White Queen) said, but that was all she got out before The Cat again morphed into his deadliest (and he thought best) self, and an explosion shook the palace, goblets and chan­deliers trembled, and Redd’s mercenary soldiers stampeded into the room, blades unsheathed, crystal shooters firing.

Behind them, making a grand entrance, as if she were the featured guest at a ball, Redd herself appeared (The Red Queen). She had, The Cat knew, been anticipating this moment for a long time.

“Off with their heads!” she shrieked.

Innocent courtiers and civilians lost their lives in the fight­ing. Queen Genevieve’s chessmen might have stood a better chance against Redd’s mercenaries if The Cat hadn’t been so tal­ented, poking fatal holes in knights, rooks, bishops, and pawns as if he were an army unto himself, working his way through the welter of blood to where the famed Milliner Hatter Madigan (Mad Hatter) was being annoyingly impressive, subduing five of Redd’s troops.

If The Cat had a rival here, it was Hatter Madigan.

A big if, The Cat thought as a palace guard rushed at him, sword raised to strike. He allowed himself a condescending grin, then gutted the fellow, only to find himself attacked by—

“Yah!”

A ten-year-old who had picked up the guardsman’s sword. With a swipe of his paw, The Cat knocked the youngster to the floor, his claws slashing four lines of blood on the boy’s cherubic cheek. He didn’t know that the guardsman he’d killed was Sir Justice Anders or that the ten-year-old was Dodge Anders, Sir Justice’s son, and princess Alyss’s best friend. ---

He wouldn’t have cared. He was here to fulfill his promise as Minister of Extermination, and if not for being suddenly engaged against six chessmen, he would have finished off Dodge.

Gruesomely disposing of the six chessmen, The Cat spun around intending to cause further carnage when he saw Redd holding Princess Alyss aloft by her hair. Queen Genevieve was there, begging for her daughter’s life. But then Alyss did something— she must have; The Cat didn’t see what—because Redd’s resting grimace-face intensified and she dropped the princess.

Mother and daughter raced to the queen’s private rooms. The Cat sprinted after them, cornering them, about to wrest them from the living world when he heard a whirring sound and felt the cold stab of a blade—it belonged to Hatter Madigan—slice into his chest. He fell.

Being dead, The Cat couldn’t have said what happened immediately after that; all was black and silent until the wound in his chest healed and he opened his eyes and saw Queen Genevieve standing amid the shards of a shattered looking glass, facing Redd.

With a hiss, The Cat leaped at the queen, though he later realized that he probably should have waited another breath or two, because so soon after being dead, all of his speed and agility hadn’t yet returned. Genevieve conjured a white bolt of energy from her imagination and thrust it into him, killing him a second time.

Again, The Cat couldn’t have said what immediately followed. He didn’t know how much time had passed before he felt . . . a foot, was it? Kicking him? Then he heard Redd’s voice:

“Get up! You still have seven more lives.”

The Cat’s eyes fluttered open. Genevieve’s head was no longer attached to her body and Redd was wearing the crown.

“Find Alyss and kill her.”

Redd waved her hand, and the shattered looking glass was once again whole. The Cat jumped into it, emerging at a run in The Whispering Woods.

He ducked to avoid a blade that whistled past.

A Milliner’s blade.

So Princess Alyss was in Hatter Madigan’s protection.

Whiskers twitching, The Cat sprinted faster, lusting to get the better of the Milliner and avenge his own first death, as it were. As Hatter and Alyss reached a cliff overlooking The Pool

of Tears—a rumored portal to other worlds—The Cat sprang at them, his arms extended. He snagged the sleeve of the princess’s birthday dress, tearing it off with his claws, but that was all he got. Alyss Heart, holding tight to Hatter Madigan, plummeted to the water below.

At the cliff’s edge, The Cat stared down at the foaming, rippling pool. If there was one thing he didn’t like, it was water. Rain, showers, baths, it didn’t matter which; he hated getting wet. He turned and stalked back into The Whispering Woods with the scrap of Alyss’s dress in his fist.

Returning to Heart Palace, The Cat knew better than to admit failure to Redd. He held up the shred of Alyss’s dress. “This is all that’s left of them. I’m sorry, Your Highness. I couldn’t

control myself.”

“It’s unwise to control yourself in a situation like that,” Redd said. “Well done.”

The Cat had no idea that Redd, wanting to be sure of Alyss’s death, searched for the princess in her imagination’s eye. But fortunately for the Minister of Extermination, imagination couldn’t penetrate The Pool of Tears.

At a mere five months old, The Cat—though already dead twice—was new to life, having first opened his eyes in one of Redd’s engendering rooms at Mt. Isolation, where she had lived in exile before the coup, and where she would choose to remain as Wonderland’s queen, lest she forget.

An engendering room was part science lab, part incubator for imaginative play. In Wonderland, imagination was a force capable of creating tangible things—sometimes in an instant, as if by magic, while other times an imaginatively gifted Wonderlander was more like an inventor at her desk, experimenting, working through trial and error to bring a vision to actuality.

Redd, with her extraordinary talent, could invent inorganic, mechanical contraptions by conjuring—spontaneous creations she imagined into being. She could also create life, bringing organic (and semi-organic) creatures such as The Cat into existence by imagining customizations to natural evolutionary processes.

Designer babies? Not for Redd. She preferred designer assassins, spies, etc.

Before The Cat, she had created what she deemed lesser versions of a feline assassin—each compromised by some lack or other: one, for example, had been too frisky, easily distracted from its purpose of killing. But Redd would brook no compromise^ if she could help it. The Cat would be as formidable an assassin as she could fathom him—the ultimate assassin, she dared to believe.

The Cat opened his eyes for the first time, saw his creator standing over him, and knew certain things as if he’d been programmed: the only lust he had was for blood and nothing gave him so much pleasure as killing; he could shape-shift; he had nine lives; he loved Redd Heart, liked all things string, and despised water.

Redd impatiently began training him, forcing him to complete what amounted to a series of obstacle courses for a murderer. The Cat sneaked and stalked his way through built environments, assassinating targets of increasing martial skill (Redd sacrificed a bunch of her followers in this manner)—card soldiers, chessmen of higher and higher rank, and ultimately a few ex-Milliners, deserters from Wonderland’s elite military corps.

As The Cat stood over the lifeless Milliners, licking himself clean, Redd decided that he was ready. She dubbed him Minister of Extermination. With his help, she wouldn’t fail to usurp Wonderland’s crown from her younger sister.

For thirteen years, Redd ruled Wonderland without a care save for those that plague every merciless, paranoid, vengeful queen. The governance of Light Imagination—guided by love, princi­ples of social and economic justice—had been supplanted by Dark Imagination. There were labor camps, executions, and citizens everywhere were encouraged, via propaganda, to inform on neighbors, friends, family for any sign of disloyalty to Her Imperial Viciousness, as it now amused Queen Redd to be called.

No one was more loyal to Her Imperial Viciousness than The Cat. Whenever some mercenary started to garner Redd’s special attention, he saw that mercenary as a rival and found ways for him to go missing. To please Her Imperial Viciousness, The Cat hunted rebels and ingrates daily—especially the former, a militia that called themselves Alyssians in honor of the young princess who (so everyone believed) had been killed. ---

Princess Alyss Heart might no longer have been flesh and blood, but she was very much alive as an icon of hope for peace’s return. And Dodge Anders, Alyss’s childhood friend, four parallel scars marring his otherwise handsome cheek, was growing up to be a leading member of the Alyssians.

Unaware that, in Dodge Anders, he’d made an enemy to last all of his lifetimes, The Cat was personally responsible for the Alyssians’ ever-dwindling numbers, and Redd trusted her Minister of Extermination as much as she trusted any living thing, which admittedly wasn’t a lot. ---

She knew that The Cat was flawed—she hadn’t been able to rid him of all his feline inclina­tions—and perhaps she believed that the flaws represented her own failure of imagination in creating him. She would never have admitted this to herself, but it might account for why, now, thirteen years into reign, after infuriating intel comes her way, she doesn’t murder The Cat seven times and add him to the trash heap of her failed creations.

“Tell me again,” she says, “how you tore Alyss Heart into little fleshy bits and hurled them into The Pool of Tears all those years ago.”

The Cat can smell that something’s wrong, but he repeats his lie that he killed Princess Alyss and Hatter Madigan the day of the coup.

Redd’s left hand forms into a cat’s paw. She spears him through the stomach with the claws of her index and middle fingers, waits for him to regain life, then—

“It is of course all right for you to lie, Cat, so long as you never lie to me. I have learned that Alyss Heart is alive on Earth, the world at the bottom of The Pool of Tears. You will enter the pool.”

The Cat hisses and spits—an instinctive reaction when con­tact with detestable water looms. Redd moves as if to spear him in the stomach again, but stops. It’s the only self-restraint she has ever exhibited, as far as The Cat knows. But his hatred of water, the very thing that had allowed Hatter and Alyss to escape—whose fault is that? It might be this question that gives Redd pause. Flaws and all, The Cat is still the best assassin she has at her disposal.

“You will find my niece and you will rip, chop, or twist off her head,” she commands. “I don’t care which so long as her head comes off. You will bring this head to me. If you return without it, or if you don’t return at all out of fear of what I will do to you, I will assume that Alyss is alive, and I will do far worse to you than if you presented yourself to me and begged for my nonexistent mercy.”

The Cat bows. “I will not fail you this time, Your Imperial Viciousness.”

“No, I don’t suppose you will.”

Briefly suppressing his hatred of water, The Cat jumps into The Pool of Tears, emerging in our world, on the hunt for Princess Alyss Heart of Wonderland. And whether Her Imperial Viciousness wants to believe it or not, even the most powerful imagination, in creating a living being, cannot get the better of natural processes that have taken eons to evolve. ---    

Independent of Redd for the first time, the more the feline assassin interacts with Earthlings (to whom he considers himself superior), the more tenuous becomes the thread tying him to his maker— and to the creature she had programmed him to be. Using his shape-shifting powers, he discovers that he can lead many more lives than the six he has remaining.

Unfortunately for us, Earth is The Cat’s new playground.

The Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland, is Redd Hot!

Rose Heart (Redd), The Red Queen of Alice in Wonderland (Queen of Hearts), elder sister of Queen Genevieve the White Queen, and once heir to Wonderland’s throne, stood on the jagged promon­tory of Mount Isolation in The Chessboard Desert. Stretching in all directions, acres of icy snow alternated with acres of tar and black rock, forming what looked like a giant chessboard. Immediately below: a military pieced together out of deserters from Wonderland, mercenaries from neighboring Boarderland.

By the force of her vindictive will, as much as the training these soldiers had endured for ten hours of every lunar cycle, Redd’s army was at last ready. She had picked this day to attack— the seventh birthday of her niece, Princess Alyss Heart—for symbolic reasons. Wonderland would be celebrating its future queen. What better time to take revenge on Genevieve and wrench back her rightful crown?

Redd spread out her arms as if to embrace all that was bad, and threw her voice into the wind:

“Years ago, I was removed from the power to which I’d been born! All of you have had to leave your homes for one reason or another, and together we have suffered through our lives in this barren land! No more! Today, we return to our birthplace and remake it in my image! Today, I make history!”

Redd and her army fought their way into the capital city of Wondertropolis, trailing blood, and Redd entered Heart Palace for the first time since she was a teenager—the palace in which she’d been born and spent most of her young life. Her palace.

Her removal from succession to the throne and its immedi­ate aftermath came back to her with heart-stopping gall...

“It’s your own fault, Rose,” her mother Queen Theodora said. “I can’t allow you to become queen. You won’t listen to anyone’s counsel, and you insist on being undisciplined and reckless, disregarding the most basic principles of Light Imagination.”

Light Imagination: guided by love, justice, a sense of duty to the well-being of others.

“Perhaps I have discipline in other things,” Rose fumed.

“The queendom needs stability,” Theodora said, “a monarch whose inclination is to calmly engage in statecraft and the administration of policy. Not one whose self-interests would—sooner rather than later, I’m sure—compromise the queendom politically, strategically; or perhaps worse, cause her to abandon her responsibilities altogether in favor of any momentary pleasure that came along.”

Genevieve was to be monarch. Rose’s features twisted and sharpened, so potent was the fury within her. Her younger sister, queen? Abandoning herself to wrath, Rose slipped late at night into her mother’s bedroom.

“Even you can’t take away what is mine by birthright,” she snarled and placed a deadly pink mushroom on her mother’s tongue. Fed by the queen’s saliva, the roots of the fungus worked their way down the sleeping sovereign’s throat and strangled her heart.

As for her father, a weak and useless man, Rose let him live. But then Genevieve actually seemed to believe that she should be queen!

King Tyman Heart, Father of Rose and Genevieve - Art by Brian Flora

The sisters each gathered their followers. The two sides clashed. Many Wonderlanders died. Homes were destroyed. Rose’s imaginative gifts were greater than Genevieve’s (to an Earthling, imaginative Wonderlanders would seem like superheroes, capable of extraordinary strength as well as feats of magic), but her forces were outnumbered. She was banished to Mount Isolation, where she dubbed herself Redd for the blood she would one day spill, gave herself over entirely to Dark Imagination, and nursed her outrage until . . .

Seething with anger, Redd strode toward Heart Palace’s South Dining Room, paying no attention to the explosions going off to the left and right of her, the palace guardsmen falling dead at the hands of her soldiers. Without slowing her pace, without a flinch, she walked through the smoke and flames, unharmed.

It gave her no small pride to see The Cat (Cheshire cat) performing so well in battle, spilling the innards of Genevieve’s soldiers with ease. She had dispatched her top assassin to the palace in advance of her attack. He’d infiltrated it as a cute kitten, but once inside, he had transformed himself (as he could do at will), his limbs stretching and expanding until he stood on two muscled legs, his forelegs becoming lean and powerful arms and his front paws thick, with claws as sharp and long and wide as butcher’s knives. His face had remained feline, with a flat pink nose, whiskers, slobbery fangs.

The Cat was standing over a dead palace guard and swatting away some kid in a pretend guardsman’s uniform when Redd passed him and bent down to look under a dining table. There, crying, huddled the birthday girl, Alyss Heart.

“Hello, niece.”

Redd lifted the princess out from under the table by her long black hair, the mayhem of battle intensifying around them.

“So you were to be queen, were you?” Redd snorted, unimpressed.

“Let her go.” It was Genevieve.

“The time for you giving orders is over, sister,” Redd sneered. “You must know that, for reasons of succession,” this last she said with particular venom, “I can’t afford to leave any Hearts alive—except myself, obviously. Which reminds me. If you’re still expecting your husband, King Nolan, to return from his recent negotiations with Boarderland, I have the privilege of informing you that he won’t. Ever.”

With her imagination, Redd conjured the scene for all to see: King Nolan and his men ambushed as they approached Heart Palace, Redd marching up to the king and killing him with her sharp, pointed scepter.

Oh, how it pleased Redd to hear Princess Alyss cry out as she saw her father die! How it amused Redd that a gasping, dis­traught Genevieve imagined forth a pitiful arsenal of missiles to bear down on her, which she sent clattering to the floor with a brief lowering of her eyelids.

Alyss stabbed Redd’s forearm with a jabberwock tooth that had been hanging on her necklace.

“Ah!”

Redd dropped Alyss, who ran with her mother down a hall. The Cat bounded after them. Redd followed with haughty non­chalance, entering Genevieve’s private rooms to see her feline assassin limp on the floor with a fatal wound in his chest. Hatter Madigan (Mad Hatter), who’d taken the place of his older brother Dalton as royal bodyguard and held Princess Alyss in his arms, was step­ping into a looking glass.

Genevieve smashed the glass and turned to face Redd. The Cat, still on the floor, opened his eyes. His wound healed and, with a hiss, he jumped at Genevieve, who conjured a white bolt of energy from her imagination and thrust it into him, killing him again.

Laughing, Redd yanked the jagged bolt out of The Cat and twirled it like a baton. It turned red in her hand. She slammed the bolt into the floor; dozens of black roses sprouted from the point of impact, their thorny stems wrapping themselves around Genevieve, pricking her skin and binding her fast. The rose petals opened and closed, toothy mouths eager for a bite of royal flesh.

“Off with your head,” Redd ordered, pulling the energy bolt out of the floor.

She swung the bolt like a sword. Genevieve’s head went one way, her body another, and her crown clattered to the stone tiles. Redd picked up the crown and put it on her own head, then kicked at The Cat where he lay, tongue lolling in his mouth, the picture of death.

“Get up! You still have seven more lives.”

The Cat’s eyes fluttered open.

“Find Alyss and kill her.”

Redd waved her hand; the looking glass that Hatter Madigan had entered was again whole. The Cat jumped through, in pur­suit of the only living Heart besides Redd.

He almost caught her, too. He emerged from a looking glass in The Whispering Woods and stalked Hatter Madigan to a cliff overlooking The Pool of Tears, a portal that allegedly car­ried those who entered it out of Wonderland. But then Hatter, clutching Alyss tightly, jumped from the cliff, plummeting into the pool’s roiling waters, and The Cat only managed to snag a sleeve off of the Princess’s birthday dress.

“Well?” Redd said when The Cat returned to Heart Palace. “Where is her head?”

One didn’t admit failure to Redd and get away with it with­out suffering pain or worse. The Cat held up the shred of Alyss’s dress. “This is all that’s left. I’m sorry, Your Highness. I couldn’t control myself.”

A scheming, dishonest mind such as Redd’s always suspected others of scheming and dishonesty. She tried to see Alyss in her imagination’s eye, to discover the truth for herself: nothing. Imagination couldn’t penetrate The Pool of Tears, which was lucky for The Cat.

Redd Heart, queen of Wonderland, believed Alyss to be dead.

Princess Rose age 13 – Art by Jennifer Bricking

Some Wonderlanders were born evil. Others were made evil, all goodness bludgeoned out of them by repeated misfortune. But Rose Heart? Although she wasn’t wired like most Wonderlanders, she hadn’t been born completely bad. Misfortunes, or what she perceived as misfortunes, buffeted her again and again until, as if to defend herself against a misunderstanding world, she let her less decent tendencies flower into much worse, and she became the personification of evil.

From an early age, Rose had never liked to be told what to do. She often disregarded her parents’ admonitions and the stric­tures of polite society. Not from a sense of entitlement so much as from an impulsive, easily bored nature. As she grew into a teen, she of course presumed to know more than everybody else, the natural arrogance of her youth exacerbated by the fact that she was gifted with superior imaginative powers and intellect.

She started experimenting with artificial crystal and imag­ination stimulants (the opioids of Wonderland), and when it came to sex, she was no prude. She wasn’t even modest. She would strut around the palace and courts in skin-tight dresses made of red jabberwock-hide, taking particular pleasure in teas­ing the royal bodyguard Dalton Madigan, who’d graduated as Top Cadet from the Millinery, where Wonderland’s elite military trained.

Princess Rose age 18 – Art by Chris Appelhans

“Your Highness, my loyalty is to you and you alone,” Dalton swore, his eyes speaking his infatuation, his love.

As a Milliner, Rose knew, his loyalty should be to the queen­dom. But Dalton’s breach only made her happier: she privately reveled in the power she had over him. Was she in love? She never asked herself this question. Dalton was handsome, sure, but he was also highly placed and respected, supremely talented in combat, and so he might one day prove useful.

Rose liked Wonderlanders to be useful to her, even if she didn’t always know, when she collected them under her sway, what they might be useful for. Inevitably, once a person had served his or her purposes, she would toss them aside. But more than a few of those she’d so unceremoniously dropped cherished the whole thing—being used and tossed aside. It gave them bragging rights over those who had never interacted with Rose Heart, the flam­boyant, charismatic heir to the throne.

In her late teens, Rose began to publicly challenge her moth­er’s political choices in front of others. She scoffed and com­plained. Her mother, she clearly thought, was a feckless queen, too easily manipulated by neighboring governments.

