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.

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

JC
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.

FB
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.

JC
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.

FB
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? 

JC
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.

FB
How many shows would you do a day?

JC
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. 

FB
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. 

JC
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.

FB
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? 

JC
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.

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

JC
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. 

FB
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.

JC
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.

FB
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.

JC
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.

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

JC
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.

FB
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.

JC
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.

FB
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. 

JC
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.

FB
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?

JC
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.

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

JC
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.”

FB
Nothing like my family. 

JC
I’d become the black sheep.

FB
You’re working for Intel.

JC
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. 

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

JC
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.

FB
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.

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

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

JC
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.

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

JC
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.

FB
Did you discover that?

JC
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.

FB
So moving to LA, what was the transition here?

JC
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. 

FB
Why was that weird? 

JC
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.

FB
Did any of it stick for you?

JC
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.

FB
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? 

JC
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. 

FB
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.

JC
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.

FB
Be careful what you wish for.

JC
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 synonym.com, “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.

FB
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.

JC
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.

FB
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.

JC
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.

FB
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.

JC
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. 

FB
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?

JC
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".

FB
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?

JC
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.

FB
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. 

JC
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.

FB
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? 

JC
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.

FB
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?

JC
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.

FB
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. 

JC
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.

FB
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. 

JC
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.

FB
They’re terrific. I love their animation. 

JC
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.

FB
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? 

JC
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.”

FB
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.

JC
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. 

FB
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. 

JC
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.’”

FB
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.

JC
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.

FB
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

JC
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.

FB
Was she there for the entire war?

JC
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.

FB
What an amazing story and an amazing life.

JC
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.

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

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

FB
“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?

JC
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.

FB
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.

JC
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.

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

JC
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

FB
Thanks a lot, Jake. Bye.


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“Percy Jackson” and “Shogun”: Disney and Hulu Have Gone Down the Rabbit Hole

If you have been outside in Los Angeles within the past couple of months you may have noticed billboards advertising that Hulu is on Disney Plus. The ads are quite simple and smart, they consist of a Disney quote that in some way is related to a character from a show on Hulu along with a picture of said character. Some of them are quite good like this one. Where the full title of the show helps complete the quote. Like this ad using a song from The Jungle Book and The Bear (Fun fact: The Jungle Book character who delivers that line/lyric is actually a bear).

Disney Plus and Hulu billboard featuring Jeremy Allen White as Carmy Berzatto from the Hulu comedy-drama series "The Bear".

Some of them are okay. This Lilo and StitchFamily Guy ad isn’t the best but it gets the point across:

Disney Plus and Hulu billboard featuring Peter Griffin from the Fox animated comedy series "Family Guy".

And some of them feel like they really ran out of ideas. I mean Darth Vader’s quote from Star Wars and American Dad relate enough, I guess, but it feels like a rough draft that somehow ended up getting approved. I imagine some Disney exec being like, “We need a Star Wars quote on the ad to remind people we own everything. I don’t care if it actually is a good ad.”

Disney Plus and Hulu billboard featuring Stan Smith and Klaus Heisler from the TBS animated comedy series "American Dad".

But there was one that inspired this whole blog, involving the cast of Only Murders in the Building, and, you guessed it, an Alice in Wonderland quote:

Disney Plus and Hulu billboard featuring Martin Short, Selena Gomez, and Steve Martin from the Hulu mystery comedy-drama series "Only Murders in the Building".

So, what am I getting at here? Why did I feel the need to write a whole blog about ads? Well, I didn’t. But I’ll be honest, I’m struggling with coming up with a segue to my main point here…so…something something, down the rabbit hole of the television renaissance. Yeah, that works.

Television has been pretty awesome recently. I mean, these four billboards are all shows I watch or have watched in the past. Family Guy is a staple of adult animation. It is a member of the holy trinity, which as we all know is: The Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy. Seth McFarlane’s other hit show American Dad is, in my opinion, his best show to date. I almost named my cat after Roger the costume-wearing alien who lives in their attic but my girlfriend was worried since Roger is not a good “person”, my cat would be bad. We settled on naming him Archer, after the world’s greatest secret agent Archer, from the FX series Archer. She agreed on the name since she had never watched the show.

Still image from the FXX animated comedy series "Archer", featuring Sterling Archer holding his finger up and drinking from a liquor bottle.

Of the live-action shows featured in the ads, as an ex-line cook with a panic disorder, The Bear really does nail the mayhem of a kitchen and the insane people destroying their bodies to make the delicious food we all love. I genuinely love this show. My only critique is, every now and then, it becomes a montage of Chicago intercut with food porn. Only Murders in the Building is a fantastic spin on a whodunit starring two comedy gods, Steve Martin and Martin Short.

While I could make the argument that all these shows have aspects of Alice sprinkled throughout them, I’ve got something better for you. Not just one Disney Plus/Hulu show, but two, truly do parallel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The first is Percy Jackson and the Olympians, the show based on the extremely popular young adult fiction series of the same name. The second show is a bit out of left field, but trust me, it’s got Alice in its DNA. Before you read what it is, I want to give you a second to guess. That is, of course, if this blog’s title does not give away what the surprise is. Okay, you got one? Good. You’re wrong, it’s Shogun. While you ponder on this, I’m going to talk about Percy Jackson.

Still image of Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson holding a sword, from the Disney Plus fantasy series "Percy Jackson and the Olympians", based on the book series of the same name by Rick Riordan.

The fantasy series follows twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, who has always struggled to fit in and learns the reason for his inability to integrate into twelve-year-old society is that while his mother is a normal human, his father is the Greek god Poseidon. Alright, so what does that have to do with Alice? Well, Percy, like Alice is thrown into a new world, one with unfamiliar and sometimes absurd rules that he must learn. Along with this, there are fantastical creatures and trials he must overcome. Gods are trying to kill him, but since Greek gods are more like a giant royal family on top of a mountain, one could make the argument that it’s like Alice’s trial with the Red Queen screaming, “Off with her head!” At the show’s beginning, Percy follows Pegasus to the roof of his school, which is not dissimilar to Alice following the White Rabbit down the rabbit hole.

Alright, now let’s get after Shogun. First off, let me just say, this show is amazing. It is truly peak television. It’s a fictional story based on historical events that happened in 1600s Japan. The show was developed in 2015 but came out just this year. While I could make a point about studios not jumping on this sooner and wasting their time, I will instead mention that if this is the direction we are headed regarding television, we’re in pretty good shape.

Still image of Cosmo Jarvis as Anjin/John Blackthorne, from the Hulu historical drama miniseries "Shogun".

