The Unimaginative Liddells: Princess Alyss’ Never-Before-Seen Letters – Part 2

Back in 2007, we collaborated with noted Alyssian historian Agnes MacKenzie to publish Princess Alyss of Wonderland, a stunning collection of letters, journal writings, and art from Her Royal Imaginer Princess Alyss Heart. These breathtaking documents chronicled the incredible childhood of Wonderland’s exiled heir apparent and future hero of The Looking Glass Wars.

In April, we released the first round of never-before-seen letters, journal entries, and art from Princess Alyss Heart’s exile on Earth. Part One spanned Alyss’ flight from Wonderland and how she survived her first days on the rough streets of London. 

When we last left Princess Alyss she had just been arrested by the London bobbies and sent to the notorious Charing Cross Orphanage. In Part Two, Alyss recounts the horrors of this ignominious institute, her disappointment at being adopted by the unimaginative Liddells, and why she tried to break into Buckingham Palace

(*As always, I am indebted to the tireless and exhaustive research of the eminent Wonderland historian Agnes MacKenzie. Her dedication has helped keep the true story of Queen Alyss alive!)

A photograph from around 1909 of the London & South-Western Railway Orphanage, Woking.

Agnes MacKenzie
Worlds collide in this document dated May 24, 1859, when a man of science, Dr. Williford, the physician at London’s Charing Cross Foundling Hospital unknowingly examined a princess from another realm. Written in his precise script, the intake form lists Alyss’ height, weight, and hair color, and contains notes on her attitude and dress. Special attention was paid to the unusual fabric of her dress, “finer than any silk and yet so strong as to repel all stains and misc. damage with the exception of one vicious gash”.  Alyss is described as having luminous coloring, a willful, imperious attitude, and an intense aversion to felines. When asked where her family is she insisted they are in a place called “Wonderland”. The doctor’s keen eye noted the unusual qualities of the child, but his mind could not open to the concept of ‘Wonderland’.  Dr. Williford comments that if her oddness can be contained the wardens have high hopes for placing her in a family of good standing because “the child obviously has quite exceptional bloodlines”. Indeed. 

An intake form from the Charing Cross Foundling Hospital containing the notes of a physical examination of a seven-year-old Princess Alyss Heart of Wonderland.

October 2, 1861
When I was delivered to the orphanage I erupted into a terrible screaming temper tantrum. How dare they???? This place was certainly not meant for children, it must be a prison for something exceptionally evil and nasty. But I was wrong, children were everywhere and the only things evil and nasty living here were the ward mistresses with their stiff collars and drab skirts weighed down with bundles of heavy keys to lock the doors that kept us all from running away. I loathed it there so much that I looked forward to escaping into my dreams each night but even this became unbearable because my dreams soon had a very unwelcome visitor.

The Cat! Each night it would sneak into my sleep and invade my dreams with its growls and hisses and hot, stinky cat breath! It had the stinkiest breath I have ever smelled in a dream!

An illustration, done in the style of a child's drawing, of a giant dark cat attacking a room of sleeping children by artist Catia Chien.

October 8, 1861
Dreams are only nightmares if you let them do what they wish. One night I decided that rather than being frightened of what was chasing me, I would imagine that I was running towards something beautiful. There were endless doors lining the halls and I imagined I would find my mother if I opened the very last door. But when the door opened, instead of seeing her I saw all her favorite flowers. And I could smell her favorite perfume. Eau de’Pink. It smells very PINK and I love it.

A letter written from Princess Alyss Heart to her mother Queen Genevieve on pale pink paper and decorated with red hearts in each corner.
A pale pink envelope addressed to Queen Genevieve of Wonderland decorated with a crude rendition of the Royal Suit Family seal and stamped with "Return to Sender".

November 10, 1861
I was adopted by a very dull and unimaginative family named Liddell and brought to live in their home in Christ Church, Oxford. Living in a home was very different from living in a palace and I found it difficult to adjust as I believe ANY Princess would. Everything was so small and smelled rather of burned vegetables while my bedchamber was just ridiculous.  The bed didn’t even float! How could I even begin to get a perfect night’s sleep???? The Liddells did not believe in Wonderland or that a real princess could come to their world and even though I repeatedly corrected them, they insisted on changing my name to Alice. HOW RUDE!!!!!

An 1859 photograph by Lewis Carroll of Alice Liddell (right) with her older sister Lorina (middle) and younger sister Edith (left).

Agnes MacKenzie
Uncertain of their adopted daughter’s bloodlines and wishing to make a suitable marriage (a prince perhaps???) Henry and Lorina Liddell chose to keep her origin top secret by destroying all records of the adoption, even going so far as to forge an ‘Alice Liddell’ birth certificate which modern genealogical forensics easily exposed to be false! The child was simply not born in this world.

A replica of a Victorian era birth certificate containing details about the birth and parentage of 'Alice Liddell'.

November 11, 1861
In Wonderland I had always remembered my dreams. Why was I unable to remember my dreams now? Aha! I wasn’t sleeping in a dreamgown! When I inquired of Mrs. Liddell when I would be fitted for my dreamgown, she looked alarmed. I explained that in Wonderland there were special gowns in which you slept to capture your dreams. The dreams would be reflected on the gown so you wouldn’t forget anything important. I had closets full of dreamgowns in Wonderland but requested only ONE for here. I thought I was being quite modest but Mrs. Liddell opened her mouth very wide and shouted at me “You must STOP your incessant impossible imagining. You dream too much as it is ALICE!” Dream too much??? How sad to think that anyone could ever dream TOO MUCH. I spent the rest of the day locked in my dark little dungeon of a bedroom imagining and drawing dreamgowns….

An illustration, done in the style of a child's drawing, featuring depictions of the Liddell family, Princess Alyss, and Governess Pricks by artist Catia Chien.
From left to right: Proper sister Lorina – A grown-up lady in the body of a little girl; Cruel Governess Pricks – She actually prefers sour to sweet!; Mr. and Mrs. Liddell – Equally gloomy on all occasions; Me – If it weren’t for my hollizalea headdress and mini-rainbow I should fear becoming just like them!; Baby Edith – There may still be hope for her.

February 22, 1862
Yesterday Mr. and Mrs. Liddell brought Lorina and I to London to visit the exhibition at the Crystal Palace. The palace reminded me very much of Heart Palace and I felt all sorts of sad and glad memories about Wonderland. It also made me remember something VITAL! When I first arrived in London I shot out of that puddle into the center of a parade and saw a golden carriage. There was a woman in the carriage waving to the crowd. It was a Queen!  Had mother traveled here to meet me? I had run after the carriage and chased it all the way to a palace but a row of soldiers blocked my entrance. I told them I was Princess Alyss Heart and ordered them to allow me to pass. At this, they began to laugh. Vowing to return to this palace called Buck-ing-ham I ran back in search of the puddle that had brought me here. I had forgotten all of this until the Liddells brought me on this visit to London. And suddenly I knew what had happened! Mother had followed me to London but had been kidnapped and imprisoned by Redd at the palace known as Buck-ing-ham!!!!! It all made perfect sense and it was up to me to rescue my mother.

February 23, 1862
Enough was enough! How could I pretend to live the childish life of Alice Liddell in her nursery eating porridge when I was certain that Redd had imprisoned my mother in the palace called Buck-ing-ham? This had to be the reason for everything horrible that had happened. Redd had wished to be queen but Wonderland already had a queen, my mother. Redd must have come to London through the Pool of Tears and become the queen known as Victoria! Being the Queen of London was not anywhere as grand as being the Queen of Wonderland and Redd was jealous of my mother so she kidnapped her and locked her in Buck-ing-ham Palace!!!  I was positive that my mother was there now waiting for me to rescue her.

A Victorian-era photograph of the facade and front gate of Buckingham Palace in London, United Kingdom.

February 27, 1862
My preparations complete, I set forth on my mission to rescue my mother from Queen ‘Victoria’ (ha!). I noticed that whenever I thought of seeing my mother my imagination would suddenly become very strong. I would picture my mother and I in the garden at Heart Palace and I would suddenly be filled with all sorts of imaginings on how to get to London and how I would find a pair of jollyjelly wings and sail over the wall past those snickering guards. I had my train tickets, maps, and a packet of peppermints should I become weak from hunger and need energy. I was so excited I could have flown to London. I did consider collecting and pasting bird feathers to my arms and setting off from the roof of the Liddell’s house but I could not find enough feathers.

March 10, 1862
Disaster! Unable to locate a pair of jollyjelly wings I decided to dig my way in under the palace fence. The passage under the fence was a tight fit and horror of horrors I became stuck! I felt a tug on my feet and was soon face to face with the redcoated guards laughing harder than ever. I was imprisoned and given only a very small amount of tea and cake until Mr. Liddell could come and fetch me back to Oxford. Oh, the dreadfulness of my mood. And the worst was yet to come. Governess Pricks was waiting at the front door when we pulled up in the carriage. Her words felt like a storm of pinches as she scolded me for being a selfish, ridiculous child. But as she continued on and on with ever more insults I could only hear my own small voice repeating over and over “How shall I ever return home now?”

An illustration, done in the style of a child's drawing, featuring Princess Alyss being scolded by Governess Pricks by artist Catia Chien.

Agnes MacKenzie
Not long after this ill-fated excursion to London, Alyss was to meet someone who would lift her spirits and give her hope (if only to later smash it to pieces!)

*Stay tuned for Part Three, in which Alyss meets the Oxford mathematician who would change her life forever – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). 

All Things Alice: Interview with Jake Curtis

As an amateur scholar and die-hard enthusiast of everything to do with Alice in Wonderland, I have launched a podcast that takes on Alice’s everlasting influence on pop culture. As an author who draws on Lewis Carroll’s iconic masterpiece for my Looking Glass Wars universe, I’m well acquainted with the process of dipping into Wonderland for inspiration.

The journey has brought me into contact with a fantastic community of artists and creators from all walks of life—and this podcast will be the platform where we come together to answer the fascinating question: “What is it about Alice?”

For this episode, it was my great pleasure to have the hilarious and talented Jake Curtis join me as my guest! Read on to explore our conversation and check out the whole series on your favorite podcasting platform to listen to the full interview.

Frank Beddor  
Welcome to All Things Alice Jake Curtis. I’m interested in your creative journey as a young writer and how one comes to their creative process and aspirations. Where did it all start in terms of writing? Were you someone who loved to write in school?

Jake Curtis
I’ve pretty much always done some kind of performance thing. I come from a big family of writers and artists who are all too loud for their own good. So growing up, you had to learn to talk fast and talk loud.

Was that at the dinner table? Or was that all the time? 

Twenty-four seven. We used to say that everyone was unconditionally loved, but not everyone was unconditionally liked.

I came to performing and writing from improv actually. I started doing a lot of improvised comedy when I was 12-13 and it was huge for me because I’m quite an anxious person in general. I’m an analytical person. So the chaos and acceptance that has to come with improv was pretty huge for me. There’s no second draft. There’s no planning.

There’s no getting out of it. I thought improv was the most terrifying concept I’d ever heard of. I’m not going to get up on stage and then somebody’s going to tell me some little story and I’m supposed to go from there. I admire the chutzpah at 12. But I suppose at 12 it’s like sink or swim. So much stuff is going on at that age.

I was a big lover of live comedy shows. England, especially then, had a really vibrant live comedy scene. Going up to the Edinburgh Fringe at young ages, you see all these shows, and at first, I became obsessed with the idea of an audience. I think that was always the bit that gripped me. It’s not so much the glitz and glamor of a million followers, but it was getting to watch these people who can walk into a room with 20 people and just connect with them and entertain them for an hour. I’ve always approached writing from an entertainer’s perspective. We’re all dancing monkeys making something fun. So I did improv for years and it excited me and I got to go around the world and do shows in Canada and the US.

So there was something more structured than you getting up there as a young person and doing something in front of the class. Were you part of a troupe? 

I was part of a troupe called School of Comedy, which is an amazing company in the UK that gets professional sketch writers to come in, but then they have a troupe of kids to perform the sketches. We did shows up in Edinburgh for two years we would perform around the country at festivals and comedy gigs. That was an amazing experience because we were very much treated like we were a part of a professional show. Like we were an asset and a commodity and a member of the troupe. They were lovely and respectful. But also it was like, you have an expectation. There are people out there who have come to see a show and you are the people to deliver it.

Photograph featuring a marquee for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with pedestrians in the foreground and stone buildings in the background.

How many shows would you do a day?

When we went up to Edinburgh, we would do a show every day for 30 days or for 21 days, which is the length of the Fringe. You’re on a full run there. Then, generally, you’d have a week with a couple of shows or a little run at some theater and then a couple of months without a show. But we were working and it gave you this idea of having to accept how the audience reacts. I think a lot of writing classes and creative media share the message of “Oh, you’ve got to tell the story that’s yours. You’ve got to find your soul or your calling.” That’s wonderful and people need to be told that, but I think it does sometimes remove the audience from the question. It tells you to find the thing you think is funny, but I love performing to live crowds because you’re reminded even if you think it’s funny, it doesn’t really matter that much if they don’t. We’d go into shows where we had sketches that had been written for us and that killed five shows in the last five shows. But you deliver it and the crowd doesn’t like it. You can either just say, “Well, this is my schedule and I’m gonna keep going,” or you can try and change it on the spot, try and work out what this crowd needs from you and the show. 