At one point, ignored and dismissed by her mother, Rose determined to reset Wonderland’s political machinations to her liking by subterfuge. The details of her scheme, what Rose specif­ically hoped to accomplish, aren’t important here, but it involved staging her own abduction from Wonderland, with help from King Arch, the nomadic overlord of neighboring Boarderland.

Arch epitomized Boarderland. Wild and rugged, he was a sovereign who, when not sating his addiction to pleasure (pref­erably laced with danger), was prone to impulsive violence. He and Rose Heart . . . well, if Dalton Madigan had known what the two of them were doing while she pretended to be a prisoner, he would not have been happy. But again, Rose did not ask herself if what she felt was love. Only later, once matters of state kept her and Arch apart for an extended period, did she occasionally feel stabs of . . . the most she would admit to herself was that she felt something lay unfinished between them.

From her earliest teen years, Rose had been a dabbler in the prac­tices of Dark Imagination, using her creative gift for small decep­tions, for illusions that fostered petty discord among those in her orbit. That Dark Imagination was outlawed in Wonderland didn’t seem to bother her. In fact, by the time of her faked abduction, Rose thought the outlawing of Dark Imagination misguided. She was convinced that a queen like her mother, who practiced Light Imagination alone, could not defend Wonderland from the unscrupulous maneuverings of other nations.

And so, while a “prisoner” of Arch’s in Boarderland, Rose worked to become a master of Dark Imagination.

Boarderland – Art by Vance Kovacs

It’s possible that Rose would have one day tried to convince her mother that a sovereign equally masterful in both Dark and Light Imagination was superior to a queen who’d only mastered Light. And maybe Theodora would have given her eldest daugh­ter the benefit of the doubt and not punished her for breaking the law, and Rose Heart would have grown into a sober, thought­ful adult who, everyone agreed, would make a fabulous queen.

We’ll never know.

Because soon after Rose returned to Wonderland after being a “prisoner” (which Theodora never learned was faked, and which did not produce the political results Rose had hoped for), it was discovered that she was pregnant.

Theodora wept and railed. Genevieve sat quietly by, perhaps embarrassed for her sister.

“Who is the child’s father?” Theodora demanded.

Rose wouldn’t tell, but she also couldn’t: she didn’t know. It might have been Dalton Madigan or King Arch. Neither prospect would have calmed her mother. And anyway, Dalton was no lon­ger at the palace. Rumor had it that he’d jumped into The Pool of Tears, and Rose could only guess at his reasons.

Not knowing of her relations with Arch, Dalton no doubt believed the child to be his. He’d broken the Millinery code in a big way, by letting himself get more than just emotionally entan­gled with one he had sworn to protect—and a royal, at that. He might have been ashamed, thought himself incapable of living in Wonderland, the one-time star of the Millinery now disgraced, demoted to an ordinary civilian.

The Royal House of Hearts: Princess Rose Heart, Queen Theodora, King Tyman, Princess Genevieve – Art by Vance Kovacs

Theodora, seemingly resigned to the unfortunate choices her eldest daughter had made, did what she could to keep the preg­nancy a secret. But after Rose gave birth, while she was delirious and exhausted from pain, Theodora tricked her into believing that the child, a girl, had been stillborn. And as soon as Rose recovered, Theodora gave her the news: she would not be, could not ever be, queen of Wonderland.

Had Rose discovered that her mother lied to her and that her daughter was alive, who knows how bad things might have gotten. As it was, it seemed they could hardly have been worse— being removed from succession enough to spur her rage and vengeance. None was more selfish, more vindictive than Redd Heart. None more mercilessly violent, more dismissive of others’ suffering.

Which was why, when she at last took the place of honor in Heart Palace’s throne room and summoned the suit families into her presence, she found them admirably sycophantic. The Clubs, Spades, Diamonds. Along with the Hearts, they were Wonderland’s ranking families, serving as a kind of parliament or advisory to the sovereign.

Redd announced that she would have no need of their input. that she demanded absolute loyalty. And one by one, the lords and ladies of each suit family got down on their knees and swore undying fealty to Redd Heart.

It was good to be the queen.

TOP FRANCHISES FROM IP: MORE THAN JUST A MOVIE

What is the secret to growing a franchise from niche beginnings to global goliath status? I asked my good friend (and marketing mastermind) Vincent Bruzzese this question—and found myself tumbling down the rabbit hole as he shared his findings on the makings of the biggest IPs dominating the entertainment landscape.

Billion Dollar Franchises

Original content that attracts an avid fanbase, whether as:

Original content that expands to other platforms:

A “stalling point,” at which time the franchise reboots with expansive new content to attract new generations of devotees.

THREE STAGES OF A SUCCESSFUL FRANCHISE

Stage One - Original content continues to expand and commercially excel (Fast and the Furious, The Walking Dead).

Stage Two – The big “stall,” due either to declining viewership/box-office/sales (Pirates of the Caribbean) or because a natural narrative stopping point has been reached (Game of Thrones).

Stage Three – Revitalization of stalled franchise through reboot, reimagination, additional world-creation, or origin stories (Star Trek, Jurassic World, and Batman Begins).

Stage-two franchises are like dormant volcanos waiting for a reigniting spark. Often, a revitalized franchise proves more formidable than ever.

All “sparks” capitalize on the appeal and brand identity of a franchise’s original content, offering it in a fresh context that excites longtime fans while attracting diehard new audiences.

Historically proven sparks:

A retelling from a different character’s POV:

Expanding a small part contained in the original content:

Delving into untold character histories, origin stories:

A reimagining with a different tone or narrative:

WONDERLAND’S SPARK: THE LOOKING GLASS WARS

This New York Times best-selling trilogy is a “dual-sparker,” delving into the real story behind the Alice character (origin tale), and wholly reimagining Wonderland and its cast in a never-seen-before epic that won acclaim from both critics and lifelong Alice fans.

With over 150 million books sold and $1.5 billion in worldwide theatrical revenue, Alice in Wonderland is one of the most successful franchises of all time. Now LGW, with its expansion and re-envisioning of the original IP, proves that public-domain Alice is ready to erupt anew into the mainstream with potential franchising agreements. 

GOING DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

To best understand the value of The Looking Glass Wars, it’s necessary to look at the power of Alice In Wonderland's original IP.

ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND

ALICE IN THE MODERN AGE

The sequel’s poor reception is not a gauge of the franchise’s overall health. It shows that Alice IP is in Stage Two—stalled, in need of a spark to reignite its artistic and commercial success.

IS THERE A DISNEY EFFECT?

How much of Alice’s ongoing success is attributable to the original IP? How much to the Disney brand?

This side-by-side comparison shows that—controlling for Disney’s influence, the film star, and the production budget—the strength of the Alice IP propelled one film to success over the other.

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS THE STORY

One of the most popular genres over the past five years: 

Contains the three most successful narrative tropes of the past twenty-five years:

The heart of the story: There is an ORIGIN STORY of Alice behind Lewis Carroll’s telling of Alice’s adventures — one that he believed too dark to write:

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS THE UNIVERSE

Soundtracks, games, a musical, and prequels to the original trilogy—the LGW universe continues to expand with a vast array of characters, stories, and new worlds to explore.

WHY THE LOOKING GLASS WARS?  WHY NOW?

TIMELESS THEMES:

LGW rectifies a major historical mistake (the untold story of Alice) in a way that weaves some of the great narrative archetypal themes in movie history into a new and exciting universe of content.

THE CULTURE:

THE AUDIENCE:

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS PROOF OF CONCEPT

ARCHETYPES IN ALICE AND WONDERLAND

Every successful franchise incorporates time-tested archetypal themes that keep the audience engrossed in its universe. The more pronounced the archetypes, the more profitable and long-lasting the franchise tends to be.

The following archetypes have played significant roles in the success of powerful franchises.

LGW brings these archetypes to life in a way that is certain to intrigue the imaginations of Alice fans worldwide:

THE ADVANTAGE OF BUILT IN AWARENESS

It takes roughly three weeks of marketing efforts to increase levels of awareness from 38% to 72% and slightly longer to go from 3% unaided to 12%.

With the average P&A spend for wide-release theatrical films at $35 million, and with 70% of the spend typically used in the first three weeks, the built-in awareness equates to roughly $24.5 million.

CONCLUSIONS

About the Author:

Vincent Bruzzese is a leading expert in Hollywood on production and marketing strategy (having worked on more than 1,500 films). Being a former professor of statistics and a senior executive of two top entertainment research firms, MarketCast and OTX, Vincent was head of the strategy and analytics team for STX. Most Recently, he is Head of Marketing and Strategy at Solstice Studios.

"This is a unique opportunity...

To reimagine one of the biggest franchises in content history.

You’re not just buying into a property.

You’re tapping into a touchstone of our culture. That can be very powerful.

Yet no one owns Wonderland, because it has not been centralized—say in the way

Michael Crichton owns dinosaurs. You need Jurassic Park.

But you need a story, a way in.

One that would connect the dots for a new generation. For decades to come . . .

The Looking Glass Wars

is that story brought to life today."

Lewis Carroll, the Writer that got Alice In Wonderland Wrong

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who gained international fame as Lewis Carroll, was born in Cheshire, England in 1832, the eldest son of a conservative, middle-class Anglican Family. A shy loner with a pronounced stutter, a sufferer of migraines and seizures, he was a precocious, scholastically gifted boy, and success in school came easily to him when he chose to apply himself; the young Charles, it seemed, was prone to distraction, to reverie. Nonetheless, his talents brought him to Oxford University’s Christ Church, where, in 1855, after earning first class honors and a B.A., he was awarded a Mathematical Lectureship. In 1861, he became one of the youngest deacons in the Anglican Church.

By all accounts, Reverend Dodgson was an austere, fastidious man, a puttering, fussy bachelor inclined toward conservatism in politics, religion, and social mores. His daily routines were precisely choreographed and adhered to; he inevitably took the same routes from his rooms in Christ Church’s Tom Quad to lecture halls and back again. He made diagrams of where guests sat when they came to dine with him, noting down what they ate so that the next time these guests visited, he wouldn’t serve them the same dish again. He summarized and catalogued every letter he wrote or received.