Shogun follows John Blackthorne, an English pilot (navigator) of a ship who ends up stranded in Japan. In this new world, John ends up being a bargaining chip/key for success between the five political rivals who are sharing power until the underage emperor reaches sixteen. Besides being about an English person, at first glance, this show does not share a lot with Alice. But when you truly dive in, there are many parallels. The most obvious is a person ending up in a new world with completely different rules and practices. John does not speak Japanese, leading to many times when he is confused as to why something is happening. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice has to accept that something is happening because it is simply the way it is done in Wonderland. Due to John being taken prisoner and used as a bargaining chip, there are many moments where he has no choice but to do what his captors/hosts instruct him to do. For many portions of the show, he is just along for the ride. Forced to experience the good and the bad of a new culture he truly knows nothing about, like Alice who, every now and then, just must do as she is told. When she questions what is happening or tries to do things as she has been taught, there are consequences, such as with the Red Queen.

Another thing that is not a parallel per-say but I do want to point out is that Alice has to worry about the threat of decapitation from the Red Queen. Many of the people in early 17th century Japan also had to worry about losing their heads. I think in the first episode of Shogun alone, three people are decapitated. One of which being from seppuku. The biggest difference in character between John and Alice is that John wants to get home to England almost immediately, whereas Alice wants to go home at the end. I guess that’s not the biggest difference between the two characters. We could start with the basic difference of John being a grown man whereas Alice is a young girl… Look, all I’m trying to say here is that Lewis Carroll’s writing has influenced modern storytelling so much that it’s almost imperceivable anymore. I don’t think the original writers of Shogun even realized there are remnants of Alice sprinkled throughout their series. Same with Rick Riordan when he wrote the Percy Jackson series. Alice is just modern storytelling. It was the first to start these tropes and I don’t think we will ever see them go away because, as you can see, the tropes seem to be a winning formula.


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 egos 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?

Dream into Nightmare: “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” and Lewis Carroll’s Monster

Black Mirror was released to rave reviews in 2011, establishing itself as one of the most popular and well-regarded shows of the 2010s. It has helped repopularise the anthology format and has earned an avalanche of awards and nominations, including eight Emmy Awards. Charlie Brooker’s sci-fi series branches into a variety of genres but mostly lives in the dystopian space, fitting with the parameters of speculative fiction. Black Mirror frequently utilizes technology and media to comment on current social issues and has been lauded for its near-Simpsons level of prescience. Just Google China’s Social Credit System, Waldo, or David Cameron and a pig. (Fair warning for that last one).

In 2017, Brooker and executive producer Annabel Jones teamed with Netflix, which now distributes the series, to develop an interactive episode. The project eventually grew into a feature film released in 2018: Black Mirror: Bandersnatch. Set in the 1980s, the film stars Fionn Whitehead as programmer Stefan Butler, who is adapting a fantasy “choose your own adventure” book into a video game titled Bandersnatch. An exploration of free will, the film blends post-modernism, comedy, and horror with a heavy dose of Philip K. Dick to give audiences a unique experience in which they control the direction of the story. With 150 minutes of unique footage and multiple “choice points,” Bandersnatch offers viewers over one trillion paths they can take within the film, mirroring (pun not intended) the game being developed in the story.

Still image of Fionn Whitehead as Stefan Butler playing a video game from the Netflix science fiction interactive film "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch".

Alice aficionados are sure to recognize the nod to Lewis Carroll in the title. The reference is actually twofold. The film took its title from Bandersnatch, a video game developed by Imagine Software that was in turn inspired by Lewis Carroll’s creation. The game, however, was never released due to the company’s bankruptcy in 1984. But what is a bandersnatch? And how does a creature created over 150 years ago for a fantasy novel and a nonsense poem relate to Brooker and Jones’ sci-fi psychological thriller?

Lewis Carroll’s bandersnatch is a monster that appears in his 1871 sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, as well as his 1874 poem, The Hunting of the Snark. The beast is described as having a long neck, snapping jaws, ferocious, and extremely fast. In Peter Newell’s 1902 illustration, one of the earliest depictions of the beast, the bandersnatch appears in cartoonish fashion with the body and head of a lion and pointed ears, horns, a dog’s nose, and human hands. Its home is in the world behind the looking-glass, and in The Hunting of the Snark, it is encountered after the hunters cross an ocean.

Illustration of the bandersnatch and Jubjub bird by artist Peter Newell for the 1902 edition of the novel "Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Saw There" by Lewis Carroll.

The overzealous Banker is the first unfortunate soul to cross the bandersnatch when he leaves his party (mistake number one). Carroll writes, “But while he was seeking with thimbles and care/A Bandersnatch swiftly drew nigh/And grabbed at the Banker, who shrieked in despair/For he knew it was useless to fly.” The Banker tried to bribe the beast (mistake number two) but the bandersnatch had no use for the Queen’s currency. He “… merely extended its neck/And grabbed at the Banker again.” The monster continued his assault: “Without rest or pause — while those frumious jaws/Went savagely snapping around —/He (the Banker) skipped and he hopped, and he floundered and flopped/Till fainting he fell to the ground.” The Banker was saved from a painful and ignominious end when the rest of his party caught up, their numbers causing the bandersnatch to flee.

As with all of Lewis Carroll’s creations, the bandersnatch has had a substantial reach in pop culture, inspiring artists, and undergoing numerous reinventions over the past century and a half. In Anna Matlock Richards’ A New Alice in the Old Wonderland, written less than 25 years after the beast’s first appearance, the bandersnatch is given extremely long legs and the ability to fly. Fantasy and sci-fi author Roger Zelazny describes his hissing bandersnatch as walking side-to-side and leaving a trail of steaming saliva. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland reimagines the monster as a large white beast with elements of a bulldog, snow leopard, and bear with rows of razor-sharp teeth. The Shadowrun tabletop role-playing games gave the bandersnatch the ability to mask both its appearance and body heat. It seems that the bandersnatch has popped up in as many different iterations as Alice herself.

Still image of the bandersnatch roaring at Mia Wasikowska as Alice Kingsleigh in Tim Burton's 2010 period adventure fantasy film "Alice in Wonderland".

But what does this have to do with Black Mirror: Bandersnatch? A clue may be found in the musings of Colin Ritman (Will Poulter), a successful game designer employed by the company that agrees to fund Stefan’s game. In a conversation with Stefan, Colin opines about the darker meaning of Pac-Man: “He (Pac-Man) thinks he’s got free will, but really he’s trapped in a maze, in a system. All he can do is consume, he’s pursued by demons that are probably just in his own head and even if he does manage to escape by slipping out one side of the maze, what happens? He comes right back in the other side. People think it’s a happy game. It’s not a happy game, it’s a fucking nightmare world…”

Still image of Will Poulter as Colin Ritman from the Netflix science fiction interactive film "Black Mirror: Bandersnatch".

The theme of a dream turning into a nightmare dominates Stefan’s arc in the film. His passion project, the story that connects him to his dead mother, turns into a real-life nightmare during the development process, driving him to insanity and violence. The bandersnatch, in all of its iterations, is depicted as a beast of incredible ferocity. Its frumious jaws promise destruction with every snap. Its blazing speed and considerable strength make for a formidable adversary. It’s a representation of danger and pain. The term Wonderland is often used to describe something fantastical, amazing, astonishing – a dream. The bandersnatch makes a wonderland a nightmare.