Obviously, when it’s going well, it fuels you and you can charge ahead and you will take chances and it’s invigorating. When there’s a lull or you feel like the audience’s leaning back and they’re not engaged, for me, I had a sense of panic when I was doing some plays. I went, “Oh, it’s one of those.” I would get into my head on the negative side and trying to find a way out of that into the next moment and being present was difficult. 

I’ve done shows that have bombed and kept bombing. Sometimes you’re in the mud and you’ve got to stay there. In those shows, I would just try and make as much eye contact with the people on stage as I could. You don’t have to look at the crowd, right? And I’d try and tell myself, “I’m here having a good time with my friend, not bombing and ruining these people’s night.” But generally, with the crowd, I always took that as a challenge and it’s a challenge you can win. Especially with comedy shows, people want to come out and have a good evening.  Now working as a writer, all these decisions you make are fueled by “We think these markets might want a script that looks like this.” I hate all of that because it’s not real. You’re like, “Oh, maybe I can do it. I’m a technician.” But when you have a crowd, it’s you and them. It’s head-to-head. My panic mode was usually monologuing. If I’m getting stressed, I’m just gonna keep talking and I’m gonna keep going until I hit something. I’m gonna move faster. I’m gonna go through more ideas until you find a little inkling of a laugh and then just grip onto that for dear life.

Is that what you did with your family? Is that what the competition was, people gripping on for their lives to find a little kernel to be heard? 

One hundred percent. You’re waiting at the dinner table like, “Come on. Someone mention dog. Someone mention dog.” Someone brings up the word dog and you’re like, “That’s interesting! Listen to what happened to me today. I went out and I met three dogs.” You’ve got to take your time when you have it.

Wow, that must have been hard to even get the food and drink down. That’s a diet in itself.

When someone else starts monologuing, you speed eat. I just loved the immediacy of improv and the presentness and the engagement. For me, the joy of making art is making it for a specific person or specific people. 

You were making art in that moment. There wasn’t a committee telling you, “I think this joke will work or that joke will work”. The audience is telling you instantaneously, which you don’t get when you’re writing a script for television. That’s amazing because you’re basically writing on stage as you’re going.

It forces you to engage in the truthful fact that the majority of art is just people observing other people and enjoying it. There’s this top tier of if you can write a sentence so good it is etched into history. If you’re gonna write “to be or not to be,” go for it. But the majority of art isn’t the cleverest thing you’ve ever heard. It’s some people watching, reading, whatever, some other people and trying to enjoy it, trying to have a good time.

It’s the connection to the human experience which is why it’s interesting you’re describing your family because so many stories are about the dynamic of family and it’s very relatable. So when you tap into something like that you’re going to engage the audience in a meaningful way. Your family dynamic sounds really exciting and really competitive and that set you up with the mindset of “I’m being creative all the time, not just when I’m improvising. But my whole family is creative.” Did you have actors in the family? You said writers?

Headshot of writer Jake Curtis, in which he is wearing a blue shirt.

In the immediate family, we have a lot of writers. My sister’s a writer, my dad’s a writer, my little brother’s a writer. My mum was a TV presenter in the 80s, which was cool. She used to do little practice things like she’d be playing songs in the car and, in between them, she’d be like, “Okay, you could introduce this one.” I’d have to be like, “And this next song coming on is a smooth hit from Lionel Richie,” and try to time it to the intro to the song. It was all just fun. Then in the extended family, they’re also very loud. I have like 30 cousins on my mom’s side and we have actors, we have everything. It was just a general feeling of trying to have fun trying to push yourself. I thought if I was going to be able to make a career in the arts, it would be partly from muscle growth. How many reps can I do? How many different art forms? I spent so long doing comedy sketches, I don’t do those anymore, but the experience all of it filters into everything else I do.

Is comedy the genre you’ve started to really hone is comedy, whether it’s television or film?

Comedy is definitely where I lean. That was where all my experience came from in improv. I think these things are muscles, especially comedy. I think people often underestimate how much of a muscle comedy is because people are so naturally funny. But it is a very different thing, being funny to four friends than writing something that can slot into a specific scene in a specific script.

It’s completely different. When you’re with your friends and you’re saying it out loud, it can come or go. But when you write it down, people can judge the rhythm and the cadence of it. Somebody’s got to perform it to really nail that cadence. It’s a lot different putting it on.

I sometimes hear writers, who are great writers but haven’t done comedy, saying, I think I might, for my next script, just do a comedy.” That’s great and maybe it’ll be amazing but I think the reason I’m good at comedy is, I hope, twenty percent something natural in me but I did a hundred appalling improv shows before doing a hundred mediocre improv shows before doing fifty decent ones. I have so many scripts that are so bad and so unfunny, so many files on my phone, stand-up gigs, improv, and freestyling. This is the thing I’ve done the most and I’m still mediocre to okay.

It’s the 10,000 hours. It’s the failing over and over. I don’t know if people realize what a gift that is, as the learning part of the process. When you talk about great comedians and you see their shows, if you see multiple shows, they are so specific night after night. They’re hitting every one of those beats. They’re so worked out. It’s kind of remarkable how specific they are from performance to performance. 

That was a part of why I felt so lucky getting into comedy so early and the fact that my family did treat it as a serious pursuit. I was able to go through a lot of that education and a learning phase while I was at school. Because I think it can be really daunting if you go through life and you hit 24-25 and you go, “Oh, maybe I want to do comedy.” It’s a six-year path to being kind of fine.

Starting at 12 and starting to perform, it’s not dissimilar to sports. If you do it at a young age, it’s so inherent by the time you get to your late teens. It’s instinctual but you need all those reps. Starting that young, the filters are off and so you’re just doing it. It’s not as if you’re 24 and you want to do comedy for your career and you wonder how that’s gonna work out. I think that makes a big difference. With your family being so into all the arts, did you find that to be really nurturing or is there a competitiveness or an expectation you feel moving forward?

Not so much. There’s a competitiveness in my family anyway. I’m one of four kids and we all do very fairly similar things so there’s a bit of a jostling. But no, I think it was very much, “If this is a path you want to go down, go down it.” Me and my siblings do similar stuff but it’s different. My sister writes incredible feminist literature I couldn’t write and my little brother writes very dark, edgy films I also couldn’t write. It wasn’t as much of competitiveness but it was more of “This is a legitimate career and a path you can take. If you’re gonna go down it, take it seriously and put in work, put in the hours. We will drive you to the classes and pick you up but you’ve got to put your practice in and put your head down.” It wasn’t treated as a fanciful thing.

With a lot of creatives, the family or the parents treat it as a fanciful idea and not dependable.

I remember one time when I was 16 we had these national tests and I did really well on the physics one and I suddenly got this brain wave of, “Wait a second, could I be an engineer?” I was like, “Oh my god, this is a radical thought. A steady paying job, career development.”

Nothing like my family. 

I’d become the black sheep.

You’re working for Intel.

It would be bizarre for them. It was always something I just appreciated and kept going and kept trying to see where I could go. I did a lot of improv. I got to do some shows I loved. I got to do two 50-hour-long shows in Canada with the group Die-Nasty, which was a great experience. It was really COVID that ended that portion of my life. I was already writing a lot by then but when COVID happened all improv obviously shut down. More than most industries improv took a really big hit. It turned out the improv theaters weren’t the people with big financial stores and genius financial skills. So improv took a really hard hit there. Then I just dove fully into writing. I’ve always enjoyed performing as an act for myself, but needing to get my face out there was never a priority. So I really tried to dedicate myself to screenwriting as a way of building a career I would enjoy. 

Why did you move from the UK to the US? Was that for educational or opportunity reasons?

I was living in the UK until I was 19 and then I moved to Chicago to go to Northwestern University and study film there. I made the decision entirely based on improv. In the UK, I was doing what is known as Chicago-style improv, which is long form. Chicago is the mecca of that with Second City and the iO. So I Googled best colleges for improv and some dudes’ blogs came up and at number one he had Northwestern and the Titanic Players. I went great. I applied to two schools. I applied to Northwestern and then I applied to Yale because no one in England had heard of Northwestern. So I thought, “If I can get into Yale and reject them, then I’ll tell people I chose Northwest.” Then Yale rejected me so it wasn’t a great plan. But yeah, I went for the improv and it honestly was amazing. I was in this group, the Titanic Players, run by Mike Abdelsayed. It’s an amazing, incredible organization. I got to do so much improv at Northwestern. It wasn’t the worst decision.

Photograph from a show put on by the improv group The Titanic Players of Northwestern University featuring two actors on stage.

Then you had the city so you could go to Second City and you could see some of the best improv in the country. You were getting your fix for sure.

A hundred percent. I go to do shows downtown and they brought in guest improvisers to teach workshops. It was an amazing experience.

Also, it’s a great city when you’re twenty-one years old.

I don’t regret the decision at all. I love Chicago so much. Oddly enough, of everywhere in America I’ve been it’s the place that most reminds me of London. So I felt quite at home there. Lovely people, lovely food, and some of the best improv in the world.

Who were some of the people that inspired you in terms of your comedy? 

The first people were a lot of English comedians and stand-ups that I doubt people listening to this podcast have heard of but there are people like Daniel Kitson and Tim Key. These incredible people who would just do one-person shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. Partly due to the financial situation, one person shows basically dominate and it’s amazing because it’s so personal. I love these very personal stand-up shows. Moving to Chicago, TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi are like the greatest duo in Chicago improv history. They’ve been doing the same show for 35 years. They are genuine masters and are so grounded and confident and know each other so well. But honestly, my biggest inspiration was watching American sitcoms. That was kind of why I wanted to come to America. I grew up watching The Office, Parks and Rec, and How I Met Your Mother. All these shows. For one, they’re so phenomenal and they also made America seem so cool. I was like, “This is great. I’m just gonna go to America and meet all these beautiful people and date them. It’ll be great and everyone’s funny and the sun’s always shining.”

Still image from the NBC sitcom "Parks and Recreation" featuring Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope.

Did you discover that?

I discovered it was exactly like that. I have not been sad a day since I arrived in America. No, it turns out they’re a little unrealistic at points.

So moving to LA, what was the transition here?

So COVID happened and I was in Chicago and I started writing more. I only had a year left on my visa and I didn’t know if I could stay in the country. So I thought, “If I have a year, I should go to LA, the ‘City of Dreams.’” So I moved to LA and I got a job working for a motivational speaker, which was a weird experience, especially during COVID. 

Why was that weird? 

There was a point where I was locked down in my house and seeing no one. Except once a week, I would drive to this guy’s house, set up a camera, and he would motivationally speak at me for one or two hours. All of his stuff is just down the lens of the camera so I was going from total solitude to this man rambling about the meaning of life, and passion and purpose. Then I was going back to my tiny, empty house, and editing more videos of him talking about the stuff. It was just a bit of a jarring experience, but a wonderful one.

Did any of it stick for you?

It definitely got in there. It’s definitely deep in my subconscious. I can still hear his voice if I close my eyes. But I was doing that for a year and then I was working on my writing, but I felt like I needed more training, especially because so much of my experience had been in performance and live comedy. So I ended up applying to grad schools to do a master’s in Screenwriting. I got into the American Film Institute, and ended up going there, and that was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

How was Ed Decter? He introduced us and having him as a professor, what was the takeaway, the one thing you have been able to put into action? 

Two things come to mind. Because I think the first, which was something I really loved from watching Ed, was where you can get to if you put all this time into screenwriting. I had so many examples of these great improvisers I’d seen who have this, it seems like a superhuman ability to improvise. You drop them in a scene and they know where to take it and where to go. It was seeing those people initially that made me want to do improv. I think it was amazing coming to AFI, all the professors who teach there have to also be working writers in LA. Ed Decter, who I was lucky to get in my second year, is a very prolific writer and has written so much stuff in so many genres. We were a class of six writing six very different scripts and watching him have immediate feedback for every single type of script, which ninety-nine percent of the time was immediately correct, was an amazing thing to see. 

We talk about scripts so often like they’re hyper-personal, the story only you could tell, but if you get a really good screenwriter they know the direction a script should go from reading it. Getting to see that up close and getting to see someone be able to latch on to a story someone’s trying to tell, work out the key elements, work out what’s going to translate, work out what’s not translating, and immediately know a direction to go in. That got me excited and inspired because I think it can be depressing as a writer to think your only option for success is writing your soul’s calling. That’s wonderful. I hope to one day write a film that is me in a bottle but that’s a scary prospect. Going to AFI gave me much more of an approach to what a working writer looks like, of what a functional writer looks like, of someone who just gets the job done and who knows what a script needs. 

Ed has written a lot of sitcoms. That’s where he started. So he has experience in sitcoms but the scripts he’s been writing lately have been adaptations of various kinds of mystery novels. He has a broad range of genres that he plays in. A couple of the latest crime dramas he’s written were really startling to me, because, we obviously did There’s Something About Mary together, but also he’s done so many sitcoms. So I can understand why you guys would have bonded. Also the experience of seeing him jump from genre to genre and script to script, I had a similar experience. We put a little mini-room together that he ran to break The Looking Glass Wars novels as a television show. Seeing him run the room was also another aspect of television production, writing, and development that I hadn’t seen before. That was unique for me because I hadn’t had that experience of taking my novel, breaking it up, and saying, “Okay, here’s where we have to get to for the middle of the season. Here’s where we’re trying to get to at the end of this season. Okay, now, let’s reverse engineer it and figure out the best opening.” It was pretty exciting. 