Such a man would seem an unlikely candidate to author Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, whose enchanting nonsense has held the world under its whimsical sway for over 150 years and counting. But the history of imagination is filled with surpris­ing paradoxes, and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was the greatest paradox of all.

Respected, comfortable, with a small circle of friends, contentment yet eluded the thirty-year-old Oxford Don when, in 1856, Dean Henry Liddell arrived at Christ Church with his family. Until then, a shadow of disappointment had hung over Dodgson’s life—he couldn’t have articulated why—but it began to lift as he befriended the Liddells and their three daughters, Edith, Lorina, and Alice.

Especially Alice, the youngest child, an adoptee.

Dodgson had always been more at ease with children than with adults, but in Alyss’s presence, the constriction inside him relaxed to a greater degree; the guardrails he’d so carefully set around his daily life wobbled. He found himself again drifting into reveries, as he hadn’t done since he was a boy.

It wasn’t anything untoward that drew him to Alice Liddell. She had an ineffable quality, an intriguing coupling of wisdom and innocence in her look and manner. Oddly, Dodgson felt as if he might learn from her—he didn’t know what exactly, only that whatever it was might dissipate the mysterious pall he felt over everything he did.

One afternoon, he took the Liddell girls out for boating trip to Godstow. They stopped to rest, and while Edith and Lorina played in the shallows of the River Isis, as that particular stretch of the Thames was called, Dodgson lounged on the grass with Alice.

“Don’t you want to join your sisters?” he asked.

“No,” she replied.

Dodgson thought this a charming answer. “But why not?”

“After you’ve been a princess and had your queendom taken from you, as I have, it’s hard to get excited about a mess of fish and weeds in a river.”

Dodgson laughed. “Whatever are you talking about?”

Alice explained that her real name was Alyss Heart. She spelled it out: “A-l-y-s-s.”

Her mother was Queen Genevieve of Wonderland, she said. She and the queen and a party of courtiers had been celebrating her birthday in Heart Palace when her nasty aunt Redd, a grimacing woman with flaming red hair, attacked. It was a horrible, bloody scene, with Redd’s raging card soldiers fighting Queen Genevieve’s chessmen.

“Card soldiers?” Dodgson interrupted. “Chessmen?”

Alyss tried to describe the platoons of fifty-two soldiers who would lie in a stack before being dealt into action, then unfolded and fanned out to fight. She did her best to present him with a picture of the pawns and rooks and bishops under General Doppelgänger’s command, but what she really wanted to tell Dodgson was that she didn’t know what had happened to her mother, though she assumed the worst.

“You don’t know?” Dodgson gently pressed.

No, Alice explained, because Redd’s most fearsome henchthing, The Cat, had tried to kill her and she’d had to jump into The Pool of Tears with royal bodyguard Hatter Madigan, a graduate of the Millinery, where Wonderland’s elite security personnel trained. She had lost Hatter in the pool but was sure he would find her eventually and take her back to Wonderland.

Alice went on to tell Dodgson everything she still remembered about Wonderland: the giant mushrooms, caterpillar-oracles, tarty tarts, and looking glass travel via something called The Crystal Continuum.

“Let me see if I understand you correctly,” he said. “People can travel through looking glasses, enter through one and exit from another?”

“Yes. I’ve tried it here but none of the glasses work.”

“Tell me more about this Red Queen of yours,” Dodgson encouraged, thinking of Queen Victoria, her excesses and intimidations.

He took out pencil and paper, taking notes and sketching, as Alice went on at length about Redd—and about The Cat, and Hatter, whose top hat flattened into a weapon of spinning

blades. She described how General Doppelgänger could split into the twin figures of General Doppel and General Gänger, and each of them could then split into twins as many times as they wanted. She talked of her tutor Bibwit Harte, an albino two meters tall, with bluish-green veins pulsing visibly beneath his skin and ears a bit large for his head—ears so sensitive that he could hear someone whispering from three streets away. And, her voice dipping low in a sadness different in character from when she talked of her mother, she told Dodgson about her best friend, Dodge Anders, son of Sir Justice Anders whom the Cat had killed in front of her eyes at her birthday party.

Dodge. Dodgson.

He was the boy. The reverend was flattered, though he believed Alice’s stories to be the result of hardships endured before the Liddells had adopted her. It was likely, he supposed, that whatever had befallen Alice’s birth parents and landed her at the Charing Cross Foundling Hospital had been quite traumatic, and that she invented stories to cope with the horrors of her life. Mere stories? No, an elaborate fantasy life—harsh, to be sure, but startlingly inventive.

“You have the most amazing imagination, Alice,” he told her.

“I did,” she huffed. “It hasn’t been so powerful since I’ve been here.”

Charles Dodgson, energized and inspired to a pitch he’d never been before, didn’t realize it then, but with his pen he was going to try and bring some relief to this delightful child, this product of unknown traumas. He would transform her gruesome, violent imaginings into the ridiculous, rendering them laughable rather than things to be feared. And if, by turning Hatter Madigan into the Mad Hatter, General Doppelgänger into Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and Redd’s assassin—who could morph from an ordinary kitten into a murderous humanoid with feline head and claws—into the grinning Cheshire Cat; if while Dodgson did all of this, he also managed to satirize the current state of British politics and its major actors, well, all the better.

Dodgson—let’s call him by his nom de plume, Lewis Carroll— had written poems and little satirical works before, even pub­lished a few of them in journals he deemed not very special. (It’s curious to note that he’d first used the pen name Lewis Carroll the year he met Alice Liddell, for a poem he published in 1856.) Still, not Carroll’s earlier publications, not mathematical puzzles, not the beauty of logic, had fired up his imagination as much as transforming what he deemed to be Alice’s make-believe into a playful adventure novel.

He saw Alice regularly over the next several years, during which he found himself aglow with creativity. The world looked somehow brighter, more vibrant, and for the first time he thought himself to be truly happy. He had already taken up the new art form of photography (again, curiously, in the same year that he met the Liddells), but now his explorations of that medium increased until he was something of a master. He cre­ated an invention for taking notes in the dark, as well as an early iteration of a game that we know today as Scrabble. In mathe­matics, he developed new ideas in linear algebra. And when not exercising his imagination in these various ways, Carroll found time to befriend gifted artists and scholars—John Ruskin, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and numerous others.

With the manuscript of what he had titled Alice’s Adventures Underground at last finished, he presented it to Alice Liddell one afternoon on the banks of the River Cherwell. It was wrapped in brown paper and tied with a black ribbon. Dodgson watched anxiously as Alice untied the ribbon and carefully removed the wrapping.

“Oh!” the girl exclaimed, her mouth flat-lining in displeasure.

What sort of title was Alice’s Adventures Underground? She wanted to know. And why was her name misspelled when she had correctly spelled it out for him? And who was Lewis Carroll?

“I thought it would be more festive than saying it was by me, a stodgy old reverend,” Carroll said.

Festive? She had told him little that was festive. Alice opened the manuscript. Its dedication took the form of a poem, in which her name was again misspelled. Her gaze caught on one of the stanzas:

"The dream-child moving through a land

Of wonders, wild and new,

In friendly chat with bird or beast –

And half believed it true."

“Dream-child?” she murmured with growing concern. “Half believed?”

She turned to the first chapter. Carroll noted at once the quiver of her bottom lip, how she slumped as if she’d had the wind knocked out of her.

“I admit that I took a few liberties with your story,” he said. “Do you recognize the tutor fellow you once described to me? He’s the white rabbit character. I got the idea for him upon dis­covering that the letters of the tutor’s name could be made to spell ‘white rabbit.’ Here, let me show you.”

Carroll took a pencil and small notebook from the inside pocket of his coat, but Alice didn’t want to look.

“You mean you did this on purpose?” she asked. He had purposely twisted her memories—which, with his help, she had hoped to prove to everyone were true—into this foolish, non­sensical book?

“I . . . I thought it . . . m-m-might help you,” Carroll stammered.

Alice jumped to her feet, yelling. “No one is ever going to believe me now! You’ve ruined everything! You’re the cruelest man I’ve ever met, Mr. Dodgson, and if you had believed a single word I told you, you’d know how very cruel that is! I never want to see you! Never, never, never!”

She ran, leaving Carroll at the riverbank. Shaken, unsure of what had just happened, he picked up the manuscript, still warm from Alice’s touch, fearing that this was as close to her as he’d ever be again.

The publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland met a lukewarm reception at first, but within six years, it became a phenomenal commercial success. “Lewis Carroll” was famous, and the book’s royalties gave Dodgson the financial security to do whatever he wished. Although pleased by the public’s reception of his work, he preferred to remain at Oxford, teaching, serving tea to close friends. In short, he preferred to live modestly as a retiring bachelor.

Some of this might have had to do with depression. Alice was making good on her word never to see him again, and all friendly association with the Liddell family had ceased on June 27th, 1863. Without the enlivening spark of Alice’s presence, the pall Dodgson had known before meeting her resettled over his life. His interest in photography deserted him. He invented nothing.

He had heard through gossip that Alice resented what fame had come to her as the purported inspiration for Adventures. How it must have galled her, he supposed, that in betraying her memories with his book (as she believed), he had thrust a fame on her founded on absurd falsehoods. He gave up hope of ever spending time with her again and uncharacteristically destroyed four entire volumes of his diaries and ripped pages out of others— pages that detailed afternoons with Alice Liddell, as well as the day he broke with the whole Liddell family.

Life trudged on. Dodgson pursued his mathematical interests and wrote poetry, but the efforts felt mechanical. By 1870, after the death of his father had darkened his overall mood even further, he recognized that he needed Alice, his “dream-child” (he thought the designation a compliment), to help him—not just to live as fully in his imaginings as he’d once been able to, but also for the strength she somehow gave him to contend with a world full of grotesqueries, corruption, and petty vanities.

Dodgson never would have believed that Alice Liddell was one day going to return to him: a young woman with enlightened notions, on the cusp of marriage, who would not only forgive him for his so-called betrayal but recognize that, because of the fame his book had brought her, she had an opportunity to effect substantive societal change that wouldn’t otherwise have been available to her.