Black Mirror: Bandersnatch uses the iconography and qualities of Lewis Carroll’s bandersnatch to represent the danger of obsession. Like how Pac-Man is all-consuming and driven by demons, obsession breeds darkness in its host, manifesting in violence and pain. The bandersnatch is the physical manifestation. It is ferocious and merciless, savagely snapping around and devouring its prey. Over the years, many have reimagined Carroll’s Wonderland as a nightmarish realm, an assault on sanity. The same thing is happening in Bandersnatch, where passion and potential are twisted into a ferocious beast bent on destroying all in its path.


An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.

“Alice in Wonderland” in “The Way Home” and What to Expect from Season 3

“‘Who am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle.” Alice had just grown to the size of a giant, frightening the White Rabbit, which motivated her to ask this soul-searching question in Chapter Two of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s something we constantly ask ourselves throughout our lives, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. One of the primary reasons Alice in Wonderland continues to captivate audiences and inspire creators is because it deals with universal questions of identity and personhood. In most respects, characters in every story undertake a journey of self-discovery and Alice’s odyssey through Wonderland is a perfect model for artists. From The Matrix to Alice in Borderland to Poor Things, there is a long history of films and TV shows that have used elements of Alice in Wonderland to tell their stories.

One of the most recent series to use Alice as direct inspiration is the time-travel family drama, The Way Home. The Hallmark Channel original recently finished airing its second season in March and work is already underway on Season 3, slated to premiere in 2025. The Way Home follows three generations of strong and independent women (Andie MacDowell, Chyler Leigh, and Sadie Laflamme-Snow) who “embark on an enlightening journey none of them could have imagined as they learn how to find their way back to each other.” Season One begins with Kat (Leigh) and the aptly named Alice (Laflamme-Snow) returning to Kat’s hometown of Port Haven in rural Canada to live with her estranged mother Del (MacDowell). Alice’s adjustment to her new home takes an interesting turn when she falls into a pool on Del’s property and discovers it’s a portal for time travel.

A still image from the Hallmark Channel original series "The Way Home" featuring Sadie Laflamme-Snow as Alice staring into a pond.

Does that sound familiar? Maybe reminiscent of a young girl falling down a bunny’s burrow in a fantasy novel written under a pseudonym by an Oxford mathematician and photographer? Well, don’t worry, if you think it sounds a little like Alice in Wonderland, you haven’t eaten any “magic” mushrooms. The similarities are by design.

Speaking recently to Variety, co-showrunner Alexandra Clarke, who runs the series with her mother Heather Conkie, said, “As we started looking at this show and the concept, it became so much clearer to us how oddly echoing it all was to the book, and we sort of thought well, if it’s there, let’s use it. It’s a story about a girl that literally falls down the rabbit hole into a whole other world and is trying to make sense of what she’s seeing and of her adventures there.” Clarke and Conkie, along with creator Marly Reed, were reinforced in their choice of inspiration when the first books they saw on a trip to a discount bookstore were Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. “We thought, ‘OK, that’s a sign,’” said Conkie.

Clarke, Conkie, and Reed used the theme of self-discovery in Carroll’s novel to influence their Alice’s arc. In Season One, they send her down their rabbit hole to the Wonderland of 1999, where she encounters her mother and grandmother, learns about the trauma keeping them apart in the present, and explores the type of person she wants to be. Like Carroll’s Alice, The Way Home’s Alice finds herself in a strange world where previous norms are upended, requiring self-exploration as well as exploration of the environment in order to navigate this unfamiliar place.

A promotional image from the Hallmark Channel original series "The Way Home" featuring Chyler Leigh, Sadie Laflamme-Snow, and Andie MacDowell.

Using the past to jumpstart a coming-of-age story is an excellent mechanism that brings to mind another of Alice’s lines. After the “Drink Me”/”Eat Me” scene in which Alice dramatically shrinks and grows, she comments to the Caterpillar, “It’s no use going back to yesterday. I was a different person then.” This is an astute insight about the importance of moving forward and not being stuck in the past. Yet The Way Home shows it is useful to go back to yesterday if the person or people you’re observing are your mother and grandmother, discovering the different people they were in the past. In The Way Home, Alice’s insights into the issues that drove Kat and Del apart directly relate to her sense of identity and how she grows as a character.

For Season Two, Clarke, Conkie, and Reed looked at the second installment of Carroll’s Wonderland canon and based Alice’s journey on Through the Looking-Glass. Clarke said, “The way it begins is her looking through a mirror into this other world and wondering what’s there and hoping it’ll take her back to Wonderland. It does, but it’s a wonderland that’s upside down and reversed. Everything good is bad and everything up is down and if you actually look at Alice’s journey in particular through Season Two, that’s exactly what happened. We made a really big point throughout the season of having her be on the outside looking in, which is exactly how Alice who was in that book.”

A still image from the Hallmark Channel original series "The Way Home" featuring Sadie Laflamme-Snow as Alice reading a copy of the novel "Through the Looking-Glass" by Lewis Carroll.

Again, the creative team behind The Way Home identified one of the core themes of Alice’s experience in Carroll’s novel and transposed that onto their Alice. The feeling of being on the outside looking in is common to all teenagers and a large portion of adults. Even within the context of family, younger people often feel ostracized to a certain extent due to their ignorance of events and experiences before their time that still color the relationships between older family members. This unresolved trauma drives wedges between all generations and, if left untreated, can doom relationships. In The Way Home, time travel provides the mechanism through which Alice and Kat can learn from that trauma, allowing them to heal in the present.

Alice in Wonderland will also play a large role in the upcoming Season Three, though its influence may be more general than direct. “I think the thing we’re going to kind of try and do this season is looking at the two books as a whole as a set and what to sort of glean from the two of them and who owns them. And the themes of them will still be a huge part of our show,” said Clarke of their approach to next season. She went on to say, “…the trips that Alice takes, the trips that Kat takes, they’re always going to different wonderlands and different worlds for very different reasons.”

A still image from the Hallmark Channel original series "The Way Home" featuring Andie MacDowell as Del and Sadie Laflamme-Snow as Alice at a farmers market.

This idea of using “different wonderlands” to address certain aspects of a character’s development echoes Carroll, who tailored the Wonderlands Alice visits to reflect her emotional maturity. It’s a beautiful example of character-driven storytelling, where the character defines the world instead of vice versa. As The Way Home ages into its third season, it’s clear that the show’s creative brain trust has a firm grasp on how to continue the development of their characters they so wonderfully executed in the first two seasons. What is also clear is that 159 years after its initial publication, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland continues to directly influence storytelling, continually reaffirming its position as one of the most influential works of art ever made.


An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.

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!)


HALT!!!!

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.