It was not dissimilar to what you did with my world. I asked you to write a lore story and this idea came from you and a number of other young writers that I was introduced to from AFI, who play all these different kinds of games, Dungeons and Dragons and Magic: The Gathering. I looked at all the lore stories that go along with those games and I thought, “Well, I want that.” So you wrote this story, The Brother’s Wilde, which I’d like you to talk about. It’s a lore story, a prose short story. You did an outstanding job. Really brilliant, beautiful job. You used aspects of my universe and you made them feel fresh to me, which was like Santa Claus showing up. 

Graphic featuring knights and a purple skeletal being with the text "Dungeons & Dragons" superimposed over the image.

It was a wonderful experience for me because I’ve played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons for a long time. I love that world and the high fantasy genre, but it never felt like something I was allowed to play in for actual creative work. That was my treat on the side at the end of a long week. So getting approached to write something in a world of high fantasy that already exists and writing backstories was such a treat for me. It felt like getting to my fun times for work. But it was also an odd process. I’ve never really written based on other people’s worlds before and other people’s work. So that was interesting and fun getting into that and trying to see how much I could stretch. The odd thing for me was when I got into it, I was very excited. I’d written out all these plot points and the beats and I was confident in the story. Then literally as I opened up the Word document, I remembered I hadn’t written prose in like seven years.

Be careful what you wish for.

I’d forgotten it was a completely different art form. I got ready to open up Final Draft and then I was like, “Oh God!” It took a little bit of adjusting. The part I forgot was you can’t refer to someone by the same name every time in prose. In the script, someone is their name and it does not change ever. But I was suddenly deep on, “I can’t say ‘the great warrior’ again”. The mighty fighter, heroic hero, I was going deep into my vocabulary to try and switch something up. It was an exciting thing to get to work on. I think especially because Alice is a world that is so rich throughout culture. It’s kind of a bedrock piece of story. There are things I brought into the story that are pieces from Dungeons and Dragons. There’s a lot of Alice in Wonderland lore baked into Dungeons and Dragons like Vorpal swords and Jabberwock. It didn’t feel like building on something completely new. It felt like being given a chance to play in a world that is so familiar.

As a Brit too, Alice in Wonderland is probably the most famous piece of literature that you would have grown up with, right? So I can understand that and also the idea that Alice is everywhere. Of course, it makes sense it’s in Dungeons and Dragons. You took what was familiar from Alice’s Adventures, Lewis Carroll’s work, you took elements from my world, but then you brought this brother story together. Tell us a little bit about that part of the story, because you did often reference your younger brother.

I have two younger brothers who got amalgamated in the story. I always try to start from a place of relationship because I think that gives you the most fuel for a story and is the part you can’t retroactively put in. If you tell me this story needs a bigger fight scene, I can go do that at the end. But if a story isn’t built around a relationship, it’s tough to slot it in. So I wanted to build The Brother’s Wilde around a relationship. I was looking at the House of Cards, which was where we wanted to focus the story, and I thought brotherhood made sense. It’s this military organization and the brotherly bond felt like it made sense. I have two brothers who I fight with a lot. So that made that track. 

But then I was interested in this idea of the houses and I loved the thoughts of the personality types associated with the houses. Me and my brothers are very different and if we’re gonna have two brothers in the story, let’s put them in two different houses. Let’s have them hate each other for the very reasons that make them unique. If we’re trying to expand the House of Cards we’ve got to bake it into the DNA of the House of Cards. So I wanted to build around there. Then I came up with these characters who are half brothers from a philandering father, who they both hate and there’s no love between them. At that point, it started to feel real to me and it started to feel fun. It felt like playing because you built this world and we have this amazing world of the House of Cards which has these rituals and dynamics built in. It was such a gift to build these two brothers who hate each other and try to give them a situation to learn why they need each other.

Illustrations by Sami Makkonen of card soldiers for "The Looking Glass Wars: Crossfire" by Frank Beddor and Curtis Clark.

You were tasked with an origin story, an early origin story of the House of Cards. They send card soldiers on missions and when they send people on missions, they decide what kind of hand they’re going to deal. So you came up with the idea of “A Hand in History.” The Brothers Wilde is the beginning of the card soldiers going on these various missions when they’re tasked with saving the queendom or battling a competitive state.

I loved the idea of basing it around hands that are chosen and selected because that plays into the joy of Dungeons and Dragons and these old fantasy novels. It’s the idea of “The Party,” the troop. Every story is based around who was selected to go on this journey. That’s what’s so beautiful in a lot of these adventure stories, including Alice in Wonderland, it’s not the adventure that’s enticing, but it’s the uniqueness of who’s gonna solve the adventure.

The skill set they have and seeing how they’re challenged when they use their skill set with these various obstacles. That’s the Dirty Dozen idea.

I think that’s where a lot of modern fantasy and films go wrong. They put a lot of their energy into these big set pieces, these big boss fights with CGI characters. They put a lot of time into the obstacles when actually the thing we care about is the people solving them. In The Lord of the Rings, you care about Frodo, you don’t care that there are nine Nazgul. That’s what makes Alice in Wonderland so beautiful, and your novels, they revolve around the people going through them instead of the giant nature of the battle. 

It’s fantasy but you need to be with the characters and with Alice, it’s so identifiable. It’s a “Who am I?” journey, and she finds agency in who she is and pushes back against the illogical world that she finds herself in. But it’s also very amusing. When were you introduced to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

I couldn’t say an individual date because, especially in England, it was just a part of culture growing up. My earliest memories were of my mum and my dad reading me the book. I must have been 10 or 11. The 1951 film was something I watched a lot. I love animation. I write a lot of animated stuff. The specificity of the visuals and the tone baked into that film was a real inspiration for me growing up.

Still image of Alice and the Mad Hatter drinking tea in the 1951 Disney animated film "Alice in Wonderland".

Why do you think it’s lasted so long? You said it was in culture and this is generations after it was first introduced. Every generation re-interprets Alice. How do you view Alice in Wonderland?

I think the reason it has lasted is there are so many ways you can connect with it. It is such a beautiful human idea, the girl who falls through the looking glass and gets swept away on an adventure. The part I really gripped on to from a young age was the world-building. It was the idea of this world that works, that makes sense. It doesn’t feel like someone who’s picked, “Oh, this would be a fun scene. This is a fun character. That would look good.” 

It lives and breathes like a world. Something that really drew me to it is I think a lot of world-building goes dark, “It’s a grungy forest with scary people in it.” Then obviously some other world-building goes saccharine and we’re in heaven. I love the feeling in Alice that there’s a danger to the world but there’s a wonder to it as well. There’s a whimsy and a seriousness. The world feels like it shifts based on the situation, like ours does. There’s no one thing to it. I just love learning more about the world, learning about the characters who inhabit it, the places to go, and being able to build this kind of escape.

I love the whimsy and the silliness of it and it reminded me of another book, The Phantom Tollbooth, which was one of my favorites growing up because of the silliness and the use of language. I really identified with that aspect of Alice. Many people think of it more as more a nightmare because of getting big and small and being stuck in a place where there’s no logic. 

The lack of logic, I love. I know quite a lot of people who I would identify as crazy people. They would as well. We have a lot of fun mental health issues in our family. I always grew up with this acceptance that nothing’s gone wrong. There are crazy people who exist in the world and that’s fine. I think Alice, in a youthful way, takes that on the story. It accepts there are people who are going to make some weird decisions and that’s okay.

It really does capture that. In terms of pop culture, you mentioned Dungeons and Dragons and the references in video games, I’ve noticed there’s a huge through line of Alice. In almost every game I’ve ever seen, there’s some Alice component. Do you have a favorite Alice in pop culture item that you like? 

I enjoy Dungeons and Dragons. I love the video game Borderlands, which has a lot of Alice imagery. I think my favorite is probably the Batman: Arkham Asylum graphic novel, which I just love. It’s this beautifully illustrated graphic novel about Batman going into Arkham Asylum and gradually losing his sanity. It’s very inspired by Alice in Wonderland. A lot of the villains in Batman already are. There’s very much these threads of madness and the Mad Hatter.

Even the Penguin, there’s all this imagery that lines up. So you have this beautiful graphic novel of him just going progressively mad, surrounded by Alice in Wonderland motifs and imagery. That’s what feels so special about Alice in Wonderland, it can be drawn for inspiration for something light for a younger audience but it could also be drawn for a very dark and disturbing graphic novel. And it works the same. It’s just beautiful. I think that’s what happens when you’re able to create something that taps so deep into a human level. It means you can use it in so many different ways. 

Three panels by Dave McKean from the graphic novel "Batman: Arkham Asylum" by Grant Morrison featuring Batman and the Joker.

A lot of stories now are based on IP because people like stories that are familiar and told in an unfamiliar way. On the business side, there’s a recognizable aspect for the marketing. I know this is not lost on you because you’re working on an animated series that’s based on Edgar Allan Poe, but your spin on it is a little different. Can you talk about that?

I’ve been working for a couple of years on a series called A Raven in the Woods. It’s a reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe. I loved Poe as a child. I loved the language, the poetry, the darkness, and, similar to Alice, the acceptance of madness. That’s where they meet in the middle. Poe, like Lewis Carroll, doesn’t treat his mad characters as nothing. They’re just his characters. They’re not irrational. They are just who they are and they are to be dealt with. 

So I loved Poe and felt there was something so visual in his language that would pair well with animation. He writes in this incredibly emotive, twisted world that I thought could be best represented by animation. There are a lot of great live-action adaptations but they’re all dark and gloomy rooms, which is technically accurate. But when you’re reading Poe’s work, it doesn’t feel like a dark gloomy room, it feels like a twisting shadow and peering lights. I thought it worked well with animation but I didn’t want to do a direct translation. Similar to how you engage with the Alice world, I wanted to bring the feeling and the parts of Poe that I love into a new story that worked as a standalone piece of animation for kids. It shows a young Edgar Poe trying to get his brother Allan through the woods before Allan is turned into a raven. Allan’s cursed and as they move through the woods, a lot of the people in the woods have gone mad. There’s a curse on the woods and there’s a big, mysterious overlord. A lot of the “mad” people speak in rhyme and speak in poetry. 

It’s this adventure through the woods and the logic in my head was that this was the real-life adventure that inspired the later Edgar Allan Poe to write his stories. He actually wasn’t very creative at all; he was just mining from two weeks he had as a kid. It’s got a lot of the characters and the elements and the moments of his work, but it’s its own story about a kid trying to deal with a lot of the themes that come up in Poe. Themes of fear, how to overcome that, and how to deal with yourself and the world when everything feels mad.

Photograph of famed 19th-century horror and mystery author Edgar Allan Poe.

Not dissimilar at all to Alice. I think that’s really relatable and answers the question we often get from executives “Why now?” Given how chaotic the world feels, it’s great to deal with stories that are realistic to the anxiety that kids feel, whether it’s the various wars they’re reading about or the climate and the fact that there’s nothing they feel like they can do about it. I’ve noticed that with my kids. So stories that are thematically similar to what you’re talking about answer that question of why it’s important. 

Thank you. I think we need this stuff. We live in a chaotic time and our art needs to reflect that. Thankfully, we’re not the first people to have lived in a chaotic time so there are lovely things from the past.

We’re also trying to get grounded in what’s real. One of the things about Alice in Wonderland, if you look back on it, the question is “Is this a dream? Is this real?” Trying to parse out reality versus fantasy, facts versus fiction, which we’re dealing with a lot of late. That sounds like a really exciting project. 

I’m working with a producer, Rick Mischel, who’s wonderful, and we’ve teamed up with TeamTO which is a great French animation house.

They’re terrific. I love their animation. 

They’ve been amazing so far. Wonderfully French, which has been a great treat. On one of the first calls, the head of finance was just sitting 10 feet away from the camera stroking a cat. I was like, that’s the kind of stuff we need. We’re working with them and a director called Christian De Vita, who’s an incredible director. He’s done a lot of Wes Anderson and Tim Burton stuff. We’re working on putting together a packet for it and then going out and trying to sell it. It’s been a great, great process and hopefully, it will lead somewhere.

Fingers crossed. We’ll want to check back in with you and certainly have you on the show when you need to promote it because it’s coming out. 

I’m curious about the romantic comedy genre. I would imagine that you know something about that and that it’s been lacking. It’s one of the staples and one of my favorite movie genres. Why do you think we’ve lost that? 

It’s a really tough question. My dad has made a lot of romantic comedies. That’s his bag. It’s tough. I feel like there’s very little to be learned from him because the truth about him is that he is literally the sappiest romantic person in the world. It is one hundred percent genuine. That’s how he talks, thinks, and breathes. But I think it’s a really tough thing. One thing, it’s a genre that needs to keep changing. Action is action, and you need to develop it, but honestly, action holds up. But both romance and comedy are things that develop as humans develop. If you are romantic in the way people were romantic in the 1950s, you’ll probably get arrested. If you tell jokes that were funny in the 50s, you are not getting laughs, I promise. I think these are things that need to keep being pushed and reinvented because, with both romance and comedy, it’s the feeling of something new. The feeling of being in love is, “I’ve never felt like this about a person before.”