Nor would Dodgson have believed that, unexpectedly buoyed by Alice’s company, he’d again find himself writing as Lewis Carroll. Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice found There, a sequel to Adventures, was published in 1871. A nonsense poem entitled The Hunting of the Snark entered the marketplace in 1876.

All of these things came to pass, reminding Dodgson that, in his best days, he had always preferred to believe in the impossible. Happily for him, another impossible thing happened: as Miss Alice Liddell recruited Charles Lutwidge Dodgson into her schemes for bettering the lives of the unfortunate, he discovered a world that even Lewis Carroll couldn’t have imagined.

Introducing Hatter Madigan, AKA the Mad Hatter

This is NOT the story of the Mad Hatter.

Hatter Madigan, is an expert bladesman, a High Cut of Wonderlands Millinery, not the tea guzzling madman of children's lit. The only visual connection to the (Mad) Hatter in Lewis Carroll's books or the Disney film Alice in Wonderland is the iconic hat. 

Discover the truth.

Hatter Madigan, leading member of Wonderland’s elite security force known as the Millinery, bodyguard to Queen Genevieve Heart, catapulted out of a body of water where none should have been, landing on his feet in a battle-crouch, ready to fight. He reached for the top hat that he could flatten into S-shaped rotary blades and send slicing through an enemy; it wasn’t on his head.

A current had carried it away from him in The Pool of Tears, the portal that—though he didn’t yet know where he was—had brought him here, to the Namib Desert in Southern Africa, Earth.

“Alyss?” he shouted, surrounded by creatures with thin legs and long necks who flapped their wings in annoyance; this drenched, obviously desperate individual had interrupted their wading.

“What place is this?” he demanded of the flamingos.

They flew at him. Hatter flexed his fists, and his bracelets opened into deadly propellers on the topsides of his wrists. He shrugged, and his Millinery backpack sprouted knives and cork­screws of various lengths and thicknesses. But the flamingos rose higher, flying toward the horizon, leaving him solitary in an endless landscape of sand dunes.

His top hat splashed out of the water and landed near his foot.

“ALYSS!” He had lost Princess Heart. It was the greatest failure of his life—a failure, as he was all too aware, that meant the end of Wonderland as he knew it.

Orphaned when his Milliner parents went missing on a mission, Hatter had grown up at the Millinery Academy with his older brother Dalton. He’d spent his formative years surrounded by its tenders (employees), its cadets, tutors, and Milliners. He’d been subject to the academy’s rules for almost as long as he could remember and had learned the Millinery Code as a bedtime lullaby, swearing allegiance to serve and sustain Light Imagination and its queen, to master the forging of immaculate blades, to excel in personal combat, and to contain and control all emotion.

Year after year, as Dalton proved his military gifts at the academy, Hatter longed to begin his own training, often practic­ing advanced moves with whatever he could find—a mop for a sword, a hatbox lid for the S-blades of a spinning top hat. More than a few times, his eagerness led him into trouble. He sneaked into training facilities that were off-limits to the younger cadets, never mind someone who wasn’t even old enough to be a cadet. And he “borrowed” weapons that weren’t his.

“You can’t just do what you want, when you want,” Dalton would scold.

It was antithetical to the discipline required of a Milliner. Hatter’s enthusiasm to begin training was commendable, but—

“You must learn to subdue your enthusiasms, your loves, and even your hates,” Dalton warned. “Emotion clouds judgment. All must be subordinate to duty—a dispassionate performance of one’s duties keeps a Milliner focused. In battle, it keeps him alive.”

As Dalton’s reputation at the academy grew, so did Hatter’s idolization of him. If his older brother wasn’t always around, well, it didn’t feel as neglectful as it might have because he knew that Dalton was busy with important matters, possi­bly queendom-saving matters. Besides, he could always find companionship with his best friend Weaver, a young civilian girl who, orphaned like him, was growing up at the Millinery.

The two youngsters often met up in little hideaways on the Millinery campus. Dalton graduated from the academy as Top Cadet just as Hatter officially began his training. Expectations for Dalton’s younger brother were high, and Hatter, doubting himself, often complained to Weaver that Dalton’s reputation felt impossible to live up to. But Weaver’s calm confidence buoyed him and gave him inner strength.

In his early years as a cadet, though, Hatter wasn’t the most disciplined, always eager to take on more than he was supposed to—his talents in combat training making him impatient with the slower progress of systematic tutelage. His stays in detention and the lectures he received from authorities only confirmed, in his own mind, that he would never be as good as Dalton, and who had never been chastised for breaking rules, who seemed as adept in political and social settings as he was in battle, whereas he, Hatter, wasn’t all that great on the social front.

Yet Hatter learned to control himself enough to graduate from the Millinery as Top Cadet, by which time, his and Weaver’s relationship had blossomed into more than friendship.

The Millinery

Hatter knew that, as a Milliner, he shouldn’t have been consorting in such a way with a civilian. Certainly, Dalton would not have broken Millinery protocol by having a secret, civilian lover. To lessen the guilt he felt for his trespass, Hatter worked extra hard at maintaining Millinery composure when on duty at Heart Palace, shadowing Queen Genevieve as her personal bodyguard, which meant being stoic, alert, ever ready to sacrifice himself for his queen.

If Hatter had learned that Weaver was pregnant with his child, the guilt he felt on account of their relationship might have proved overwhelming. But Weaver never told him. Knowing how conflicted he’d be at the news, understanding that the child would be a stain on his reputation, if not worse, she put off telling him. But then her pregnancy was becoming impossible to hide. At their next weekly rendezvous far from the center of Wonderland, she decided, she would confide that he was to be a father.

The rendezvous never happened: Hatter forced to cancel because it was Princess Alyss Heart’s birthday. Instead of basking in his girlfriend’s company, pretending that he and Weaver were just an ordinary Wonderland couple unencumbered by public duties and expectations; instead of such usual reveries being interrupted by Weaver confessing her pregnancy, he shadowed Queen Genevieve during the birthday celebrations.

In Heart Palace’s South Dining Room, Princess Alyss and her guests were enjoying wonder-crumpets and tarty tarts when the heavy double doors blew apart, a wall crumbled, and a horde of renegade card soldiers charged through the blasted opening with swords raised.

Appearing amid the crumbled stone and splinters of wood: a nightmare version of Queen Genevieve.

“Off with their heads!” the nightmare screamed. “Off with their stinking, boring heads!”

Hatter, instinctively flicking his top hat into a flattened array of blades that he flung at the attackers with a ninja’s accuracy, would have recognized the woman even without her gown of flesh-eating roses.

It was Rose Heart—a.k.a. Redd—Genevieve’s older sister, who had long ago been cast aside as heir to the throne for . . .behavioral problems.

Redd, supremely gifted in Dark Imagination, was no ordinary enemy, Hatter knew.

It’s a coup, he thought, catching the top hat blades that boomeranged back to him.

Wonderland chessmen engaged against Redd’s soldiers. Bodies fell. Courtiers scrambled for safety. Amid it all, Hatter deftly defended Queen Genevieve from violence, doing away with more of the enemy than seemed possible for a single Milliner, until—

“Take Princess Alyss and go,” the queen urged him, pointing at a looking glass. “As far away as possible.”

Go? But his life’s mission was to protect Wonderland’s queen.

“You must keep the princess safe until she’s old enough to rule,” Genevieve insisted. “She’s the only chance Wonderland has to survive. Promise me you’ll keep her safe.”

Hatter bowed his head. So long as Queen Genevieve lived, the Millinery code demanded that he should remain and fight. But wasn’t the queendom more important than any sin­gle queen? And if Wonderland’s future depended on Alyss’s survival . . . ?

He wasn’t sure about any of it, but he lifted his eyes to Genevieve’s. “I promise,” he said, and carrying the seven-year-old princess, he leaped into the looking glass.

They emerged in the Whispering Woods. Redd’s top assas­sin, The Cat, gave chase. Seekers—deadly creatures with vulture bodies and fly heads—screeched in the sky above, tracking them.

Nowhere in this realm will be safe, Hatter thought. As long as Redd believes that Alyss is alive, she will hunt the princess down. I have to get her to The Pool of Tears . . .

The pool: a rumored portal said to carry those who entered its waters out of Wonderland. No one who had splashed into the pool had ever returned.

The only chance she has to grow into a queen is to be as good as dead to Wonderland.

And so, with Alyss in his arms and The Cat about to pounce, Hatter leaped from a precipice overlooking the pool.

Milliner and princess shot deep into the water’s swirling depths. Currents shifted. It became increasingly difficult for Hatter to hold on to the girl. Her panicked flailing didn’t help.

Suddenly, she was out of his arms, falling away from him.

Again, currents shifted.

Hatter shot up to the surface with the same force and speed as his descent, emerging from a puddle onto the sand dunes of Namibia.

If Princess Alyss was Wonderland’s only chance to survive—a Wonderland governed by the enlightened principles of Light Imagination—then he had squandered it. He had—and he was sure of this; Redd was too powerful, too merciless—let Queen Genevieve die. He had forsaken his Millinery duty in the worst way. The Queen had meant to sacrifice herself to save her daughter and the queendom, but Hatter, in losing the daughter, had made a sacrifice of both of them. And still lost the queendom.

He felt a sham, a fraud. Losing Alyss proved everything he’d feared about himself—he wasn’t good enough to follow in Dalton’s path, hadn’t been worthy of Top Cadet honors. He’d never deserved his stellar reputation as a Milliner. From his earliest days as a cadet, he’d been unable to strictly follow the Millinery Code—his impatience with teachings, his love of Weaver. And now this, the worst violation of the code, his having left Queen Genevieve to die.

A group of natives crested a nearby sand dune. One of them glowed as if from an inner light.

The glow of imagination: Hatter recognized it from Wonderland. Princess Alyss, whose imagination was said to be prodigious, wouldn’t fail to glow in this world. Maybe those gifted with imagination in this world could lead him to his lost charge? Maybe, just maybe, he could find Princess Alyss Heart and redeem himself—not totally; he would always be supremely flawed, he now knew. But maybe he still had a chance to fulfill his promise to Queen Genevieve and save Wonderland from Redd Heart’s tyranny. He would follow the glow.

Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Bavaria, Hungary, Greece, Poland, etc.—following the glow of imagi­nation, Hatter twice traversed the European continent in his search of Princess Alyss.

No luck, though he did meet a number of people who, lis­tening to his tale of Wonderland and the missing Princess Alyss, were inspired to imaginative outpourings that brought them fame, such as Jules Verne and Bram Stoker.

But not all run-ins with imaginative Earthlings were positive.

In Budapest, Hatter rescued an orphanage’s worth of young girls who, by means of a diabolical machine, were being drained of their imaginations to make them easier to control (drain the world’s population of all imagination: rule the globe). For the good of humanity, Hatter destroyed the machine.

He saw echoes of Wonderland inventiveness everywhere. As in Wonderland, he realized, so too on Earth: Light and Dark Imagination were at war with each other.

If he was to find Alyss, he realized, he would have to follow not only the glow of Light Imagination, getting assistance from those similarly gifted to the Heart Princess; he would have to seek out enemies of Light Imagination—those who, whether they knew it or not, were practitioners of Dark Imagination, and who would either want to twist Alyss’s talents to their own purposes or kill her.

And so, driven by guilt over his failure to Queen Genevieve, to Princess Alyss, to the entire queendom, missing Weaver con­stantly, Hatter traveled the globe with an uncanny knack for influencing important social or historical events. He canvassed America during its civil war, and how much his meeting with Abraham Lincoln impacted military action, none can say. He traveled down through Mexico and South America, skirted the Antarctic Peninsula. He passed into Canada, made his way to the Far East.

Weaver.

He remained devoted to her in his heart—conflicted still, yet devoted. But this didn’t keep him from temptation. Realm, a Native-American, a sort of medicine woman skilled in the practices of Light Imagination on Earth, saved his life in an Arizona desert; Jet Seer, a Chrononaut or time traveler, was on a world-building quest, gathering DNA from history’s exceptional beings so that they could live again in the future: such strong, powerful women offered Hatter brief solace; he loved them in their own right, but they were also wistful reminders of the love he had lost in Weaver.

As he roamed, maps sticking out of every available pocket, worn from use and much scribbled on with notes of where he’d been and what routes he’d taken, Hatter’s legend grew. Though the languages in which it was told varied as widely as the terrain he covered, and the details of the story often changed, its basic premise was the same: a solitary man, blessed with fearsome physical abilities and armed with a curious assemblage of weap­onry, crossed continents on a mysterious quest.

Fearsome abilities?

The longer Hatter went without finding Alyss, the more trouble he had controlling his hat blades, the less accurate he was with knives plucked from his backpack, and the more he berated himself for his failure.

He had no way of knowing, but his increasing clumsiness and depression paralleled Princess Alyss’s waning memories of Wonderland. Just as in quantum entanglement, where a change of spin or position in one electron affects its partner, though the partner electron be a great distance away, so it was with Hatter and Alyss: the two were connected by a kind of entanglement of imaginative power.

Hatter’s confidence and abilities hit an all-time low just as Princess Alyss, growing up in Oxford, England as Alice Liddell, a middle-class Victorian young lady, stopped dreaming of Wonderland altogether—dreams being all that remained to her of her former life in Wonderland. With Alyss brainwashed by so-called reality, Hatter was reduced to a brooding wanderer with no special gifts, martial or imaginative; a seeming lunatic obsessed with delusions of some princess and a place called Wonderland. He still tried to fight sometimes, such as when he stumbled across the glow of imagination and thought he might have found Alyss, but he was easily subdued. Eventually, for the good of everyone, he was locked in a sanatorium.

Seemingly beyond all hope, mumbling his lunatic doggerel about Wonderland more from habit than anything else, Hatter got older in his cell. But then Alice Liddell again began to dream of Wonderland, and just as the truth of her history and her imaginative powers started to dawn anew in her, so Hatter, on account of their entangled imaginative power, began to regain his former self—determined, martially formidable.

A hand reached out of the small looking glass in his cell.

“Alyss!” Hatter breathed, unaware that whatever else the future was going to bring, this—Alyss Heart being alive, his chance to save Wonderland not yet gone—was only the half of it.

Who is Alyss? Shatter the Myth, Discover the Real Alice In Wonderland

Meet Alyss Heart of Wonderland: a princess brought up with all the entitlement due an heir to the throne. On her seventh birthday, she was targeted in a bloody coup perpetrated by her aunt Redd, in which her father and mother, the king and queen, were killed. The royal bodyguard Hatter Madigan (the real Mad Hatter) whisked her to relative safety through The Pool of Tears, a portal to other worlds, but—

Swirling waters and a strong undercurrent wrenched Alyss  out of Hatter’s grasp.

Alone, she shot out of a dirty street puddle in the middle of a soot-stained, rain-soaked city. She wiped the sopping sleeve of her birthday dress across her eyes, blinked. It was still there: the filthy, gray city.

London, England. 1859.

A shout. A great clatter of creaking wood and clomping hooves, and Alyss—feeling the fuming breath of the horses as they passed—was almost run over by an ornate carriage.

“God save the queen!” someone shouted.

Disoriented, Alyss raced after the carriage that she believed was carrying her mother, only to be stopped by guards outside Buckingham Palace. They weren’t about to let this wet, bedraggled urchin through the gates.

“Like as not, you intend the queen some harm,” one of them teased.

“The queen is my mother!” Alyss declared.

“You don’t say?” The soldier turned to the others. “You hear that? This little girl’s mother is the queen. We might have to die protecting her, I suppose.”

“All hail the royal lady,” another soldier said with a bow, causing his colleagues to laugh.

Hurt, indignant, increasingly afraid, Alyss tried to find her way back to the puddle that had landed her in this nightmare. But there were so many streets, so many puddles.

This is not real. It cannot be real, she repeated to herself.

In all her life, she had never been alone before. There had always been servants, tutors, palace guardsmen watching out for her, pampering her.

Nightmare, hallucination: whatever this was had to end.

I am at my birthday party. The flowers in the palace courtyard are singing to me. Courtiers are smiling, and

She was soon in despair, jumping up and down in a single puddle, sobbing; it was impossible to determine whether the wetness on her cheeks was from tears or from the splash of water.

“Not the best means of bathing I’ve ever seen,” said Quigly Gaffer, watching from a safe distance.

Sniffling, as regally as she could given her sodden, confused state, Alyss explained to Quigly that she was Wonderland roy­alty. He didn’t believe her, but he was intrigued by this pretty, lost little girl and took to calling her princess. Five years her senior, he was the leader of a gang of street urchins—orphaned kids who fanned out through the city during the day, scamming and thieving, and met up in alleys at night, sharing what food scraps and money they had scrounged together.

Out of a necessity that came with a frequently empty belly, and with nights spent in trash-filled alleys, Alyss soon understood: this world was no dream; Queen Victoria was not her mother. She could either collapse in paralyzing sadness for everything she had lost, or she could do what she must to survive. And she had to sur­vive. Hatter Madigan would not leave her here. He would find her and bring her back to her rightful place in Wonderland.

She vowed to stay alive until he came.

Alyss' Birthday Dress - Art by Chris Appelhans

In Quigly’s company, Alyss was exposed to an underclass of society she otherwise could never have fathomed, as mollycoddled as her previous life had been. She learned—deep inside herself, where there were no words, her experiences shaping the woman she would become—that for most of the universe’s inhabitants, life wasn’t all tarty tarts and unconditional love; it was a struggle against hardship, unfairness, abuse and adversity, where even to survive—let alone survive with dignity—was heroic. For many, she learned (again, deep down, a knowledge beyond words) that survival sometimes meant fighting back against unjust societal conventions, such as criminalization of the poor. If she and Quigly and his gang didn’t scam and thieve, they wouldn’t eat: they could be petty criminals or starve.

Nights, Alyss regaled the youngest orphans with her memories of Wonderland and tales of the engendering power of Imagination. She was still impossibly young, of course, and yet the strife of the streets was hardening her, wising her up: Alyss understood that her parents were dead. Visions of the bloody coup perpetrated by her aunt Redd came to her on sleepless nights: her mother’s chessmen cut down by rogue card soldiers; the frightening creature with a feline head and claws, as fierce in combat as Hatter Madigan, that stormed about gutting innocent courtiers and civilians while she herself hid under a table. These visions were Alyss’s truth, her history. Yet she told the orphans, albeit in wistful tones, only of the good in Wonderland—the singing flowers, the radiant skies, the inventiveness of its citizenry, the seemingly magical things a strong imagination could do.

Quigly thought she was weaving otherworldly tales so that the youngsters could momentarily lose themselves and forget the squalor in which they lived. He didn’t like indulging them in make-believe when cruel reality was all around. No amount of imagination could rescue them, he complained.

“But what I’m telling them is real,” Alyss protested. “And the power of imagination, it’s all true . . . I can prove it.”

She used her own significant imaginative powers to make a dandelion flower sing.

“Nice trick,” Quigly sniffed. He’d heard about magicians who could “throw” their voices.

“It’s not a trick,” Alyss insisted.

But Quigly shrugged her off. As long as she could make a flower sing, she could earn money for them by performing on the street. The day came, however, when she was unable to rouse the dandelion to song. She could only guess at the reasons for this, which she tried to explain.

“Maybe the longer I’m away from Wonderland, the weaker my imagination becomes?”

She wasn’t wrong, though she didn’t know the more specific reason why her imagination was weakening—it had everything to do with her fading memories. Because it was getting harder for her to clearly recall Wonderland sights and sounds; and aside from the coup itself, the bloody event that had exiled her to Earth, doubts about what exactly she remembered were creeping in.

Quigly accused her of refusing to do the “flower trick,” believing she planned to perform without him and keep all the earnings for herself. The more she insisted that she was not refusing to do anything, that her imaginative power was real, the more resentful he became. Which was Alyss’s first hint that proclaiming the truth of Wonderland and her history might pre­vent her from getting along peaceably with people in this world.

Alyss On The Street - Art By Catia Chien

Hoping to regain Quigly’s confidence, she volunteered to help him rob a butcher shop. She was caught during the robbery, and Quigly, a chicken under each arm, made his own escape instead of coming to her rescue.