(continued)

… 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.

(continued)

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. 

Poor Things: Is Alice in Wonderland at the Oscars?

Seventy-two years ago, Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland walked away from the twenty-fourth Academy Awards empty-handed after composer Oliver Wallace lost to Johnny Green and Saul Chaplin (An American in Paris) for what was then called Best Scoring of a Musical Picture. In 2011 Tim Burton’s Alice adaptation took home statuettes for Best Art Direction (Robert Stromberg and Karen O’Hara) and Best Costume Design (Colleen Atwood) having also scored a nomination for Best Visual Effects. This Sunday, Alice will again be attending the Oscars. But in true Wonderland fashion, she’ll be in disguise as Emma Stone’s intrepid heroine Bella Baxter from Yorgos Lanthimos’ surreal masterpiece, Poor Things. Widely regarded as one of best films of the years, Poor Things is nominated for 11 Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress) and has already won five BAFTAs and two Golden Globes amongst a host of other awards. While the film is not an Alice adaptation, nor does it reference Lewis Carroll’s novel, but Lanthimos’ construction of the world of Poor Things and Bella’s character arc are classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, an odyssey of self-discovery through a strange yet beautiful world. 

Poor Things begins as Bella Baxter ends (the first time). The eccentric (some might say mad) doctor and scientist Godwin Baxter (the sublime Willem Defoe) saves Bella’s life by transplanting the still-living brain of her unborn fetus after jumping off a bridge. As a result, Bella begins the film with the intellectual and emotional maturity of an infant. She rapidly matures, however, transitioning to a teenage mindset throughout the first act, discovering sexual pleasure and masturbation. Her world continues to broaden when she meets Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef), her father’s assistant. McCandles swiftly falls for Bella and she accepts his marriage proposal. But Bella’s curiosity for the outside world and thirst for sexual exploration leads her to run off with her father’s debauched, scoundrel of lawyer, Duncan Wedderburn (the delightfully outrageous Mark Ruffalo). What follows is a coming-of-age epic equal parts sensual, troubling, and enlightening. 

Still image of Emma Stone as Bella Baxter with a glass bubble over her head from Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things".

So what does this have to do with Alice in Wonderland? Well, it can (and will) be argued that Bella is an Alice avatar, that Poor Things is an adult version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice’s journey is one of self-discovery, in which her journey through a strange, seemingly arbitrary world informs how she defines herself. When the Caterpillar asks Alice who she is, Alice replies, “I-I hardly know, Sir, just at present – at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”

Alice feeling like she has gone through rapid change mirrors Bella’s arc over the course of Poor Things. Bella rushes through her emotional development, going from an infant to an emotional mature adult in the span of about a year. Just as Alice feels anxious about her sudden changes, Bella also experiences intense shock at certain points throughout her journey. One pivotal experience comes when the cruise ship on which Bella and Duncan are traveling stops at Alexandria, Egypt. Bella disembarks and is horrified to witness the intense suffering of the city’s indigent. 

Still image of sandstone tower in Alexandria from Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things".

Prior to this experience, Bella had been sheltered. Whether confined to the twisted yet familiar environs of Godwin’s home or ensconced in the variety of sensual pleasures offered by Libson hotels and Mediterranean cruise ships during her galavanting with Duncan, Bella had never experienced, much less seen, true suffering. This revelation is devastating and causes Bella to experience an existential crisis, questioning everything she’d ever been told. Her distress and inexperience with the “real world” leads her to make the impulsive decision to give the ship’s crew Duncan’s money, who falsely promise to use it to support the poor of Alexandria. This has disastrous consequences on Bella and Duncan, leaving them penniless and stranded in Marseille. Yet the experience causes Bella to grow, giving her a more realistic view of people and morality. 

One of the common beliefs about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is that it is a pure nonsense tale in which Alice breezes from one surreal episode to the next until she wakes up back in Oxford, her odyssey in Wonderland ostensibly just a dream. Yet Alice does undergo a change throughout her story. At the Knave of Hearts’ trial, Alice becomes more confident in herself, criticizing the arbitrary nature of the inquest and standing up for herself in front of the Queen of Hearts. Alice’s experiences in Wonderland did change her. Alice needed to be independent and think for herself in order to navigate that wild world and those lessons prepared her to confront the tyrannical Queen at the end of the story. 

Still image of Emma Stone as Bella Baxter in a white dress from Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things".

Similarly, Bella’s experiences with Duncan, in Alexandria, and in her time as a sex worker in Marseille prepared her to confront her ex-husband, the sadistic General Alfie Blessington. Blessington was the reason for Bella’s suicide in her previous life, his cruelty and controlling nature driving her to jump into the Thames rather than let her and her child suffer under his tyranny. But by the end of the film Bella has developed a strong sense of her own independence and competency, leading her to exact revenge on her former tormentor. It is a powerful moment, showing how the lessons imparted struggle can lead to triumph. 

The world’s of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Poor Things also perform similar functions in relation to their protagonists. With both stories initially set in Victorian England, their secondary worlds provide a juxtaposition of customs and rules to the protagonists’ primary worlds. Carroll’s Wonderland is a surreal dreamworld characterized by non-existent rules and ever-changing properties. It is designed to confuse and frustrate Alice’s preconceived notions. Lanthimos’ world is not a fictional realm, it is a twisted version of our world, yet operates as Wonderland due to Bella’s unfamiliarity. The fantastical steampunk aesthetic reflects Bella’s point of view as she moves through a world filled with strange customs and confusing behavior. Both Alice and Bella have unreliable guides. Alice’s include the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar, and Cheshire Cat, while Bella must navigate the ulterior motives of Duncan and Madame Swiney in order to extract value from their examples. For both characters, their “Wonderlands” function as teachers, interacting with them so they can grow and change. 

Still image of Lisbon buildings from Yorgos Lanthimos' "Poor Things".

While not overtly influenced by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Poor Things’ narrative and protagonist certainly share Alice-ean functions and characteristics. Bella’s odyssey of self-discovery through Yorgos Lanthimos’ beautifully crafted world thematically mirrors Alice’s own journey through Wonderland, with both experiences inspiring the characters to grow, becoming more self-confident and self-assured than their former selves. Alice may not be on stage this Sunday at the Dolby Theatre nor may she be thanked if Poor Things captures any gold statuettes, but, nevertheless, the film owes a debt to the type of fantastical coming-of-age story that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland helped popularize.


An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.

ALL THINGS ALICE: INTERVIEW WITH LENNY DE ROOY

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 Lenny de Rooy join me! 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 the show Lenny de Rooy. I am really happy to have you on as I had seen your book, Alice’s Adventures Underwater. I gotta tell you, you are very brave because, with The Looking Glass Wars, I use Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as a jumping-off point. I felt like as long as I got the references correct, I should be okay with real Alice fans. But you decided to write a sequel, and you pulled it off because of all the different puns and all the references. I want to get into that with you as well, but my first question to you is there seems to be two camps in the interpretation of Alice. There is one camp which is the whimsical fantasy dream and the other camp interprets Alice as more of a nightmare. It’s horror. It’s self-sustaining madness. I’m pretty sure I understand, at least in terms of your book, what side of that debate you fall on, but I was curious what your answer would be.