What about the formula of the meet-cute and the tension of “clearly they’re not getting along”?

Still image from Rob Reiner's 1989 romantic comedy film "When Harry Met Sally" featuring Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan in a diner.

We got used to the formulas. I think you can get used to the formula for an action film and it doesn’t lessen it. But to me, When Harry Met Sally, feels radical. It’s weird. It cuts away to things, it’s skipping time. I think romantic comedies have to feel unique because it should feel like meeting a person who’s shifting your life. When we get used to the tropes, they can still be good if you want to make The Notebook. That’s proper romance. But I think with a romantic comedy, it has to feel fun and it has to feel fresh. That takes reinvention. 

I think we’re in a weird spot at the moment where no one’s quite cracked it in a while. We’re all just really familiar with the tropes. Everyone watched these films, everyone started acting like the people in these films. There are all these people pretending to be leading men from romantic comedies in the 90s, and 2000s. They’re all on dating apps and it’s horrible. When you go on a dating app you see 200 people’s perceptions of who they are as a romantic lead. You watch everyone label themselves as the Hugh Grant type. Or, “I’m just a witty guy,” or “I’m the Billy Crystal, he doesn’t care.” These things are so played out. You’ve got to find a way of making something feel weird and fresh and new. But that’s really tough when we work in an industry that doesn’t like taking chances on fresh and new stuff. Also, let’s be real, romantic comedies live and die on the stars, on the chemistry. It’s tough to get a weird, new, fresh take that two stars are willing to sign on for and they happen to have chemistry. I think it’s a really tall order. 

I agree with that. With all the dating apps, trying to find a way to make that at all romantic seems to be an impossibility. But also, somebody will do it and it’ll break out and maybe there’ll be a fresh take on it. But to your point, we have all sorts of other genres that people are spending more time on. I just miss the chemistry between two stars. The Notebook is something my daughter has gone back to and it works because both male leads are equally appealing. So she really has a dilemma that you can buy into. But that was based on a novel that was highly successful. 

So the kinds of movies your dad wrote, were his own ideas, right? They weren’t based on anything, your dad had a romantic idea. For example, your dad wrote Notting Hill, which was one of my favorites. There’s an ongoing joke with my stepkids because whenever they say, “What should we watch?” I’m like, “Well, what about Notting Hill?” I’ve been saying it over and over and over so many times that they’re dead. They look at me like, that is the dumbest joke ever. But it’s a good movie. The chemistry between the two leads is so amazing. 

I remember once asking my dad, “Did you know when you were writing these films that ended up being big hits, that they were going to be hits?” He said, “Absolutely not at all. I really didn’t feel it. I just wrote and tried to stay passionate about it.” Then he paused and went, “Actually not Notting Hill. I was sitting at home and I thought, ‘What if a movie star fell in love with a random guy?’ And I went, Oh, that’s a hit.’”

Also, you have Julia Roberts at the height of her stardom with that smile that would just crush anybody. Then you have Hugh Grant, who’s a very contained performer and when those two come into contact, it’s gold. It’s wonderful.

Promotional image from the Amazon romantic drama series "The Summer I Turned Pretty" featuring stars Lola Tung, Gavin Casalegno, and Christoper Briney sitting on a beach.

I think one thing that’s worth looking at is that romantic comedy is being explored in other mediums successfully like the Amazon show The Summer I Turned Pretty. It’s a smash hit for a younger audience and that’s a rom-com, essentially. Even looking at someone like Taylor Swift, her songs are romantic, amusing, and comedic at points and that has gripped people. Obviously, people want these kinds of things. I think it’ll just take someone breaking a new way of doing it in movies.

Certainly in television. My daughter keeps telling me “Dad, it’s one girl, two guys. That’s what you need to do. Just focus on teenagers. Two guys, one girl. That’s the formula.” She’s watched all those shows you’ve talked about. 

You have a funny story about your grandmother knowing the Liddells, Alice Liddell, which you have to share with us. That’s the first time I’ve come into contact with somebody whose family member knew the literal muse for all things Alice, for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, for my books, for your writing The Brothers Wilde

It’s a bizarre and wonderful story. My grandmother, my mum’s mum, Lady Jill Freud, is an amazing woman. She’s 96 or 97 right now but World War II broke out when she was little, six or seven. She was living in London at that time with her family and they knew London was going to be bombed ruthlessly. So the British government enacted this thing they called “the evacuation,” which was an insane thing to happen. It could never happen nowadays. They literally took every child in London, took them to a train station, put a number around their neck, and put them on a train somewhere. They literally just shipped them off. When they arrived at these stations, people from the local towns came to the station and just went “Yeah, I can take two,” or “I run a farm, I can take two young boys to work there.” These kids just got rehoused for what was, at that point, an indefinite period of time.

So my granny was sent to Oxford and taken in by this family, the Butlers. Mrs. Butler was 100 and wasn’t allowed to know there was a war on because they were worried it would scare her. But the house was run by these three Butler sisters. Two of them were university professors and they were three unmarried older women. They had been three of the kids that Lewis Carroll, Charles Dodgson, had taken down the Isis River in Oxford when they were younger. He’d done these long boat journeys down the Isis and he would read them stories every night. He would come up with stories and a lot of his early things were first tested out on these little girls. So my grandmother lived with the Butlers and they had these toys from their time with Lewis Carroll he had actually made by hand. He was a great craftsman and he had made these toys.

Black and white photography of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" author Lewis Carroll.
Sepia-toned photograph of Alice Liddell, the inspiration for Alice in the 1865 novel "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland".

So every Sunday afternoon, my granny would be allowed to go into the drawing room and play with these Lewis Carroll’s toys. It was this incredible time in Oxford where all these great writers and poets and people who were allowed to not fight in the war for academic reasons would write. So she lived with the Butlers and she met Alice Liddell. Alice was close with them and would come over and she was this sort of enigmatic figure known and revered around Oxford. She had tea with J.R.R. Tolkien. By her memory, he was a friendly guy. 

So it was just this amazing time she was around Oxford and absorbing it. But also it was a time of war and chaos and people dying. When she talks about it it’s this very mixed feeling of this beautiful time but so underpinned with fear.

Was she there for the entire war?

She was there for the entire war pretty much I believe. She was there for five years of the war. By the time the war ended, she was 16-17 and had been at C.S. Lewis’ house for a bit and she stayed on to manage his estate for another year or two, I believe. Then at the end of that, she was accepted into RADA, the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, but couldn’t afford to go and C.S. Lewis paid for her entire education. He covered it and she went on to become an early movie actress.

What an amazing story and an amazing life.

At that time in Oxford, there were so many incredible people, incredible minds all talking to each other. These were discrete authors. They all knew each other and they had writing groups.

Could you imagine those writing groups? Wow, that would have been intimidating.

“Yeah, I don’t know if this White Rabbit character is really working for me.”

“I don’t think a closet is where you want the kids to go through. No one is gonna buy that.” The video you sent me of your grandmother, what’s that from?

She’s an incredible woman with incredible stories. A few years ago, I sat her down and we talked through her life and everything she’d done. It was a really wonderful experience. It was something I wanted to do, obviously to have the footage, but also it is such a privilege to get to talk to someone who’s lived through wars and everything. I mean, ninety-seven is a lot of years.

You’re very fortunate in terms of being surrounded by so many creative minds and creative family members and having a template on which you can base your creative aspirations. It’s been really delightful to listen to you articulate what you’ve experienced so far, in your life and I really, I really appreciated you working on this project. I didn’t know you very well and you delivered. I think our listeners are really going to enjoy hearing this.

They’re good, fun people. There’s a quote from a Madness song written on our wall at home that says, “There’s always something happening and it’s usually quite loud.” That summed up our family well.

That’s great. I hope you’ll come back when your show is produced.

Thank you so much for having me. This was such an absolute treat for the day and just fun to get into all this and chat about comedy and things

Thanks a lot, Jake. Bye.

For the latest updates & news about All Things Alice,  please read our blog and subscribe to our podcast!

Lost in London: Never-Before-Seen Letters From Alyss’ Adventures on Earth

Back in 2007, we collaborated with noted Alyssian historian Agnes MacKenzie to publish Princess Alyss of Wonderland, a stunning collection of letters, journal writings, and art from Her Royal Imaginer Princess Alyss Heart. These breathtaking documents chronicled the incredible childhood of Wonderland’s exiled heir apparent and future hero of The Looking Glass Wars

Recently, we were astonished to discover a new treasure trove of letters, journal entries, and art from Princess Alyss’ first few years on Earth. This is Alyss’ amazing story in her own words – her harrowing escape through the Pool of Tears, the deep sadness she felt when her imagination began to fade, what it was like to be a princess when everybody thinks you’re just a little girl, her fury at Lewis Carroll for butchering her story, and how she reclaimed her imagination and kept her hope of returning to Wonderland. 

These historic artifacts will be presented in installments over the coming weeks and months. Part One encompasses Alyss’ flight from Wonderland and how she survived her first days on the streets of London. 

(*As always, I am indebted to the tireless and exhaustive research of the eminent Wonderland historian Agnes MacKenzie. Her dedication has helped keep the true story of Queen Alyss alive!)


If you have found my journal and intend to read further, BE WARNED that these pages are meant only for those who wish to know the truth. All others are hereby ordered to immediately stop snooping.

HRI (Her Royal Imaginer) Princess Alyss Heart

Illustration by artist Catia Chien of the Birthday Fairies delivering Princess Alyss' birthday cake from the young adult fantasy novel "The Looking Wars" by author Frank Beddor.
My squigberry cake and the Birthday Fairies who appear with every royal cake to sing “Deliriously Happy Birthday to You.” I wish I had been able to slice that cake open and discover what surprise the Royal Bakers baked inside (I had hinted at a singing tiara).

August 5, 1861

I am in this world but not of it. My home is in Wonderland and my name is Princess Alyss Heart. Someday I will return to Wonderland to become Queen. This is the story of how I began to find my way back.

Where to begin? Certainly not at the beginning when all was well, but further into my life, to the afternoon when I discovered the golden kitten in the garden. My best friend Dodge and I had just returned from exploring Wondertropolis, a forbidden excursion outside the gates of the palace when we came across the most peculiar kitten. It was wearing a card that read “Happy Birthday, Alyss.” Since it was my birthday and everyone in the Queendom was giving me gifts, it only made sense that this kitten was for me. Unlike most kittens, who only hiss and purr, this kitten smiled. And that is where all the trouble began.

August 6, 1861

It was I who brought the peculiar kitten inside the palace gate. ME!

And then it ran away and hid somewhere in the palace. I tried to tell Mother and Hatter at my birthday tea about the kitten who smiled, but a horrible LOUD, RUDE crashing sound interrupted, and my Aunt Redd, decks of her card soldiers, and a monstrous CAT exploded into the dining room. The kitten had become The Cat! What happened next was very very fast and seems most shocking and unreal.

Mother and I escaped and I thought that we would stay together, but she sent me away with Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan to be kept safe until I was old enough to return to Wonderland as Queen. I begged to stay with her, but she was very firm. I had to leave Wonderland and everyone I ever loved. And I had to leave immediately.

Illustration by artist Catia Chien of the Cat attacking Heart Palace from the young adult fantasy novel "The Looking Wars" by author Frank Beddor.
The kitten who smiled turned into a Cat who moved like a soldier and had claws as long as knives.

Agnes MacKenzie

One of our more recent, and more thrilling, discoveries is the bundle of undeliverable letters addressed to Heart Palace in Wonderland and collected by postmistress Annabelle Smith-White of Christchurch, England. The letters were forwarded to the Lewis Carroll estate, but for an unexplained reason they were returned to Miss Smith-White’s district stamped ‘UNACCEPTABLE’. Descendants of the postmistress donated the bundle to this venture with the hope that their great-great aunt’s postal diligence would finally be recognized. 

Image of a letter from Princess Alyss to Dodge Anders, inspired by the young adult fantasy novel "The Looking Wars" by author Frank Beddor.
Image of an envelope addressed to Dodge Anders bearing a drawn Wonderland seal, inspired by the young adult fantasy novel "The Looking Wars" by author Frank Beddor.

August 10, 1861

When mother ordered Hatter to take me and leave Wonderland, we fled through a looking glass that took us to the Whispering Woods.

Once in the woods Hatter held me tight and ran faster than a spirit-dane. At last, we came to the cliff above the Pool of Tears and looked down into the black water. I had heard that no one ever comes back from the Pool of Tears, but Hatter assured me I would because I would one day return to be Queen. And then we jumped, but not soon enough, as The Cat’s long claws raked out across my birthday gown and tore away a piece. He nearly got me! But before I could scream we hit the water …

Illustration by artist Catia Chien of the Pool of Tears from the young adult fantasy novel "The Looking Wars" by author Frank Beddor.