At the center of a disorienting swirl of events, it was as if Alyss were in a new Pool of Tears. In the police station—raucous with unsavory characters—her instinct to claim her identity as a princess reasserted itself, and she balked at being rudely thrown in a cell with drunks and worse—men, women, children, murderers, petty thieves, and the insane all together. The bobbies were momentarily distracted from her complaints when a prostitute was brought in, loudly claiming to be a friend of some duke. They laughed, spat on the prostitute, and beat her up before throwing her into Alyss’s cell. Then—

“What was that you said?” a bobby asked Alyss. “Who’d you say you are?”

She lowered her face and stayed silent.

She was placed in the Charing Cross foundling hospital. It was no palace. Sure, she had a bed instead of an alley to sleep in, but she shared a room with twenty other would-be adoptees, none of whom wanted to hear anything about Wonderland. They assumed that Alyss, with her stories, was trying to prove that she was special, above them. Every day, she was teased and taunted; every day, lectured by the Charing Cross wardens that she couldn’t hide in a fantasy world, that misfortune abounded and she must face it with fortitude, not with escapist claptrap.

“Do you like it here?” one warden asked her.

“No.”

Then she’d keep prattle of Wonderland to nil, the warden said, because if she didn’t, she’d never get adopted. At first it was a strategy of survival—for Alyss not to talk about Wonderland, to quit telling her “stories” instead of suffering the indignities that came from insisting on truths no one believed. Months passed, and she worked hard to fade into the background of things, to be just another orphan ever in hope of adoption.

Yet memories of Redd’s coup—and she did still consider them memories—haunted her. In her mind’s eye, she frequently saw Redd’s feline assassin swatting Sir Justice Anders, the leader of the palace guard, to the ground and raking a claw across his chest. She saw her friend Dodge, her best friend and Sir Justice’s son, bolt out from under the table where he’d been hiding to snatch up his father’s sword and attack the feline, only to be slapped across the dining room with four gashes of blood on his cheek.

It felt to Alyss as if all pleasantness associated with Wonder­land had been painted completely over with violence.

And her imaginative powers? They alternated between weak and nonexistent. On occasion, in a rare private moment, she could get some small twig to give out a peep, but it exhausted her, and she no longer understood the point of trying. Hatter Madigan wouldn’t be coming for her, she was convinced. He was likely dead, along with her parents. Sleeping in a drafty room with twenty other girls at Charing Cross was her life now. This, and the days she and others were illegally hired out by a warden to work as “mule scavengers” and “piecers” in textile mills, where girls regularly had arms and hands torn off by the machines that spun cotton into thread (“mules”). Gruesome as these accidents were, Alyss would be particularly scarred by one she witnessed, in which a girl had her head crushed by a mule. Scarred and moti­vated, for though she had no way of knowing it at the time, her hours of child labor would drive her as an adult to fight against the morally dubious but widespread exploitation of children.

To survive then, Alyss imbibed deep draughts of conformity, but her beauty would always cause her to stand out—a beauty that seemed heightened on account of what people mistook as her passivity.

After she’d been a year at Charing Cross, Alyss understood that prospective parents came to the orphanage to, in essence, shop—choosing a child that they believed would suit their tastes and temperaments.

She decided to do some shopping of her own.

The longer she remained at the orphanage, she knew, the greater the odds she would succumb to a gruesome accident at a mill or factory. Yet if the couple that came browsing for a child seemed the type that would treat her as little more than a servant or pet, she subtly compromised her chances of being chosen—hiding, coughing as if she might have tuberculosis, or throwing enough of a fit to turn them off but not anger the Charing Cross wardens too much, because if she angered the wardens too much, they wouldn’t try to place her.

Then Dean Liddell and his wife, a gentle couple who some­times visited the orphanage, smiled at her, though they first smiled at another girl, Lucy. Before they could get to know Lucy, however, Alyss took a chance, fearing she’d miss another oppor­tunity as good as this one.

“You look like my mother,” she murmured of Mrs. Liddell. “She was a queen.”

Appreciating imagination and independent thought, the Liddells were taken with Alyss’s stories of a queendom where she was a princess. To Lucy’s misfortune, their smiles lingered on Alyss alone, and a door opened for her into another new world: that of quaint, staid Oxford.

Adopted by the Liddells, Alyss found herself surrounded by middle-class comforts, by music and literature and art. She had two younger sisters, Edith and Lorina, and she told them what she still definitely remembered about Wonderland. Some of this was innocent enough—her descriptions of her albino tutor, for example, and the general who could split himself into two iden­tical Wonderlanders. But the rest? The murders of her parents, the deception and cruelty of Redd, a woman who wore a dress of flesh-eating roses? It wasn’t any sort of story the young girls wanted to hear.

One day, Alyss and her sisters were picnicking with Reverend Charles Dodgson, a family friend, and while Edith and Lorina went off to pick flowers, Alyss mentioned Wonderland to the reverend. He was intrigued and encouraged her to continue in a way that no one ever had. She believed that she had at last found, in this peculiar bachelor, an ear sympathetic to her history.

The Mad Tea Party - by Sir John Tenniel

Dodgson took notes and doodled while Alyss unspooled her tale, which notes he later worked into a more complete form and presented to Alyss as a novel entitled Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. He had given himself the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.

“But this is full of nonsense!” Alyss said, her pulse quicken­ing as she flipped through the book in which her dark truth had been transformed into lighthearted, romping characters.

Lewis Carroll gently explained that he believed Alyss had made up her horrific stories because of the traumas she’d experi­enced on the streets and in the orphanage. The characters she had told him about represented certain demons to her, he believed, and by turning them into the silly creatures of his book, he hoped she would learn that they were nothing to fear—that she could, in fact, dismiss them from her now pleasant existence.

Alyss felt as if her heart has been scraped raw. Reverend Dodgson didn’t believe her? He had never believed her? And now he’d written this stupid book that made fun of all she’d con­fessed to him?

“I never want to speak to you again!” she cried and ran home.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was, of course, a tremendous commercial success, which, especially the first couple of years after its publication, only deepened Alyss’s sense of Dodgson’s betrayal. The book turned her into a minor celebrity, a fact she resented and did her best to ignore. But as the years passed, and though she still kept Dodgson at a distance, resentment less­ened amid the hubbub of her days as a middle-class Victorian young lady.

And with the years and the hubbub, Alyss Heart of Wonderland more and more lost herself to Alice Liddell of Oxford.

Her few remaining Wonderland memories grew increasingly unreal. At first she tried to convince herself that she still believed in them, but then she couldn’t be sure if something she “remembered”—Redd’s dress of flesh-eating roses, for instance— had actually existed or if perhaps she had made it up. For a while her fading memories persisted in her dreams, until finally, it happened:

Where Wonderland had once been only in her head, it was now not even there.

Lewis Carroll’s characters had completely usurped the real Wonderlanders of her past, and as her memories were erased, so too were her powerful imaginative abilities. Alice Liddell couldn’t have imagined the faintest peep from the smallest flower, no matter how hard she tried. Not that she did.

Or does.

Victorian Alice - Art by Andrea Wicklund

Alice has now grown into a thoroughly Victorian young lady, attending concerts and teas while her parents lobby for certain respectable gentlemen to become her husband. Rather, she has almost grown into a thoroughly Victorian young lady, since she does have modern ideas about how orphans and the poor should be treated (she revisits Charing Cross and learns that Lucy, her rival for the Liddells, had died there of tuberculosis), and about women being allowed to study at Oxford, to say nothing of having more control over their own lives.

And so here she is, Alice Liddell, a middle-class twenty-year old, busy with suitors and with passionate schemes for improving the lives of the unfortunate, for whom Wonderland—once a dream—is about to again become reality.

Warrior Alyss - Art by Vance Kovacs

Dear Inquiring Minds...

What if I told you that a titan of IP slumbers largely untapped? That while only a fraction of its potential has been realized, it’s already a worldwide cultural phenomenon? What if I told you that I was talking about Lewis Carroll’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND?

Immediately, from the title alone, you probably envision the blonde little girl in her powder blue dress (major props to Disney!). She’s etched into our collective brain. The story of her adventures has sold more than 150 million copies and been translated into 176 languages; adapted countless times for film, TV, and every other corner of pop culture. Not bad for two books written a century and a half ago by a scholar inspired by a real little girl.

The problem? Not one of these adaptions and spin-offs has exposed the truth about that little girl; not one has hinted at the expansive, multi-cultural, multi-generational saga from which Carroll borrowed his material. There is unparalleled potential here. The insane success of Carroll’s story and all of its subsequent iterations, along with the feeding frenzy I have personally witnessed when Wonderland fans get a taste of what actually happened, convince me that the time is ripe to bring the truth to the screen.

My trilogy, THE LOOKING GLASS WARS, chronicles the dark yet empowering reality behind Lewis Carroll’s fantasies. It has amassed an audience of millions of eager readers— vocal readers who reach out to me every day, clamoring for the books to be turned into a film or tv series.

In my research for the trilogy, I teased out the connections between historical fact and Carroll’s wondrous fiction, and I discovered a universe of content that, though at odds with Carroll’s books, is unique in its ability to captivate a new generation of Wonderland fans. Even more, I discovered that the passive female “Alice” has represented for over a century was actually a confident, powerful, norm-busting heroine perfectly suited to anchor an epic in the 21st century.

Alice Liddell (née Alyss Heart) tipped the political and social apple carts of her time. Orphaned with an outlandish history no one believed, she grew up to become Lewis Carroll’s muse, rising to the highest echelons of Oxford society and even gaining the love of Queen Victoria's youngest son, Prince Leopold. She fought against social injustice in all its guises, contending with a criminal enterprise à la PEAKY BLINDERS while simultaneously rebelling against monarchical customs à la THE CROWN, earning the ire of Queen Victoria herself.

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS, is much more than a coming-of-age tale featuring a single remarkable woman. It speaks to the human need for creativity, imagination, and story— a need that transcends time and cultural divides. It’s a show driven by universal questions of identity, self-expression, and self-determination.