Lenny de Rooy
Yes, I’ve never read it as nightmarish, but maybe that’s also because I read it at a later age and not as a child. So I wouldn’t be able to say how it would have impacted me as a child. But to me, there actually is quite a bit of structure in the books, which is what I like. The fun part of the story is that it turns around everything you know, but there is a structure to the madness. So that makes it not nightmarish to me at all.

FB
When you say structure, are you talking about the plot or are you talking about the structure of the thematic references that Lewis Carroll is going for?

LDR
To us, everything Alice encounters is nonsense. But for the characters in Wonderland and The Looking Glass Wars, it makes perfect sense because things are the other way around. There are puns that actually make sense to us if we look at it differently. So that’s what I mean, there actually is a structure to the world. It’s not completely random at all.

FB
One of the things that I found in my reading was that there was a randomness to Alice’s Adventures as she was going along. Things were happening to her and she didn’t have as much agency as the traditional reluctant hero story. But as I’ve reread it, I can find more structure and more agency. It’s just not so traditional in terms of the hero who’s finding themselves and then going on some victorious evolution.

LDR
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is very episodic. That’s because of the way it came into existence. It was told to the real Alice and her sisters in episodes, it grew and grew over time. That’s what you still see in the first book, while with the second book, Through the Looking-Glass, Carroll could think about it for much longer and there’s the chess structure that really guides the story.

FB
I agree with that. The second book has a lot more structure. Your website, alice-in-wonderland.net, is one of the deepest sources of Lewis Carroll’s works on the internet. Where did this obsession with Alice in Wonderland come from? I did read that you first fell for the story through the Disney movie. But then what happened?

Still image of Alice and the Mad Hatter sitting at a table having tea from the 1951 Disney film “Alice in Wonderland”.

LDR
When I was a child, we watched all these movies that our parents taped for us and the Disney Alice in Wonderland was one of my favorites. Then, in high school, I chose to do Alice for a presentation and then while reading for our exams, I decided to dive into Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland because I thought, “Well, I already know the Disney movie so how hard can it be to pass the exam about the book?” I found all these layers inside it and references to actual people and I found that so interesting. Then I started gathering clippings in the library and then I went to university and I got access to the internet and I saw that there was not as much material as I would have liked. So I decided to start my own website. It was a very basic one, just a front page and animated images. There was a part about me and my hobbies, and then a part about Alice. I got a lot of comments on the Alice section so I decided to focus my whole website on the topic of Alice in Wonderland.

FB
So you didn’t realize at the time you were you were putting together your website that Alice is so deeply seated in culture and there’s such a broad range of interested folks until you started to get those comments? Did your fascination grow, through that? The more you discovered, the more it revealed.

LDR
Yes, but I’ve always been rather focused because I’m not a collector of books or all things Alice that I can get my hands on. I’m always focused on the background of the books. What are the origins of the story? What are the references to actual people and politics? What’s the meaning behind the jokes? That’s always what interested me. I deliberately focus my website on that, because there’s just too much to tell about Alice in Wonderland. It would get out of hand if I added all that to my website. I always say I don’t collect stuff, I collect information.

FB
Your website’s very deep and really fascinating. But let’s talk about Alice’s Adventures Underwater. Lewis Carroll didn’t invent the rabbit hole, of course, but he did invent falling down the rabbit hole for adventure. That has gone on to penetrate pop culture for over 150 years. You, on the other hand, have used two devices. You use “taking the plunge,” which is the title of the first chapter, and also the reflective surface of the water. So when Alice takes the plunge, she finds herself underwater. I thought it was really interesting and effective. What were the origins of using those two devices?

LDR
I wanted to make a continuation of the original books. But they’re also still very many references to the originals. So her plunging into a lake resembles falling down the rabbit hole and looking at the reflection of the water resembles the looking glass. It’s a mash-up of both things. When she looks into the water’s reflection, she sees her reflection, what’s behind her, and what’s underneath the water. She sees herself and other things. That’s a bit of a theme.

Cover image of “Alice’s Adventures under Water” featuring an illustration of Alice discovering a shipwreck, written by Lenny de Rooy and illustrated by Robert Louis Black.
Back cover image of “Alice’s Adventures under Water” featuring an illustration of Alice looking up at a sea dragon, written by Lenny de Rooy and illustrated by Robert Louis Black.

FB
I liked that. The reflection part, the falling, and then holding her breath before realizing that, suddenly, she can breathe.

Can you do a quick comparison of the characters in your book that are reflected by characters in Lewis Carroll’s two books? There are queens in both books so you invented a Queen Bee for yours. Is there, for example, an equivalent of the caterpillars in yours?

LDR
There are different levels of references to the original books. There is a queen in my book because Lewis Carroll’s books had queens. There’s also another cook because, in Carroll’s book, there was a cook. But then there’s the jellyfish which resembles the caterpillar because of his many tentacles that he’s folded, which is maybe a bit more of a resemblance to Disney’s version of the caterpillar, when he sits on the mushroom with his legs folded. There are also references for people who know the books very well. For example, the Queen Bee’s husband, a waspfish, wears a very ugly wig. Alice asks, “Why does he wear a wig?” The answer is he wants to stand out because he always feels left out. Most people won’t understand that reference. But in Through the Looking-Glass, there’s actually a missing chapter called “The Wasp and a Wig.” If you know that, then you’ll know that the Queen Bee’s husband feels left out because he was taken out of the original book.

FB
That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I did not put that together. I’m sure our listeners would love that. There are lots of those things in your novel, which are really fun to discover.

LDR
I even have one character that is based on an actual person within the Lewis Carroll Society community. He might recognize himself.

FB
That was something else I was wondering because Lewis Carroll made a lot of references to real people. Did you make any references to any friends? Did you make fun of or tease anybody? Anybody that if they read it, they would see that themselves in the book?

LDR
I thought about that but I couldn’t copy Lewis Carroll exactly. He’s so famous that people studied his background and history. I don’t think anyone will do this with me so they won’t know my personal friends. I would be honored if my book became that famous. But I thought I should put in characters and references that most people, or at least some people, would recognize. There is a reference to someone in the Lewis Carroll Society that I hope people will recognize by the description or the illustration. I also added references to Donald Trump, which should be very obvious.

FB
Was that positive or negative?

LDR
I would say not that positive.

FB
There are so many funny political cartoons. I wrote a whole blog about the cartoons out there using Alice in Wonderland to make fun of Trump. So you’re in good company with many people that have found a way of referencing “Off with your head,” or “Down the rabbit hole.”