… I know Hatter held me as tight as he could but a tremendous force tore us apart. Poor Hatter! He had promised my mother to keep me safe and Hatters always keep their promises, especially royal bodyguards. I tried to smile to let him know I would be okay, but the water smooshed my face in all different directions and I shot down very, very fast and then I shot up even faster and found myself in this world called London. Alone.

Illustrations by artist Catia Chien depicting Alyss trying to jump into a puddle, from the young adult fantasy novel "The Looking Wars" by author Frank Beddor.
I vow to discover the secret of puddle travel! There simply must be a way of knowing which puddle is THE PUDDLE!

August 20, 1861

My arrival in this world called London was sudden and frightening. I shot up and out of the puddle and found myself standing in the middle of a crowded avenue. Everything was spinning and I was cold and lost and AFRAID. Where was my mother? And where was my royal bodyguard? There was no one to help me in this gray, frightening place. All I could think was that I must return home NOW! In desperation, I began to jump in puddle after puddle searching for the way home until I could jump no more. Then I saw a boy watching me and he was smiling and I knew I wasn’t alone anymore. I was about to meet the most honorable Quigley.

Illustration by artist Catia Chien of Alyss meeting Quigley and the other street children from the young adult fantasy novel "The Looking Wars" by author Frank Beddor.
I didn’t know anyone could look so hungry!

Agnes MacKenzie

From Alyss’ description, it appears she first arrived in London on Whitehorse Street near the intersection of Piccadilly and Half-Moon. I have proposed that a plaque be mounted here to honor the struggles of this honored visitor from another realm.

As thoughtful readers of Dickens will recall, orphans, urchins, and estranged children were an all too common sight on the sooty streets of nineteenth-century London. It seems from Alyss’ journal that she was accepted into a den of street urchins by the boy named Quigley. While Quigley was an open-hearted generous sort, the others were less magnanimous and insisted Princess Alyss pull her own weight in foraging for food and rags. Alyss’ solution was, of course, to use her imagination.

Illustration by artist Catia Chien of Alyss telling stories to the street children around a trash can fire from the young adult fantasy novel "The Looking Wars" by author Frank Beddor.
They believed I was a real princess!

September 15, 1861

Quigley, in his patched clothes and cracked boots, brought me to an alley where he and a group of other very ragged, thin children lived. Everyone was curious as to who I was and where I had come from so I told them about Wonderland and what it was like to be Princess Alyss Heart. Quigley and the others loved my stories but unfortunately, they couldn’t eat them. What could I do to help? As I was thinking very hard I noticed a sad little flower in a cracked pot lying in the alley. To amuse myself I began to imagine the flower humming and soon it was singing in a beautiful high pitched voice. Quigley and the others were amazed. And then I knew.   

We became street performers. I would imagine the flower singing and Quigley would gather the coins tossed by those who stopped to listen. Our first show was a hit. The next show was even bigger. Each day we made enough coins to feed everyone very very well.

Illustration by artist Catia Chien of Alyss making flowers sing for street crowds from the young adult fantasy novel "The Looking Wars" by author Frank Beddor.


And then something extraordinarily horrible happened. My imagination began to weaken. Each day the flower’s voice grew fainter and fainter until it stopped singing and once again there was no food. I could not explain to myself let alone the others how I had failed. My imagination had always been with me. To have it fade was like losing my last connection to Wonderland. To eat, we all had to go back to stealing food from the markets. One day we were caught by a pack of London bobbies. The other kids escaped but I was nabbed and taken to the most frightening place I had ever seen, the Charing Cross Orphanage. I never saw Quigley again, though I still look for him.

*Stay tuned for Part Two, in which Alyss braves the brutal Charing Cross orphanage. 

The Next Alice In Wonderland Adaptation Should Consider These Actresses

Frank Beddor’s “The Looking Glass Warsis THE book trilogy that needs to be a show. As I’m sure some of you know, his books are a dark retelling of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” His books are not only a modernized adaptation of a franchise that has sold over 150 million books and has been translated into twice as many languages as Harry Potter, but it’s also got something for every one of us who’s looking for a good story: action, adventure, gut-wrenching drama, archetypes of romance and tragedy that renders nostalgia at once fresh and familiar. The ride that every one of us want to be on? These books embody.

As with any book I read, when I envision the show, I first imagine the potential cast. That’s the fun part, right? Finding the right actors for the characters is paramount…and to quote Martin Scorsese, “90% of directing is casting.”  I’m no director IRL, but after working at a casting agency, producing a few short films, and casting in my head as a writer, I’m no stranger to this process. I put on my “director’s hat” (my beret and do that hand frame thing) – I become “Marty.”  I peer through my looking glass and look for who I’d want to be my ALICE/ALYSS.

But wait, before I go there, let me give you some context for what I’m looking for.  The character of “Alice/Alyss” is complex; there are two sides to her and timelines to follow in which both converge and undergo a massive metamorphosis.  (Do I have your attention yet?)

When Alyss was seven, she was exiled from her home and shot out of a puddle in Victorian London. Once adopted by the Liddell family, her name was forcibly changed to “Alice Liddell” and she was made to believe that Wonderland was only a figment of her girlish imagination. While the truth was never lost to her, Alyss survived by pretending to repress those awesome and awful memories to become what was expected of her: a perfect Victorian lady.

Next, we time-jump to Alice Liddell as this groomed “Victorian lady” entering into high society during the “Season” where eligible young women are matched and married off. Internally, we know (and she knows) she doesn’t belong. But she makes it work – wicked smart, sassy, she plays along — persevering through tough situations, wearing her repressed memories like the fashionable breath-squeezing corsets of the time, wound up like a ticking clock, ready to spring awake if, and when, triggered.

I love this set up for Alice/Alyss.  To me, this juicy backstory and atmosphere is an inexhaustible wellspring for an actress. One from which she would be able to draw vulnerability and hope. There are clear goals and high stakes as her past PURSUES her, ignorance and comforts swept aside as Alyss is forced to confront the hardest truths in order to discover WHO she really is.  These stories give Alyss the role of the “chosen one” – one with a destiny to rectify a great wrong – for humanity and Wonderland. How she does this and at what cost will be the reason we lean in. 

(Uff! Gives me the shivers.)

So now we understand the SCOPE of Alyss/Alice, I, in the role of “Marty,” turn my gaze towards actors who would be able to take on this dynamic duality: repressed Victorian lady destined to be warrior queen of Wonderland.  A character arc that demands a robust core throughout while managing nuanced layers of conceit.

We need a real powerhouse… The actors chosen for this list not only have the raw talent to portray such a complex role but can bring it to the next level.  Without further ado, here are what we consider the best choices for casting Alice:

Anya Taylor-Joy

Anya Taylor-Joy
Anya Taylor-Joy

I think I can safely say with no pushback that Anya Taylor-Joy is having a well-deserved moment after The Queen’s Gambit. See her in The Menu, Last Night in Soho, and Split, and you’d agree that she has the power to draw eyes to the screen and deliver a killer performance. She is adept in period-pieces as seen in The Witch and Peaky Blinders. But really, what gets me are her eyes – their incredible ability to convey depth of emotion, defiance and vulnerability – an absolute must for an Alice Liddell who would be navigating Victorian society while guarding the secret of who she really is deep down. Anya is not only right for the role, but she’d hit it out of the park. I can picture her as a rebellious young woman out of time, couldn’t you?

Daisy Edgar-Jones

Left: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Right: Alice Liddell
Left: Daisy Edgar-Jones, Right: Alice Liddell

Another great contender for Alyss/Alice is Daisy Edgar-Jones.  The fact that she and the real Alice Liddell look like doppelgängers is a little uncanny.  If you’ve seen Daisy’s performance in Normal People (one of my favorites)or Under the Banner of Heaven as Brenda Lafferty, you’d understand her aptitude for range, depth and complex emotions. Daisy made Brenda instantly likeable as a maverick in the ultra-conservative-Mormon Lafferty family she married into, which only amplified the tragedy of her death. She brings a tenacious fire to her acting, one that quietly provokes and or evokes, challenging the audience to meet her where she is.  I imagine Alyss/Alice to be such a character, and it would be fantastic to see Daisy bring her to life.

Emilia Jones

Emilia Jones
Emilia Jones

After a such a distinct and memorable performance in CODA, Emilia Jones exploded onto the scene. The wholesome and yearning character she portrays felt grounded and wise beyond her years; and yet, she could flip back to girlish innocence and first love at the drop of a hat.  For many, she left a powerful impression – made us feel the truth she was carrying for all of us.  I can see her bringing this to the White Imagination wielding Princess Alyss: her face pure and reflective. In interviews, Emilia’s bright personality and infectious laugh makes her a magnet.  With so much life and verve, (and as one of the youngest actors on this list), if given a chance to play Alyss/Alice, Emilia would surely embody her spirit and win our hearts.

Saoirse Ronan

Saoirse Ronan
Saoirse Ronan

Little Women, Lady Bird, The Lovely Bones, Hannah, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The French Dispatch. With a filmography like this, there is no doubt that Saoirse’s got range.  She’s made us laugh, cry, forget ourselves and then remember again, touch those lost limbs, feel phantom pangs. Saoirse’s body of work speaks for itself, and would check every box in anyone’s imaginary list of attributes needed to portray Princess Alyss. Period piece skills? Little Women. Coming of age? Lady Bird. Fantasy/Adventure? City of Ember.

Her ferocity and gymnastic ability to completely transform herself into her characters to enter the landscape of the show is special and rare.  World creation for big fantasy is only as good as the people occupying its space – and if that were our only criteria, Saoirse would own it.  It would be a dream for her to play Alyss/Alice, in all her manifestations.  Whether in our world or Wonderland, if Saoirse jumped into the Pool of Tears, it would be straight into the deep end.

Jenna Ortega

Jenna Ortega
Jenna Ortega

Next, I’d like to introduce a dark horse contender for the role of Alyss/Alice.  Hear me out. I’d like for us to consider Jenna Ortega.  It appears that after Wednesday debuted, no one could stop talking about her – and for good reason. I remember first seeing her acting in the horror movie X, and while she wasn’t yet the star then, her quiet and innocent performance was the standout.

The character Jenna plays in Wednesday, (Wednesday Addams) couldn’t be more different than the Alice I imagined on the surface, but it doesn’t mean she isn’t right for the role. After seeing the way Jenna portrayed Wednesday, as a calm almost monotone character with layers of intrigue and feeling bubbling underneath the surface, so cool and detached, I found her uber interesting.  It certainly showcased her talents as an actor and made me think of her taking on the role of Alyss/Alice in a surprising way.

I don’t know about you, but I like it when actors challenge our assumptions about a piece, and find it exciting to see how someone, a little unexpected, could bring the role to a wholly different dimension.

Florence Pugh

Florence Pugh
Florence Pugh

When I was researching actresses for this list, a friend convinced me that I had to include Florence Pugh. Starring in such films as Midsommar, Little Women, Lady MacBeth, and the recent, Don’t Worry Darling,it seems Florence is only capable of delivering compelling, emotionally raw, and powerful performances. You get the feeling that she holds nothing back.

Florence is her own brand of woman – unapologetic even as she bends and cuts herself open to the audience. Her distinct raspy voice along with a trademark frown rivet us, so much going on behind those eyes. Her energy fills and battles with forces internal and external, holding tension in the most visceral way.  Watching her, I find myself holding my breath… and imagining her doing battle with Queen Redd? Well, I’d like to be ringside for that one. 

Phoebe Dynevor

Phoebe Dynevor
Phoebe Dynevor

Phoebe Dynevor crashed onto the scene with her starring breakout role as Daphne Bridgerton in Shonda Rhimes’s Bridgerton. Her performance in this fictional period piece fits right into the story line for Alice Liddell in The Looking Glass Wars wonderverse. As Daphne, Phoebe portrayed a woman who was groomed to perfectly fit the mold of her society but who questioned and fought against the very ideals and assumptions of that society even as she ascended in position. Much like Alice Liddell, Daphne was swept up in all the decisions that were made for her, but underneath, she had her own headstrong ideas and desires.

Daphne’s coming of age is an awakening of self – especially in an era of dating and matrimony where class, position and stature out-weighs personal feelings and romance. This internal conflict against external circumstance parallels Alice Liddell’s travails. For this role, Phoebe brought grace, fortitude and exquisite vulnerability to her character.  She had the audience rooting for her every step of the way.  Now, to see her wield the power of Light Imagination, who knows what she’ll bring to the table?

Rachel Zegler

Rachel Zegler
Rachel Zegler

Coming in hot, last but not least on our list, is Rachel Zegler. While she has the least acting credits on this list, she is also the only one here who starred in a Steven Spielberg film. The part of Maria in West Side Story won her a Golden Globe — an exceptional and hard-earned performance filled with wit, charm, and musicality.  Rachel as Alyss/Alice would translate across any language in every platform. Her innocence and passion play seamlessly side-by-side – giving her undeniable appeal.

Each one of these talented actresses would bring something unforgettable to the dualistic role of Alyss Heart/Alice Liddell. What do you think of this list? Who would you pick as your favorite? Is there anyone I didn’t mention here that you think would make a good Alice? Put on your “Marty” hat… I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Meet The Author

Jared Hoffman Headshot

Jared Hoffman graduated from the American Film Institute with a degree in screenwriting. A Los Angeles native, his brand of comedy is satire stemming from the many different personalities and ego’s he has encountered throughout his life. As a lover of all things comedy, Jared is always working out new material and trying to make those around him laugh. His therapist claims this is a coping mechanism, but what does she know?