When we stare into a looking glass, what do we see? What are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves? By rewriting such stories, to what extent do we change? In a world dominated by social media, where false autobiographies in the form of tweets and Instagram feeds lead many into existential doubt— these are particularly resonant questions.

The show offers a panoramic cast of characters with emotional depth, navigating morally ambiguous situations; characters who seem to represent us yet are wholly themselves—individual, unique; characters with whom we stumble through heart-rending dramas familiar to modern audiences. Love, betrayal, political scheming, fraternal and familial bonds stretched to their breaking points, a war for imagination raging in two worlds…we lean in, gasp, needing to know more.

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS— no less fantastic for being grounded in reality, complete with all of the magical elements so beloved by Lewis Carroll fans— expands the geographical and psychological borders of one of the most recognizable franchises in entertainment.

But that’s marketing-speak and absolutely not the point.

Why do we need to make THE LOOKING GLASS WARS? Why now? For one very important reason:

Because this is a story about the defense of creativity. About the defense of imagination.

We’re living in a world where nothing makes sense anymore. The fake has become real. And the real fake. Our society has lost its identity; it’s been disrupted and distorted. In media. In culture. In politics. In everything.

What work is more relevant that this one?

Alice in Wonderland is the archetypal story of distortion and disruption.

So, you’re not buying into a property. You’re tapping into one of the touchstones of our culture.

But you need a way in. A way that would connect the dots for a new generation. For decades to come.

And THE LOOKING GLASS WARS is that story brought to life today.

Madly yours,

Frank Beddor

Alice Revealed

There is no "What If?" only "What is."

You may have heard the story. One summer afternoon in July 1862, Charles Dodgson, a young Oxford don, took a boat trip up the River Isis with Dean Henry Liddell’s three daughters, one of whom was named Alice.

Dodgson and the Liddells stopped for a picnic along the riverbank, and to amuse Alice, who was rather bored with the outing, Dodgson told her about a girl, very much like herself, who fell down a rabbit-hole into a magical realm of mad tea parties, disappearing cats, absurd queens, and tardy rabbits worrying over pocket-watches.

Three years later, under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll, Dodgson published his whimsical tale as ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, whose characters and conceits have since taken up permanent residence in humankind’s imagination.

So goes the story— the lie, the myth.

But that day on the riverbank, Charles Dodgson did not invent a yarn for Alice’s entertainment. It was she who did the talking, and not for diversion, but out of desperation. She told him the harrowing history of her life as Princess Alyss Heart of Wonderland.

Dodgson, for well-intentioned but misguided reasons, decided to alter Alyss’s story in his published novel, and the truth has lain hidden from the world for more than 150 years.

Until now.

THE WAR FOR IMAGINATION

Forget everything you know about Wonderland— the fanciful, childish nonsense depicted by Lewis Carroll, the whimsical creatures featured in Disney’s animated series and films. Forget even graphic novel adaptions that tend toward the gothic but still rely heavily on Carroll’s books. And the prim young girl in the blue dress? Forget her, too. She’s pure fiction.

The truth is much darker, more psychologically complex, more sophisticated, teeming with plot and intrigue, bigger and broader in scope. And more threatening…to us.

Alyss Heart’s birthplace, the real Wonderland, is a parallel world and the seedbed of imagination throughout the cosmos. All of humankind’s scientific advancements, masterpieces of art and engineering, and cultural shifts are manifestations of creativity inherited from Wonderland, where imagination is capable of creating tangible things. Sometimes, such tangibles are created in an instant, while other times an imaginatively gifted Wonderlander is more like an inventor at her desk, experimenting, working through trial and error to bring a vision to actuality. In short, imagination is the magic of our show. Another way to think of it: THE LOOKING GLASS WARS has imagination; STAR WARS has the force.

Imagination itself—which flows constantly from Wonderland to our world, influencing creation and behavior everywhere— is a neutral energy, given shape and character by those channeling it. As this energy is articulated, it can be an instrument for beauty (Light Imagination) or a tool of terror and destruction (Dark Imagination).

As in Wonderland, so too on Earth: Light and Dark Imagination are at war.

Light Imagination is guided by love, justice, a sense of duty to the well-being of others. Everything good in Wonderland and on Earth comes from Light Imagination

Dark Imagination is the product of rage, fear, selfishness, and pain; spurred by hate and revenge. Everything evil in Wonderland and on Earth comes from Dark Imagination.

Lewis Carroll knows all of this because Alyss Heart— princess of Wonderland, rightful heir to its throne, forced by circumstance into playing the part of an adoptee in Victorian London— tells him. How she had to escape Wonderland by jumping into The Pool of Tears the night her aunt Redd, a ruthless practitioner of Dark Imagination, murdered her mother Queen Genevieve during a bloody coup. How The Pool of Tears is a portal that brought her to Earth— a poor, homeless, orphaned exile, eventually adopted by Dean Liddell and his family.

Carroll is charmed by Alyss but disturbed by what he presumes to be her make-believe story (he supposes her emotionally scarred from her time on the streets). He wants to render the demons that haunt her into silly things, humorous things, and so he writes Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, omitting every syllable of truth.

Hurt by this betrayal, distracted by the life around her, Alyss Heart (now Alice Liddell) eventually forgets herself. Her Wonderland memories fade to dreams and then to nothing, and she’s now grown into a plucky, strong-willed twenty-year-old elbowing her way through a man’s society.

But if Alyss doesn’t remember her true past soon, if she doesn’t reclaim Wonderland’s throne in the service of Light Imagination, the realm will descend further into a hellscape from which it may never recover.

While for us…

An overflow of Dark Imagination will spill over the entire globe—influencing, corrupting, poisoning everything everywhere. As long as Redd Heart remains Wonderland’s queen, our future will be in doubt, the advancements of the coming centuries in dire jeopardy.

What’s at stake, then, is nothing less than imagination itself—Dark threatening to eclipse Light for all time, and without Light Imagination, no world is worth living in. But for Alyss to remember who she is, for her to successfully battle Redd and ensure Wonderland’s future, as well as our own, she’s going to need the help of some old friends, including one very badass HATTER MADIGAN.

Worlds of Wonder

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS series, is a science-fantasy with a modern-informed aesthetic, dramatizes an epic both profoundly new and yet—evolved from mythic archetypes as it is—deeply familiar.

The story spans two worlds connected by the flow of imagination—Wonderland and 19th century Earth. We begin in Victorian England, where, with ALYSS HEART, we witness the lows of society— the muck and grime, workhouses, debtor’s prisons, gangs, street urchins. We also witness the highs— the ostentatious wealth and privilege, including that of the royal family. With Alyss, we are buffeted by classism and the flare-ups of social unrest that result. All of this is presented in a very grounded style, true to life.

But THE LOOKING GLASS WARS isn’t strictly a period piece. Over the course of the story, as more of Wonderland encroaches upon Earth, the more that realm’s fantastic elements—its characters, creatures, colors, and textures—impede on our gray-by-comparison reality. In this way, with an increasing intermingling of the Victorian and Wonderlandian until they become one, the look of the show echoes the internal changes wrought in Alyss Heart as she remembers who she truly is and questions where her destiny lies.

But again, this not your mother’s Wonderland, populated with eccentric cartoonish characters who speak in riddles and behave nonsensically. No, as sci-fi as our Wonderland seems, with its cityscapes akin to glittering precious stones, technology that far outstrips our own, beasts like the ferocious jabberwocky, battalions of living chessmen and card soldiers— despite all of this, our Wonderland is a place of intrigue, political machinations, violence, deception, sex, thwarted ambitions, and hopeful aspirations. Our Wonderland is home to characters ranging from the naively good to the thoroughly corrupt. A lot like Victorian London. A lot like our world now.

Accordingly, our show treats Wonderland in the same, matter-of-fact style it does the patently realistic London. For as colorful, lush, and incredible as Wonderland is to us, the world is real for its citizens— a world where imagination is a palpable, magical force, where the extraordinary is ordinary and what we would call impossible is an everyday occurrence.

As different as our Wonderland is from Lewis Carroll’s version, or anyone else’s, fans of the original novel will be able to puzzle out familiar names and faces. Carroll’s white rabbit is BIBWIT HARTE, the anxious albino tutor employed by the ruling Heart family. The Cheshire Cat, in our show, is known simply as THE CAT, a shape-shifting feline assassin, who, it turns out, is anything but simple. Tweedledee and Tweedledum are recognizable as GENERAL DOPPELGÄNGER, who commands Wonderland’s military and is capable of splitting into separate but identical individuals—General Doppel and General Gänger. And Lewis Carroll’s hookah-smoking caterpillar? In THE LOOKING GLASS WARS there is more than one, and these hippo-sized larvae are ancient oracles, masters of imaginative power, and loyal only to the Heart Crystal from which all imagination emanates. Then there’s the Mad Hatter, whom viewers will come to see as an absurd representation of our charismatic anti-hero HATTER MADIGAN (think Han Solo or Jack Sparrow).

Doubles abound. Because of Wonderland’s influence in all thing’s imagination, the inhabitants and doings of Earth often seem a reflection of that other world. Main Wonderland characters have counterparts on Earth, who are loosely similar in temperament; actors can portray dual roles.

Events are also mirrored. We’ll see plenty of parallels between Wonderland during Redd Heart’s tyranny and the UK under Queen Victoria. For example, the Industrial Revolution, which Victoria rides herd over as queen, and in which people are valued only so much as they can be cogs in some behemoth monopoly machine, is a direct result of mass “dehumanization” taking place in Wonderland under Redd.

At times historically accurate, other times futuristic, kinetic in pace, grounded in character, THE LOOKING GLASS WARS is a wonder-verse unto itself, a mash-up of timeless elements in which not only Alyss Heart but many others find that character is destiny, and destiny is legacy.

Great Characters

Great shows, the most successful films, need great characters—ones founded in archetypes that represent the most fundamental human experiences; characters who partake of the universal, making them easy to identify with, and whose successes and failures evoke deep emotions. The chosen one, the hero and anti-hero, the rebel, the sage— THE LOOKING GLASS WARS, a timely story with timeless appeal, has them all.

For a more intimate acquaintance with our lead characters, please check out our upcoming blogs.