Back to your book for a second. I really loved the grooming fish. There were a couple of fun lines. “A brush for your hair and a comb for your teeth.” Then the fish goes on to say, “Humans wash with water and walk through air, we swim through water and wash with air.” That made me giggle. Tell me about the grooming fish. You have to be a marine biologist to write this book.

Illustration by artist Robert Louis Black of Alice confronting an Angler fish with a turtle lying on its back on the ground, from “Alice’s Adventures under Water” by Lenny de Rooy.

LDR
I did have to do some research on fish. My illustrator, Robert Louis Black, helped with that because he had to visualize those fish. He named two things that I overlooked and that I needed to know.

FB
The illustrations were terrific. In your book, Alice’s Adventures Underwater, Robert Louis Black did 42 fantastic original illustrations. The style is close to John Tenniel’s work in the original book. What is Robert’s background and how did you find him?

Illustration by artist Robert Louis Black of various fish in hardhats building a structure, from “Alice’s Adventures under Water” by Lenny de Rooy.

LDR
It was a real challenge to find someone who could illustrate my book because 42 Illustrations are not cheap. Eventually, I found Robert online on one of those platforms where artists offer their services. We had a great collaboration because I had several ideas about very specific illustrations and he drew them perfectly. On the other hand, there were also illustrations I didn’t have any specific ideas for and he came up with some great pieces. He even put some jokes into it himself.

FB
That’s excellent. I believe that’s how the collaboration between Lewis Carroll and Tenniel went as well. Tenniel had lots of creative ideas to offer Lewis Carroll.

LDR
Robert also corrected me because, for example, in my story, there’s a cobbler, which is a type of fish, and also someone who makes shoes. So I had the idea of having him wear two shoes on the points of his tail. Then Robert said a cobbler does not have a tail with two points. It has an ear-like tail. I said, “Thank you. So I guess he’s wearing them on the fins on his sides, then.”

FB
That’s where the research comes in and the collaboration comes in. I found collaborating with artists to be deeply, deeply satisfying. It also reminded me of Christmas. Suddenly, in my email, there would be a gift of an image that was previously only living in my mind and now it has been expressed through another human being’s art. When it was working, it was so deeply satisfying, that I became a little bit addicted to the exchange. “Hey, let me write a little description,” or “I need you to interpret this because I have no idea what the card soldiers look like when they fold up.” When that exchange happened, it was such a beautiful, satisfying moment. Did you have the same feeling?

LDR
Oh, yes. Robert was very dedicated to getting things exactly right. But he was also able to make my ideas so much better. I can’t draw for the life of me but I sometimes made sketches of the general idea I had, and then looked very crappy. If you compare those to what he drew, he was just the perfect guy for this job. I’m so happy I found him.

Illustration by artist Robert Louis Black of a sea-themed house surrounded by various fish and stacks of books, from “Alice’s Adventures under Water” by Lenny de Rooy.

FB
You and I have that in common, terrible drawings. Which is probably why it’s so satisfying when somebody who’s masterful can deliver on the concept.

LDR
That’s another parallel to Lewis Carroll. He drew the illustrations for the manuscripts he wrote for Alice. Then when he went to publish his book, he realized, “Well, I can’t draw that well so I really need professional artists.”

FB
But it was not bad. From my viewing of it, his work was pretty impressive. But I found that if I was able to do that my artists would have been way ahead of the game. I thought he did a pretty good job. The way Carroll wrote some of the poems also was quite interesting and I think Tenniel copied some of that.

LDR
We can find some parallels between Lewis Carroll’s original drawings and Tenniel’s drawings. It’s unclear how deliberately he worked off of Carroll’s drawings. He always claimed to work from his own imagination. But he must have seen the original manuscripts and could very well have been influenced by them. Carroll also may have asked him to draw something a certain way. Not much of that conversation has been kept, unfortunately.

FB
There were a number of letters between them and Tenniel wrote a lot of letters to the publisher and even to Alice, correct?

LDR
I don’t know if Tenniel wrote to Alice but yes, several of his letters have been kept. For example, the letter in which he advises Carroll to get rid of the “A Wasp in a Wig” chapter because he couldn’t find his way to a picture. He did have an influence on the story as well, not just the illustrations.

FB
That alone is a big influence, cutting a chapter because he couldn’t find his way into the art.

Illustration of the King and Queen of Hearts being attended to at a feast by Lewis Carroll for his book “Alice’s Adventures Underground”.
Illustration of the King and Queen of Hearts being attended to at a feast by artist Sir John Tenniel from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll.

FB
Also, the seahorse has a great line. He says, “When you look at me, you see a horse.” Did you have fun coming up with the puns?

LDR
I had a lot of fun. Some I had to think about for a long time, but most of them just came so easily. As Lewis Carroll said, some things just came by themselves. I wrote down things when I thought of them and then I thought, “How can I use them in this book?”

FB
That’s when you know you’re onto something. How do you enjoy writing poems and prose? Do you find one easier than the other? Because there’s quite a bit of poetry in this book.

LDR
It was really hard writing the poetry. I like writing both prose and poetry but I’ve had the most struggles with the poetry because Carroll’s poetry is so good. It’s very hard to live up to. I’m not sure if I succeeded, but I wanted to give it a try. I had many discussions with my proofreader about the metronome because I’m not a native speaker. I had some idea about how to pronounce the words, the right cadence, and where to put the emphasis, but there were slight nuances that I didn’t pick up on and had to change.

However, I do have to say that writing poetry in English is still a bit easier than writing poetry in Dutch. Even though it’s not my native language, I think English has many more rhyming words than Dutch. It’s easier to match them.

FB
On that note, I’m going to ask you to read a little bit from your book. In Chapter Five, there’s a very nice poem, feel free to read the setup, if you’d like. The chapter is called “The Well of Fishes.” Would you be comfortable reading a little bit for us?

LDR
Yes, I wonder if people will recognize its origins.

“Three times when adding up primes I was distraught,
Seven pages homework somehow getting burned,
Nine nights of studying all for naught,
One error made and not a lesson learned
From the school of Laketown where the cod are taught.
One Fish to teach them all, One Fish to commend them,
One Fish to test them all and in the end suspend them
From the school of Laketown where the cod are taught.”

FB
Excellent. Would you want to share the origin that you were teasing? All of us novices would love to know. Give us the inside scoop.

LDR
The hint is in “one fish to teach them all.” It’s a reference to The Lord of the Rings, “One ring to rule them all.”

Author Lenny de Rooy signing copies of her book “Alice’s Adventures Underwater”.

FB
Clever. Did you have any hesitation in taking on a childhood classic as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?

LDR
Of course, I was hesitant because I wanted it to be done right or not at all. But I’ve had this website for so many years. I know so much about the story and its background. I felt confident about understanding all aspects of the original books. So I did know what to put into it. It needed to have poetry. It needed to have 12 chapters. It needed to have 42 illustrations, and you’d have puns and things like that. I felt confident about that. The challenge was to create a good story that was Carroll-worthy.