The Looking Glass Wars, Season One Outline: Part III

Redd stalks the imperial hallways, convinced that Alyss is plotting an attack and impatient for The Cat to return with her actual head. Learning of Hatter Madigan’s reappearance, Redd decides—in contrast to the common wisdom of coaches everywhere—that the best defense is an aggressive offense.

On Earth, unable to ignore her memories but still suppressing most of her past, Alice begins to question her history. Where did she come from? Why are her recollections of “fictitious” Wonderland the only ones she possesses from her earliest years?

Alice seeks out Lewis Carroll, intuiting that her estrangement from him is relevant and that he can provide answers. But Carroll tells her what she least wants to hear—that her terrible nightmares and visions, the same ones he had long ago turned into nonsense and published in an effort to help her overcome what he believed to be her traumas as an orphan—well, everything in them is (or was) real. Just as she had insisted, they were when a little girl. He knows this because he’s met Hatter Madigan—the real Mad Hatter.

The acknowledged truth of Alice’s past only burdens her further. Every day, she’s pressured by her family to conform to the traditional role of a woman in Victorian society (marriage, children, passivity). Every day, she contends with Jesus Jones’ gang for the theater (the site of her orphanage). And every day, the crown acts as a stealth wedge attempting to drive her and Prince Leopold apart.

It’s always easier to give in, and we might think that Alice’s life would be less troubled were she to accept a proposal of marriage and forget her do-gooder ambitions. We’d be wrong. Prince Leopold, defying his overbearing mother, proposes to Alice, and buffeted on all sides by responsibilities, other people’s hopes and expectations, she goes into something of a tailspin.

Alice is pulled between worlds

She puts off answering Leopold, knowing that, though she loves him, agreeing to become his wife will have negative implications for her work with orphans. She’s no longer naïve enough to think that the queen shares her enthusiasm for improving the children’s welfare. Nor is she unaware that the queen judges her to be an uppity no-name who’s grown from a foundling to mistakenly acting as if a woman can make her own decisions, conduct business, etc.—i.e., do everything a man can do.

Disappointed but gallant, the gentleman suitor Hargreaves waits tactfully for Alice in the wings, but the pressure from her family intensifies. Marriage to a royal would significantly raise the Liddells’ standing in society. Adding to Alice’s stress, Jesus Jones’ gang burns down her recently opened orphanage.

“They want me to return to Wonderland and take up the throne?” Alice mourns to her reflection in a looking glass. “Me? When everything I touch falls apart. What kind of queen could I possibly be?”

Queen Genevieve materializes in the quicksilver. “A warrior queen,” she says, then vanishes.

It’s not enough. Or maybe it’s all too much. As Alice once did when a child, she vows to put aside the memories and passions that prevent her from getting on well in our world. She will embrace, more than ever, her adopted role as a Victorian woman, albeit a privileged one; she agrees to marry Prince Leopold.

In Lewis Carroll’s Adventures, Alice falls down a rabbit hole into a kaleidoscopically absurd Wonderland. In reality, Wonderland erupts into our world and there’s nothing absurd about it.

The royal wedding between Prince Leopold and Alice is our season’s last major set-piece. The Cat, having assumed the life of one of his aristocratic victims, has been invited and intends to finally separate Alice’s head from her body, though he’s wistful; murdering her will mean an end to the fun he’s been having, a return to Redd in Wonderland. But Hatter, unwilling to leave Alice alone longer than necessary, is also at the wedding, and when The Cat makes his move, Hatter steps up to defend his princess. It’s a vicious fight, and the otherworldly abilities of the combatants leave everyone dumbstruck. But not Leopold; he who spent his childhood coddled as a hemophiliac, who has dreamed of a life of action, intercepts a blow meant for Alice—a blow that looks to be fatal.

The Cat Attacks

Alyss issues her first command: Hatter must take Leopold to Wonderland, where only the power of imagination can save him.

Hatter’s mind reels back to when Queen Genevieve ordered him to leave her and save Alyss. And now Alyss is asking him to leave in order to save Leopold? He’s on the verge of refusing when…

Dalton’s betrayal comes to the fore as a swarm of Redd’s card soldiers invade the proceedings (some of the soldiers traveling through The Pool of Tears wound up in far-flung locales, providing a moment of levity). Dalton, it turns out, has been loyal to Redd all along, having sent word to her about Alyss’s precise whereabouts, and she has tasked him with overseeing the princess’s elimination. Surely, Redd had sneered, Dalton, The Cat, and her top hand of card soldiers could manage to kill an inexperienced girl?

But Hatter didn’t come back to Earth alone. Dodge and a cadre of Alyssians engage against Redd’s forces, and the sight of Dodge—Alyss’s first/best friend—stirs something deep inside her. Redd’s coup, the event that changed her life—and so many others’—forever, comes back to her in full…

We’re with seven-year-old Alyss as Redd and her mercenaries storm the princess’s birthday party—Redd wearing a gown of black, toothy roses and screaming “Off with their heads!” while bodies fall. We’re with Alyss as she hides under a table beside ten-year-old Dodge and sees The Cat murder Dodge’s father.

“No!” Dodge cries, charging at The Cat and getting swatted away, four parallel lines of blood marring his cheek.

We’re with Alyss as she and Queen Genevieve are pursued down palace halls by The Cat, until—

Thwip! Hatter kills the feline assassin with a deft throw of his spinning hat blades. Genevieve urges the Milliner to take Alyss and go, to keep the princess safe so that she might one day rule Wonderland. Genevieve, her emotions barely in check, then tells young Alyss that no matter what happens, she will always be with her, on the other side of the looking glass.

With a hiss, The Cat (who has nine lives) regains life and pounces. Hatter scoops up Alyss and jumps into a looking glass. Within moments he and the princess are racing through woods to The Pool of Tears, chased by The Cat: the cold open.

Alyss remembers all of this acutely, its truth informing every cell of her being, while our season finale’s massive, magical battle rages around her. Quigly, Hargreaves, and even Lewis Carroll fight to protect Alyss. How much of their protection she needs is up for debate, though, because she proves surprisingly adept in combat thanks to her waxing powers of imagination.

Amid the melee, Hatter is forced to kill the brother with whom he so recently reunited, and we end not with a victory so much as a mutual retreat.

Hatter vs. Dalton, The Madigan Brothers fight
Hatter vs. Dalton

The Cat, with Dalton dead and Alyss proving too powerful for him, slips out of the fray and camouflages himself by murdering an ordinary Londoner, assuming his/her form. Hatter hurries to Wonderland with a dying Leopold. And Alyss’s worry for her beloved does more to convince her to return to her birthplace than Dodge Anders’ entreaties. In other words, she travels to Wonderland and joins the Alyssians, not because she’s convinced that she’s destined to battle Redd for the queendom but because of her love for Leopold.

Redd is, of course, enraged by the failure of her troops to do away with Alyss. She lashes out at the queendom, Dark Imagination bruising every corner of society. And the further Wonderland falls into a pit of corruption and violence, the more Earth does too. The only way to save both worlds is to rid them of Redd forever.

For Alyss to accomplish that, however, she’ll need to assume the throne, which she can only do by navigating her Looking Glass Maze to realize her full imaginative power. And successfully navigating her maze, if she can locate it, isn’t a given. Plus, there’s much to be done along the way—card houses to unite, armies to raise, battles to wage.

But during a single season Alyss has transformed from Victorian social justice warrior to Wonderland Joan of Arc, the de facto leader of a rebellion that we’ll track in LGW’s second season, with the action taking place primarily in a world of rediscovery for Alyss—Wonderland, strange, familiar, home.

The war between Light and Dark Imagination is just beginning.

Read Part One of The Looking Glass Wars Season One Outline

Read Part Two of The Looking Glass Wars Season One Outline

For More on the World of the Looking Glass Wars:

Part One: Wonderland’s Imagination Empowers

Part Two: Wonderland Beginnings

Part Three: Roadmap To Phantasia

The Looking Glass Wars, Season One Outline: Part II

Hatter re-energized and refocused, certain that Princess Heart is alive and in need of him, Hatter regains himself, as it were, and we see his awesome martial ability in a glorious action-escape set-piece. He summons his extraordinary hat back to him and fights through an army of orderlies and guards, dishing out a bloody revenge to those who have imprisoned him. 

Again, setting out in search of Princess Heart, Hatter sails to the Far East. He ends up in a battle against CHING SHIH, female commander of the Red Flag Fleet—a pirate armada and the terror of the Asian Pacific. Valuing Hatter’s skills, Ching suggests an alliance. But what starts as a practical partnership between Hatter and Ching quickly blooms into romance grounded in a shared background of loss (past loves).

Hatter’s hunt for Alice is further diverted when he hears rumors of another Milliner on Earth—one who turns out to be his older brother, DALTON MADIGAN, whom he thought had died more than a decade ago.

The brothers’ emotional reunion at first bolsters Hatter’s hope for finding Princess Heart, but Dalton’s loyalties are soon questionable; he’s suspiciously interested to learn that Redd is Wonderland’s monarch. (Dalton has always loved Redd, and his unwitting participation in the murder of her mother Queen Theodora spurred him to jump into The Pool of Tears to avoid disgrace.)

The Madigan brothers’ complex Cain-and-Abel relationship will play out over the course of the LGW’s first season, but soon after reuniting, they come across a fantastical tome entitled Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Determining that its author Lewis Carroll must be in contact with Alyss Heart, Hatter and Dalton head to Oxford, England, where…

Alice is more than petticoats deep in the complexities of Victorian courtship, budding love, and palace intrigue. Still in faltering denial of all things Wonderland, she presses on with her goal of founding an orphanage, desperate to protect children from hard labor, starvation, and violence. Her noble, though decidedly unladylike actions, have thoroughly drawn in the hearts of both Prince Leopold and REGINALD HARGREAVES, a gentleman suitor first met at the party that introduced Alice to society. Throughout the season, we’ll explore a love triangle between Alice, Leopold, and Hargreaves, but it’s with Prince Leopold that most of the drama lies.

Alice’s growing reputation for fighting against child labor, the prince’s love—these earn her the smoldering ire of QUEEN VICTORIA. How can the queen’s youngest son be enamored of a plainly dressed commoner? A commoner, no less, whose efforts to improve the welfare of the country’s most vulnerable population conflict with certain arrangements of hers with gang-leader Jesus Jones?

Jesus and his men—our version of the Peaky Blinders–have been, with the palace’s tacit approval, snatching children off the street to sweat tirelessly in workhouses, providing a cheap labor force to support the aristocracy that Victoria strives politically to maintain.

No way Victoria will tolerate the upstart Alice Liddell. Behind Prince Leopold’s back, she schemes to tear the young couple apart.

One scheme involves recruiting Jones’ gang to do away with Miss Liddell. The job falls to QUIGLY, but he has good reason not to murder the charitable Alice; he had been the very first person she met after crossing over into our realm, her best friend on Earth for a time. As Queen Victoria works to undermine Alice, we’ll chart Quigly’s arc from nefarious gangbanger to one of Alice’s most vital comrades, defying the ruthless queen at the price of his own safety.

But what of The Cat, Redd’s emissary of death? He’s been closing in on the princess all this while—murdering his way to her, so to speak, and assuming the forms of his victims. Independent of Redd for the first time, he’s rather enjoying his decadent lives as various notables of the aristocracy, which accounts for his not yet having fulfilled his duty to Redd, though he remains an ever-present threat to Alice. And he will fulfill his duty…perhaps after the next soiree.

Arriving in Oxford, Hatter and Dalton Madigan make an unnerving impression on Lewis Carroll, through whom they find their way to Alice Liddell. Hatter’s appearance is, to say the least, a major shock to Alice—undeniable evidence that her so-called visions are indeed something more. Yet she rejects Hatter’s insistence that she must return to Wonderland to fight for the throne and rescue the realm from the tyranny of Redd and Dark Imagination.

“But Queen Genevieve, your mother…” Hatter tries, relating the deceased queen’s belief that Alyss, once of age, would be Wonderland’s only hope.

“My mother, a queen?” Alice scoffs, more troubled than angry because the designation sounds right.

Rejected, Hatter and his brother revisit Lewis Carroll. The author explains how thoroughly shed of her true identity Alice has been—and how he, regrettably, is largely to blame. Hatter and Carroll: two men Alice once trusted who, despite their best intentions, failed her.

Dalton offers to keep watch on the princess, and though Hatter’s none too trusting, he travels to Wonderland through a puddle where no puddle should be. He knows that if he can’t convince Princess Alyss to return, there is Wonderlander who, if still alive, might be able to: the best friend and innocent love of her earliest years, DODGE ANDERS.

Earth’s blight and troubles are mere echoes of Wonderland under Redd. Dark Imagination has cast a pall. The populace is beaten down, paranoid, hunkering into themselves to draw as little of the authorities’ notice as possible. Only a small group resists the tyranny—the Alyssians, a rebel group named in honor of Princess Heart, believed to have been killed by The Cat the night of Redd’s coup.

Dodge Anders, Rebel Portal Runner
Dodge Anders, Portal Runner for the Alyssian Rebels

Twenty-three-year-old Dodge Anders, the son of a former guard at Queen Genevieve’s Heart Palace: as a boy, he had spent countless hours with Princess Alyss, and he’d been at her birthday celebration when Redd and her mercenaries burst in and started killing everyone. He witnessed The Cat’s murder of his father, and the four parallel scars on his own cheek (courtesy of The Cat) now serve as constant goad in his rebellion against Redd and her forces. Dodge is a leading member of the Alyssians. Impulsive, daring—suicidally brave, some might say—he’s largely responsible for the Alyssians’ success over the past thirteen years, helping them avoid detection while conducting surgical strikes against her soldiers.

But Dodge is no longer convinced of Princes Alyss’s death. He’s heard rumors that Redd, unable to see the dead princess in her imagination’s eye (a sixth sense), sent The Cat into The Pool of Tears after her. And while it’s true that Redd had made a show of parading around with the princess’s head, she hadn’t gloated as much as was her custom. As if maybe, she didn’t want anyone to notice that the head had been conjured from her own imagination.

Hatter’s surprise emergence from The Pool of Tears, his news of Princess Alyss—these give fresh confidence to Dodge and the Alyssians. Though Dodge has retained every tender feeling he’s ever had for Alyss, he’s too hardened by circumstance, and too concerned with all that’s at stake, to dwell on them.

To be continued…

Read Part One: The Looking Glass Wars, Season One: Part I

For More on the World of the Looking Glass Wars:

Part One: Wonderland’s Imagination Empowers

Part Two: Wonderland Beginnings

Part Three: Roadmap To Phantasia

The Looking Glass Wars, Season One Outline: Part I

Cold Open:

A seven-year-old girl, clutching the hand of a man dressed in a long, flaring coat and top hat, runs through the dark woods. An overly muscled humanoid-feline with a nasty grin pursues them, leaping from tree to tree, all of which seem to whisper and whine in complaint. The girl stumbles. The man picks her up and races out beyond the edge of the woods to a cliff overlooking a swirling, rainbow-colored pool. He holds the girl tightly in his arms, jumps as—
Behind him, the feline beast lunges from the trees, arms outstretched, dagger-sized claws gleaming.


Man and girl plunge into the pool’s depths, deeper and deeper. Panicked, the girl flails, causing the man to lose hold of her. We stay with the girl as her bodyguard—for so the man is—shrinks to nothing in the liquid distance. Currents shift. The girl starts rising, ever upward until she comes flying out of a puddle in the middle of Victorian London.

Alyss and Hatter separated in the Pool of Tears
Alyss and Hatter separated in the Pool of Tears

Oxford, England. 1872.

ALICE LIDDELL (20) jolts awake in bed, scraps of this troubling dream still flashing through her head as her sisters EDITH and VIOLET, singing “Happy Birthday,” enter her room with a cake. Though Alice enjoys local fame from having been Lewis Carroll’s muse years earlier, she appears to be an ordinary middle-class young lady of the era, though in temperament—and in so much else, as we’ll learn—she isn’t the least ordinary.

In Wonderland, Alice (or rather, Alyss) would have been ascending to the throne on this, her twentieth birthday. In our world, the day proves hardly less weighty, her adoptive sisters and mother busying themselves with preparations for a party that will introduce her to society—and, more particularly, to potential suitors.

While others work to marry her off, Alice strives to better the lives of “street urchins” and of children in orphanages/workhouses. Her plan: to open an orphanage that values children’s welfare above profits. In this, Alice is motivated by her own experience (after landing in our world) of living on the streets as a child, then in a foundling hospital, and by her knowledge that not everyone was as lucky as she, to be adopted into a loving middle-class family.

But hallucinations keep plaguing her. Burning eyes and the angry hiss of a cat. Card soldiers being dealt over a palace wall. A queen in white yelling for her to run.

Alice’s persistent visions cause her to think of LEWIS CARROLL, from whom she’s been estranged for years. She long ago suppressed the reasons for their estrangement, but the restless truth still resides within her: that she felt Carroll had betrayed her. Why? When the awful facts of Wonderland were still clearly in her mind, before they had been questioned, denied, and finally driven from her consciousness by the necessity of surviving in this new world, Alice had confided to the shy, retiring Oxford don who worked for her adoptive father. Carroll had seemed to believe that she was indeed a princess of a realm in which imagination was a magical, palpable force. He had seemed to mourn with her over the violence and murder that had upended her formerly charmed life, forcing her and a bodyguard to flee to Earth through The Pool of Tears the night her aunt Redd seized control of Wonderland.

Lewis Carroll Sanitized Alyss's Story With Good Intention
Lewis Carroll Sanitized Alyss’s Story With Good Intention

But then Carroll, who had actually thought Alice’s tale the result of traumas she experienced as an orphan and believed he could rid her of such demons by rendering them as laughable figments, had turned her history into drivel and published it to great popularity.

Living chessmen, a woman in gown of writhing, toothy, roses—

Alice tries to shake off these visions, and as she strives to make her kinder, gentler orphanage a reality, she angers members of the clergy overseeing foundling hospitals, makes an enemy of gang leader JESUS JONES, yet unwittingly gains the support of PRINCE LEOPOLD, Queen Victoria’s youngest son.

Leopold is a fan of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Sickly in his youth, the prince had spent much his childhood isolated from the world, gazing out of the castle windows, and imagining an adventuresome existence. He had lived vicariously through Carroll’s characters; meeting the woman he knows to have been the author’s muse, he can’t help being instantly captivated.

Spinning blades caught by an expert hand. A man with a top hat disappearing into a liquid distance. Alice finds herself more and more troubled: there’s something familiar about her visions, that she can’t quite place—or perhaps, deep down, refuses to. Which is particularly problematic because, back in Wonderland, Queen Redd becomes aware that her niece Alyss Heart, whom she had supposed dead, is alive.

To eliminate any future threat of Alyss vying for the throne, Redd sends The Cat, a shape-shifting assassin, to Earth through The Pool of Tears. Like the Terminator on the hunt for Sarah Connor, The Cat begins the hunt for Alyss Heart as…

Thousands of miles from Oxford, in a San Francisco asylum, a dirty, disheveled figure rots slowly in a dark cell. Shadows seem to move, and we recognize HATTER MADIGAN, the man in top hat and flaring coat from the series’ opening scene.

Hatter is a soldier in the Millinery, Wonderland’s elite security force. He formerly possessed astounding martial abilities, but ever since he emerged from a puddle where no puddle should be in the Namib Desert, alone, his skills have steadily lessened.

In his cell, Hatter mentally relives the night of the coup, when he abandoned Queen Genevieve (at her urging) to Redd’s wrath, promising to save Princess Alyss so that she might one day return to Wonderland and rule it by the principles of Light Imagination. We get only glimpses of what he remembers. Throughout the season, we’ll see snippets of the coup through the eyes of the characters who were there—just flashes of scenes, giving us hints of that event’s horrific violence without a clear picture of how it all went down. Not until we near our season finale, when Alyss remembers the coup, will we see it in full, from her POV.

Hatter and Alyss Escape Redd’s Coup While Genevieve Fights Back

For now, Hatter’s recollections of that night provide us insight mostly into his own psyche.

He had failed to protect Princess Alyss, his sworn charge, losing her in The Pool of Tears. He had searched the globe for her, following the glow of imagination. Yet lack of success, and years of self-laceration took their toll; the longer he lived with his failure, the more the best parts of him were eaten away until he was weak enough to be subdued by authorities. As a menacing individual spouting insane tales about a lost princess, he was locked in this west coast madhouse.

Hatter’s top hat, the sidekick of a weapon that he can flatten into coptering blades with a flick of his wrist and send slicing through enemies, is essentially locked in its own cell elsewhere in the asylum.

But with the gradual return of Alice’s Wonderland memories comes her power of imagination (the magic of our series). She inadvertently calls forth this power in a tense scene in an old theater, illegally used by Jesus Jones’ gang, that she intends as her orphanage.

And like entangled quantum particles, a supernatural sequence reveals to us that Alice and Hatter are imaginatively entangled. Haunted by her visions of Wonderland and Hatter, she presses a hand directly through a looking glass; half a world away, in Hatter’s cell, that delicate hand emerges from a small mirror.

“Alyss!” Hatter cries.

To be continued…

For More of the World of the Looking Glass Wars, Read These:

Part One: Wonderland’s Imagination Empowers
Part Two: Wonderland Beginnings
Part Three: Roadmap To Phantasia

The Red Queen’s Last Son: Prince Leopold

Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany (1853-1884), was the eighth and youngest son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Handsome, gentle, charmingly shy, he received more of his mother’s attention than he liked, and as a young man he decided that the best means for gaining his independence was through marriage.

Leopold suffered from hemophilia, however, which not only kept him from active participation in sports and the military (though he held honorary positions in the latter); it also hindered his marriage prospects. Heiresses, second cousins, and aristocratic women were all briefly candidates to be his bride. Did no one want to marry a prince just because he was a hemophiliac? What of the wealth and privilege such a union would bring? Many young ladies did aspire to the royal family, and Leopold’s illness alone wouldn’t have been enough to put them off. But for those already high in society, the rank of princess wasn’t so tempting when it meant having Queen Victoria for a mother-in-law.

Prince Leopold

With Leopold determined to marry, Victoria—as she had done with her older children—loudly, repeatedly proclaimed that offspring of British monarchs should wed royals or nobles of other nations as a means of forming political and military alliances. She would prefer that Leopold stay with her and not marry at all, but if he insisted, then his must be a union that strengthened her reputation as the “grandmother of Europe”— i.e., a union with a notable someone not from the UK.

Leopold was a great admirer of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and like most of London society, he knew that Alice Liddell, daughter of Henry Liddell, Dean of Oxford’s Christ Church, had been the inspiration for the titular character. Though Alice was no longer the girl she’d been when Lewis Carroll penned his masterpiece, Leopold felt—a little rightly, a little wrongly—that because of his familiarity with the book, he knew her.

He met the twenty-year-old Alice one beautiful Saturday afternoon at Christ Church. Not near as conservative and priggish as Alice had presumed him to be, she found the prince appreciative of the satire in Carroll’s “nonsensical” novel and open-minded to her ideas for ending child labor in the kingdom. As to her notions concerning a woman’s place in society—how a woman need not be so subservient, yoked to domestic duties only—Leopold encouraged them.

If women in general were half as resourceful as Alice Liddell, he thought, the monarchy would surely benefit from their being treated as men’s equals.

“The more I’m with you, Miss Liddell,” he even admitted one afternoon, “the more I suspect women are superior to men.”

She assured him of it, and unlike with heiresses, second cousins, and aristocrats, Prince Leopold lost himself; he was in love with a commoner, an orphan of no known pedigree who had been adopted into a middle-class family, and who passionately acted upon ideas that Queen Victoria considered outlandish, even dangerous.

By marrying his beloved Alice, Leopold could do more than just gain independence from his domineering mother; he could rebel against her. This, even though the prospective bride would surprisingly prove to be, in accord with the queen’s dictate, quite a notable someone not from the UK. Alice presses on with her goal of founding an orphanage, desperate to protect children from hard labor, starvation, and violence.

Alice’s growing reputation for fighting against child labor, the prince’s love—these earn her the smoldering ire of QUEEN VICTORIA. How can the queen’s youngest son be enamored of a plainly dressed commoner? A commoner, no less, whose efforts to improve the welfare of the country’s most vulnerable population conflict with certain arrangements of providing a cheap labor force to support the aristocracy that Victoria strives politically to maintain.

The Prince and His Mother Queen Victoria

No way Victoria will tolerate the upstart, Alice Liddell. Behind Prince Leopold’s back, she schemes to tear the young couple apart.

One scheme involves recruiting a gang to do away with Miss Liddell. The job falls to QUIGLY, but he has good reason not to murder the charitable Alice; he had been the very first person she met after crossing over into our realm, her best friend on Earth for a time. Every day, she contends with Jesus the gang for the theater (the site of her orphanage). And every day, the crown acts as a stealth wedge attempting to drive her and Prince Leopold apart.

It’s always easier to give in, and we might think that Alice’s life would be less troubled were she to accept a proposal of marriage and forget her do-gooder ambitions. We’d be wrong. Prince Leopold, defying his overbearing mother, proposes to Alice, and buffeted on all sides by responsibilities, other people’s hopes and expectations, she goes into something of a tailspin.

She puts off answering Leopold, knowing that, though she loves him, agreeing to become his wife will have negative implications for her work with orphans. She’s no longer naïve enough to think that the queen shares her enthusiasm for improving the children’s welfare. Nor is she unaware that the queen judges her to be an uppity no-name who’s grown from a foundling to mistakenly acting as if a woman can make her own decisions, conduct business, etc.—i.e., do everything a man can do.

Excerpt from The Looking Glass Wars:

By Alice’s twentieth year, Mrs. Liddell was becoming anxious for her to choose a husband from among her many suitors.

‘But I don’t feel anything for a single one of them,’ Alice complained, shaking her head to fling out the unwanted memory of a boy left behind long ago. Don’t think of him! I mustn’t!