I presented it to my proofreader who is also into Alice in Wonderland, and he liked it. I thought that was a good sign. I just went ahead and decided to publish it and I’d see how people receive it.

FB
If you were in an elevator and you had to pitch it to somebody, how would you do that? How would you pitch it to people who are not very into Alice?

LDR
I would say it’s a sequel. It’s written in the same style as Lewis Carroll’s original stories but with more recent references, jokes, and puns. So people that live in the now will understand it because of Carroll’s books, you really need to know something about Victorian times to understand all the jokes. This is an Alice version for modern readers.

FB
So it’s a contemporary version, in terms of some of the puns and the jokes and the references. Do you want to give us an example of something recognizable in your book where we would be in on the joke?

LDR
For example, there’s a reference to Brexit. I’ve had parodies in the books that are from poems like “The Raven” by Edgar Allan Poe, but also more modern songs and poems that people will recognize now. Like The Lord of the Rings poem.

FB
I think people really love that. I don’t know if you’ve seen the musical Wicked. But people love guessing and trying to figure out what the backstory is and what the references are. There’s so much of that in your book for people to enjoy.

I’m curious. Curiouser and curiouser. Why do you think Alice still matters?

LDR
I think it’s one of those stories that everyone can read into it what they want. It’s for children. It’s for adults. You can read it as just a funny tale. You can read it like I do and try to find out what Carroll was referring to. You can read it as something spiritual or something related to drugs. Anything you want, you can find in the story. And that makes it appeal to so many people.

FB
This story really captured the collective consciousness because of what you just said. Everybody can take something out of it and interpret things in the way they want. Also, thematically it’s so much about who you are. She asks, “Who am I?” We’re always evolving as people so I do think it’s a beautiful way to reflect all kinds of different cultures and themes that people are dealing with. Because there’s so much Alice out there, how do you hope that your book will add to the Alice canon?

LDR
There are many books that are inspired by Lewis Carroll in different ways. Your books have taken inspiration from it and you made this whole new world and did a completely different take on the story. There are a lot of people who are interested in that. I wanted to target another audience, the people who want to read more of the original tales, and who like staying very true to the original story. Or the people who are more interested in the books from a scholarly perspective. I wanted to give them something.

FB
I didn’t realize how many collectors there were and how many Alice scholars. I didn’t know about all the Lewis Carroll societies. It’s very rich and very deep. I ask all my guests, if they were a character from Lewis Carroll’s books, who would they be? But because you wrote the sequel, I’m going to throw your book into it as well. You can pick from any of the characters in the trilogy.

Image of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll sitting in a chair with his legs crossed.

LDR
Actually, I don’t identify with the characters. I would say I identify more with Lewis Carroll himself, with Charles Dodgson. I’m the writer of a book, but I also am a person with many hobbies and interests like him, and I can relate to him a lot.

FB
You are really creative in all sorts of capacities. And Lewis Carroll was very creative with his photography, which was cutting-edge at the time. I understand the reference, being an author and following his footsteps in terms of the ideas behind his book. But there are a lot of misconceptions, like that he was reclusive. I’m assuming you’re not reclusive, but maybe you are.

LDR
I’m actually a social person. I like locking myself up in my room for my hobbies but at other times I like meeting people and doing fun things together. As did Lewis Carroll. I think the misconception of a reclusive Lewis Carroll was created because he wanted to differentiate himself from his pen name. He did not like to publicly acknowledge that he was Lewis Carroll. Of course, he had a religious background so maybe that’s why he never married, but he was a social person. He had lots of friends, not only child friends. He also visited many famous people. He was a bit of a lion-hunter from what I understand. He had dinner dates and went out to the beach. I would say he was social as well.

FB
Also, people wrote that his books were written just for children, which we clearly know they were not. People think that the stories were about taking drugs. They clearly were not but what’s interesting about that comment is that culturally, Alice is always representing what’s going on. So yes, if you’re reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in the 1960s, you would see it as a psychedelic trip falling down the rabbit hole, but if you’re reading it during this era, it’s a completely different lens that you’re reading the book through.

There was also the whole thing with Alice Liddell and the missing diary page, which picked up a lot of internet buzz, and a lot of conspiracy theories. I used the missing diary pages as a device to say, “Those pages were taken out because he didn’t want to tell the true story of meeting Alyss Heart from my book.” I also used the Lewis Carroll Society as somewhat of a villain, who didn’t want my book to come out.

LDR
They were very grateful for that.

FB
They were fine. Back to your hobbies, you’re a musician and a seamstress. But interestingly enough, I haven’t seen you do any Alice in Wonderland cosplay promoting your book. You should be at Comic-Cons with your book dressed as Alice. Maybe instead of having a booth, you’d be in a water tank.

Image of Lenny de Rooy in a yellow dress, blue and white apron, black and white striped socks, and black shoes.
Image of a bearded man dressed in a pirate outfit designed and made by Lenny de Rooy.

LDR
That would be interesting. Maybe a bit of a logistic challenge.

FB
But you would get a lot of attention and you’d sell a lot of books.

LDR
Actually, I do own an Alice costume but I have not worn it for promotional activities.

FB
What are you thinking girl? Come on. Let’s make the connection. You should be using your bagpipe to record Alice songs, dressed as Alice, with the book cover everywhere.

LDR
I did play in a band called Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

FB
I did see that. I thought that was very fun. How often would you perform?

LDR
Well, the band doesn’t exist anymore. Unfortunately, my bandmate passed away. I’m in a medieval band and we play mostly during festival season, the end of spring until the beginning of autumn. I’m also in a balfolk band. Balfolk is traditional West European music. It’s mostly performed for dances as live performances and we usually play several times a year.

FB
Is this a hobby or something that you’re trying to make into a career? Are you recording music?

Image of the Dutch medieval band De Soete Inval in medieval peasant dress at a historical festival.

LDR
I call myself a semi-professional musician, it’s more than a hobby, but I do have a job. Besides the music and the book and sewing and things, I work in the marketing and communications department at a university because I do like some stability when it comes to finances. I do not know if I would like the lifestyle that comes with being a full-time musician. It’s a lot of working nights and weekends.

FB
You have some Alice art on your screen. You have a mushroom and the Cheshire cat. Speaking of that, what was your cat called in the book?

LDR
In the book it was called Villikens.

FB
Tell us about your cat character.

LDR
That’s a reference for people who are more knowledgeable about the background of Lewis Carroll’s Alice because the real Alice actually owned cats. In the original books, she has Dinah, which was actually one of her kittens. Another one of their cats was called Villikens. So in my book, Alice tells Villikens, who is a meerkat actually and not a real cat. But Alice tells him about Dinah and now she meets Villikens which is actually the littermate.

FB
Tell me about some of the artists that you love that have depicted Lewis Carroll’s books. Are there any favorites?