Then, one Saturday, the Liddell family attended an outdoor concert by a quartet at Christ Church Meadow. They were about to take their seats when a young gentleman, under the pretense of introducing himself to Dean Liddell, approached. He was Prince Leopold, Queen Victoria’s youngest son, and he had been sent to Christ Church so that Dean Liddell might oversee his education. This was his first time meeting the family.

Mrs. Liddell became fidgety and excited as she was introduced. ‘And these ladies,’ said Dean Liddell, presenting his daughters, ‘are Edith, Lorina, and Alice. Girls, say hello to Prince Leopold.’

Alice held out her hand for the Prince to kiss. He seemed reluctant to let it go.

‘I’m afraid you can’t keep it, Your Highness,’ she said. And when he didn’t understand: ‘My hand. I may have use for it still.’

‘Ah. Well, if I must return it to you, then I must, though if it ever needs safe keeping . . .’

‘I shall think of you, Your Highness.’

Prince Leopold insisted that the Liddell’s sit with him. He placed himself between Alice and Mrs. Liddell, and when the concert began with a Mozart medley, he leaned over and whispered in Alice’s ear, ‘I don’t fancy medleys. They skip lightly over so many works without delving thoroughly into any one of them.’

‘There are quite a few people like that as well,’ Alice whispered in return.

Mrs. Liddell, not hearing this exchange, flashed her daughter a look, which Alice was at a loss to interpret. The Prince talked to her through the entire concert, discussing everything from art to politics. He found Miss Liddell unlike other young women, who spoke of nothing but velvet draperies, wallpaper patterns and the latest fashions, women who batted their eyelashes and expected him to swoon. Miss Liddell didn’t try to impress him – indeed, she gave the impression that she didn’t much care what he thought of her and he rather admired that. And her beauty . . . yes, her beauty was undeniable. All in all, he thought her a delectable puzzle of a creature.

No sooner was the concert over and Leopold gone than Mrs. Liddell voiced what she’d been trying to communicate to Alice with her eyes.

‘He’s a prince! A prince!  And he’s taken a fancy to you, I’m certain!’

‘We were only talking, Mother. I talked to him as I would have talked to anyone.’

But her mother’s awe and enthusiasm were difficult to ignore, and she started running into Leopold all over town. If she strolled through the Christ Church Picture Gallery, she found him gazing intently at an oil painting by one of the old masters. If she visited the Bodleian Library, she found him thumbing through a volume of Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (which she had read in its entirety). He’s handsome enough, I suppose. And obviously well bred. Yes, but so were many of the men who vied for her attention. But at least he didn’t stroke his moustache with impatience as she talked of the need to provide for Britain’s poor. 

‘A nation should be judged on how it looks after its more unfortunate children,’ she explained. ‘If Great Britain is truly to be the greatest kingdom in the world, it is not enough to flaunt our military power and our dominance in industry. We must lead by example and be more charitable to and protective of our own.’

Prince Leopold always listened to her judiciously, weighing her arguments and reasonings with seriousness. He never agreed or disagreed with her.

Mother may be right. I could certainly do worse than marry a prince. But although Alice tried to feel something for the man, her heart remained unconvinced.

Prince Leopold dressed “plainly”

Three months after the concert at Christ Church Meadow, while taking a ride in his carriage to Boar’s Hill, Prince Leopold said, ‘Your father tells me that you’ll be visiting the Banbury Orphanage tomorrow afternoon. I’d like to come along if you’ll have me. One never knows what sort of troubles might beset a young woman there.’

‘If you think it best, Your Highness.’

He offered to take her in the carriage, but Alice said that she’d prefer to walk.

‘You see so much more of the town when you walk – a little curiosity shop or a snatch of garden where you wouldn’t think it possible to have a garden, choked as it is by city things. In a carriage, you hurry past these treasures without noticing them.’

She didn’t take the slightest quirk of mankind for granted but viewed it as a small miracle and cause for celebration, and the prince had begun to love her for this.

At Banbury, the orphans crowded around Alice, hugging her skirts, all shouting at once. Alice laughed, held four conversations simultaneously and, to Leopold’s eye, set off against the soot-stained walls, the drab and loose-hanging clothes of the orphans and the pale bloodless faces of the wardens, she looked more radiant than he’d ever seen her. On a tour of the orphanage, a train of children following at their heels, one young boy refused to let go of Alice’s left thumb.

Alice requested a thorough accounting of the troubles facing the Banbury Orphanage. The wardens pointed out floors rotten from overflowing sewage, the sagging infirmary roof, the time-worn mattresses as thin as wafers. They showed her the pantry, empty save for sacks of dried kidney beans and uncooked rice.

‘The children have had nothing but beans and rice for two weeks,’ one of the women told her. ‘We were supposed to be getting a supply of beef ribs, but so far . . . nothing. This sort of thing happens rather frequently, I’m afraid.’

Prince Leopold had been silent for some time. He cleared his throat.   ‘What   of   the   warden   responsible   for   ensuring   that Banbury receives the food and clothes the children need?’

‘The chief warden is very selective as to who gets what and how much of it, Your Highness,’ the warden explained. ‘He says we take in too many children and that perhaps they are not so deserving. For example, that one there . . .’ the warden pointed at the boy holding on to Alice’s thumb ‘. . . he has a real talent for thieving, though often as not what he steals is food because of how hungry he is. They all are.’ She gestured at the surrounding orphans.

Alice looked at the boy clutching her thumb, reminded of Quigly Gaffer. What’s become of him? And the others? Andrew, Margaret, and Francine, hardly old enough to dress themselves, never mind living on the streets without the love and support of family.

The mournful, faraway look on Alice’s face had a profound effect on the Prince. ‘I shall talk with the Queen,’ he said after several moments. ‘I think we might establish a Commission of Inquiry into the matter and, in the meantime, arrange for an increase in food rations. How does that sound?’

‘It sounds like generosity rarely met with among the living,’ said the woman.

‘Well, no one here shall soon discover if it’s to be met with among the dead either, if I can help it.’

The orphans blinked and said nothing, hardly believing what they had heard: Queen Victoria and Prince Leopold were going to work on their behalf! The wardens offered the Prince their thanks many times over, while Alice looked on and smiled, which was all the thanks he desired.

On the walk home, they stopped to rest in the university’s Botanic Garden, where Alice found herself sitting on a bench with Leopold suddenly kneeling in front of her.

‘No matter what you decide, Alice,’ he was saying, ‘I want you to know that in the coming years I will be only too glad to assist you in your charitable endeavors. But I hope with all my heart that you’ll allow me to do so as your husband.’

Alice didn’t understand.

‘I’m asking for your hand in marriage,’ Leopold explained. ‘But . . . Your Highness, are you sure?’

‘That is not exactly the answer for which I was hoping. Alice, you are a most uncommon commoner, to say the least, and I would be proud to call myself your husband. Of course, you realize that you will not have the title of Princess, nor be entitled to ownership of the royal estates?’

‘Of course.’ Marriage? Again, she felt the tug of a long-buried affection for one who . . . No no no! Think of other things. Be realistic. The marriage would please her mother. She would do it for her mother, for her family’s sake. ‘I accept, Leopold.’

She let herself be kissed, feeling the coolness of dusk settle in around her.

‘I have already spoken with the Queen and I have asked for, and received, your father’s blessing,’ the Prince said. ‘We shall host a party to announce the engagement.’

If she’d had time to think about it, Alice might have stopped herself, considering the idea too whimsical. But the words had a force of their own, and only after she said them aloud did she realize just how appropriate the idea was.

‘Let’s have a masquerade.’

Yes, it felt right: a masquerade to celebrate the orphan girl’s impending marriage to Prince Leopold of Great Britain.

Who The Queen of Hearts is Based On: Queen Victoria

When Queen Victoria, monarch of the United Kingdom from 1837-1901, first took the throne at the age of nine­teen, the role of the crown was uncertain, fluid. The Prime Minister and those elected to House of Commons and the House of Lords did the political heavy lifting, and no one expected the crown to serve as a spur to the economy; there were innovative capitalists enough for that.

Even the crown’s ceremonial role was in doubt, some claiming the monarchy superfluous. But the new queen impressed with her grace and assurance, and the public romanticized the accession of a young woman—a woman so young, so sheltered, that not until she was officially monarch did, she have her own bedroom. Even then, custom dictated that she couldn’t live independent of parental supervision before mar­riage; until the queen wed her cousin Albert, her mother resided in Buckingham Palace.

Small of stature, Victoria was big with contradictions. She hated being pregnant and was said to detest babies, her renowned quote “An ugly baby is a very nasty object and the prettiest is frightful”. This is intriguing as Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” depicted the Duchess and her baby (which became a pig). —

Evidently, the Duchess neglects the baby, and tosses it to Alice when she needs to play croquet with the Queen. The verses to the Duchess’ lullaby – “Speak roughly to your little boy, And beat him when he sneezes; He only does it to annoy, Because he knows it teases,” is as violent as the way she tosses the baby up and down.

Queen Victoria was quoted to have referred to behavior of children as that of “rabbits and guinea pigs, and Carrol; portrayed children as pigs in his book. He had a similar dislike of babies as well. “If (the baby) had grown up, ‘(Alice) said to herself, “it would have made a dreadfully ugly child; but it makes a rather handsome pig, I think.” Chapter VI Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Yet, the Queen gave birth to nine children, and the era that bears her name placed a high value on motherhood.

She had no interest in social issues (inevitably blaming flare-ups of discontent and unrest on small groups of agitators), but while she was in power, Britain under­went tremendous social reform. She did not embrace changes wrought by technology, slow to appreciate potential economic benefits, but technological innovations reshaped Europe and much of the world throughout the 19th century. Victorian England was living the imperial experience, the British Empire was expanding while new lands and cultures were discovered.

What followed was an encounter of cultures and, quite often, an aggression against the foreignness perpetrated by the British Empire. Danial Bivona in “Alice the Child-Imperialist and Games of Wonderland”, argues that Alice’s approach to Wonderland is deeply marked by an imperialistic attitude. She comes from her incapacity of understanding the other culture, assuming that, only because she cannot understand it, it must be devoid of logical rules. An assessment true for all time, and deeply rooted in the world Victoria helped shape.

And as Queen Victoria’s reign wore on, she concluded that governance was no place for a woman and accordingly subordinated herself to her husband, giving him a greater role in handling the crown’s responsibilities.

Queen Victoria: a headstrong woman with conservative principles, cautious in her friendships, prone to temper tantrums and depression. Not one to readily forgive, she ensured that woe befell anyone who wittingly or unwittingly fought against her— a trait Alice (or rather Alyss) eventually came to think of as a fractal reflection manifesting the ill intent sent from Queen Redd (Red Queen) in Wonderland at the time.

Throughout her life there were eight assassination attempts against the Queen, all of them failing miserably. Her carriage was shot at by Edward Oxford in 1840 while she was five months pregnant— an unthinkable trauma that Victoria accepted rather well. –

Then twice more the Queen was shot at in 1842 by the would-be assassin John Francis. A hunchback named John William Bean fired a pistol at the Queen just five weeks later— though it was unloaded, and the man postured his attack as a cry to be sent to a penal colony (far from the hardship of Britain).

Victoria’s carriage was shot at again in 1849 by William Hamilton. A year later, known lunatic Robert Pale attacked the Queen in Hyde Park, smacking her on the head with his cane (making him the only assassin to injure the Queen). A 17-year-old named Arthur O’Conner attempted to shoot the Queen in 1872 but was foiled by her favorite personal attendant, John Brown.

Her final would-be-assassin was a man named Roderick Maclean who attempted to shoot the Queen in 1882 but was tackled by a group of Eton college boys. Such was the earthly queen with whom Alice Liddell, née Alyss Heart of Wonderland, would contend.

By 1859, Victoria had successfully married off eight of her chil­dren. Only the youngest, Leopold, remained. He was grown into a fine man, and the discomfort she’d felt around him when he was a youngster had evaporated; she was now greedy for his company and overprotective. Much as she had done to rid her­self of her mother’s “supervision,” Leopold was determined to marry to get out from under the maternal thumb.

Victoria believed that offspring of British monarchs should wed royals or nobles of other nations as a means of forming political and military alliances. How galling then, that Leopold set his heart on a former foundling named Alice Liddell, a member of the gentry, modestly famous for being Lewis Carroll’s muse (the queen loved Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland but knew that it satirized her court,) what was worse: Miss Liddell had progressive ideas on social and economic reform, and she didn’t care to abide a woman’s place in society. 

A bit of trivia — Queen Victoria suggested that Carroll dedicate his next book to her. And so, his next work, “An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, With Their Application to Simultaneous Linear Equations and Algebraic Equations,” was presented to the queen- no recorded reaction is known.

Queen Victoria could never let Leopold marry this upstart with the arrogance of a princess. But she couldn’t simply forbid him from marrying her either; he would detest her, and he reminded her too much of Albert (who had died prematurely and mourning whom Victoria wore only black for the rest of her reign) for her to have tolerated that. –

She would have to be subtle, nuanced in her sabotaging of Leopold and Alice’s relationship; they would seem, to themselves, to be masters of their own uncoupling, then Alice Liddell would give up her pretensions and reforms and fall back into her proper sphere.

Queen Victoria wasn’t accustomed to failing.

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.


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