LDR
I am a Tenniel fan. I’m not into collecting books from other illustrators. There are so many to choose from. I like some of the illustrations, but I am not a real fan of someone in particular. The image I have in my Zoom background is one that was done by someone for contests and I just liked this particular image, so I saved it.

FB
So you’re a traditionalist?

LDR
I guess you can say that. That’s also why I wanted my illustrator to draw in the style of John Tenniel.

FB
It was terrific. Can you share a little bit about the website and maybe give us some interesting facts about Lewis Carroll that are more obscure? For instance, the White Rabbit’s obsession with time. It’s my understanding that it was a satire on the British cultural obsession with being very punctual.

Illustration of the White Rabbit by artist Sir John Tenniel from “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll.
1858 portrait of Henry Liddell, dean of Christ Church, Oxford University and father of Alice Liddell, by portraitist George Richmond.

LDR
There are many theories about the origins of the characters. It is also said that Lewis Carroll modeled the White Rabbit after Alice’s father, the ecclesiastical dean of Christchurch, Oxford because he apparently was often running late. But there’s no real proof of that.

FB
That’s just fun information. So you put things like that on your website?

LDR
I’m mostly focused on things that have a little more proof or it’s more likely that it’s true. I also focus more on the origins of the story, like how everyone imagines Alice with a blue dress even though the original illustrations are black and white. So what would Carol have had in mind? First, illustrations that were officially published in his books have Alice in a yellow dress, but there was also merchandise showing her in a red dress or a blue dress. So Disney was not the first to depict her in a blue dress, but it made it iconic. So I’m trying to add those things to the website so people will know more about how these things come to pass.

FB
That’s really interesting. I knew about the yellow but I didn’t know about a red dress. What is the indication that there was a red dress?

LDR
I think it was on the merchandise.

FB
Lewis Carroll was selling merchandise back then?

LDR
He produced his own stamp case. He was quite commercially talented.

“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” stamp case by Lewis Carrol featuring illustrations of the Cheshire Cat and Alice.

FB
He was way ahead of his time. Authors weren’t doing that back then. That’s really interesting.

LDR
He was always focused on how to promote the story, how much it should cost, and who should be able to afford it.

FB
What are some of your favorite references to Alice in pop culture?

LDR
I’m mostly a fan of Disney’s cartoon Alice in Wonderland because that’s my childhood thing and it led me to the books. I’m less of a fan of the Tim Burton movie. That’s too far from the original story. But I am grateful to him that the movie leads more people to the original books. Because every few years something comes out that is popular with the new generation and that really helps to keep them interested in Lewis Carroll’s books.

FB
What did you think of Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter?

LDR
I actually parodied him in my book.

FB
I feel like I’m mining and I’m getting these little gold nuggets. Eventually, I’m going to have all of them by the end of this interview. Tell us about that.

LDR
My secret desire is that someone publishes an annotated version about my book, as Martin Gardner did for the Alice books. I’m not going to tell you everything, there should be something to figure out. Also, there’s way too much in there to put into one podcast.

FB
As a musician are there songs or musicians who have used Alice that you really like?

LDR
I do know some songs related to Alice, but I’m not really into all those pop culture adventures. I’m more about the book’s origins. That’s my focus.

FB
So when I say you’re a traditionalist, that is 100% accurate?

LDR
I’m not saying that all the other things are not relevant and shouldn’t be there. I really love how people get inspired by the stories. It’s just I have to have a focus or I’ll be all over the place.

FB
When did you start your website? It’s so deep.

LDR
I started it in December 1997. That’s 25 years ago, even longer.

FB
Wow, it’s really expansive. But it’s also a great resource and it does feel like a work of passion. It’s easy to navigate. I didn’t realize I had been utilizing it because when I went on it to do a little bit of research before the podcast, I went, “I’ve been on this website a million times! I’m always looking at this website and now I get to interview the person who created it.”

LDR
Famous without knowing it. I like your compliment because my day job is being an online marketer where I really focus on usability. I do want my website to be user-friendly. Also, I do not want it to be very commercial. I want to spread knowledge and I want people to know about the origins and be able to look up everything.

FB
It’s a great resource. From everybody out there who’s an Alice fan, thank you for giving us a website that we can navigate down the rabbit hole into Wonderland and find our way home.

LDR
That would be something to make you get lost there.

FB
Are you planning on writing any more fiction in the Alice universe? And, where can we find your book?

LDR
I have been asked whether I will write another sequel but it’s not on my to-do list. This book was on my bucket list. It just had to happen sometime. I’m not saying I will never write another book. I do blog a lot on my personal blog and on my Amazon website. I will focus on that from now on. As to where you can find the book, you can buy it at alice-in-wonderland.net. You can also find it on Amazon and in bookshops. You can just order it from your local bookstore or online bookstores.

FB
Before we go, is there a passage from Lewis Carroll’s books that stands out, maybe something that is not often quoted that you would like to share with us?

LDR
Yes, it’s a passage from Through the Looking-glass. It’s when Alice encounters a door and she wants to enter. There’s a frog and she has this conversation with the frog that I, for some reason, find immensely funny.

“‘What is it, now?’ the Frog said in a deep hoarse whisper.

Alice turned round, ready to find fault with anybody. ‘Where’s the servant whose business it is to answer the door?’ she began angrily.

‘Which door?’ said the Frog.

Alice almost stamped with irritation at the slow drawl in which he spoke. ‘This door, of course!’

The Frog looked at the door with his large dull eyes for a minute: then he went nearer and rubbed it with his thumb, as if he were trying whether the paint would come off; then he looked at Alice.

‘To answer the door?’ he said. ‘What’s it been asking of?’ He was so hoarse that Alice could scarcely hear him.

‘I don’t know what you mean,’ she said.

‘I talks English, doesn’t I?’ the Frog went on. ‘Or are you deaf? What did it ask you?’

‘Nothing!’ Alice said impatiently. ‘I’ve been knocking at it!’

‘Shouldn’t do that—shouldn’t do that—’ the Frog muttered. ‘Vexes it, you know.’ Then he went up and gave the door a kick with one of his great feet. ‘You let it alone,’ he panted out, as he hobbled back to his tree, ‘and it’ll let you alone, you know.’” – from Chapter 9: “Queen Alice”, Through the Looking-glass by Lewis Carroll.

I liked this door discussion so I’ve put a door discussion in my book as well.

FB
Excellent. Thank you very much for being on our show, All Things Alice. If there is a perfect guest, who knows all things Alice, it is you, Lenny. So hats off.

LDR
Thank you very much for having me. It was my honor.


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5 Pieces of Science Inspired by Alice in Wonderland

We all know Alice in Wonderland is everywhere. Since Lewis Carroll’s tale about a young girl wandering through Wonderland was published over 150 years ago, Alice has been ever-present in pop culture. There have been numerous adaptations in film, television, literature, video games, and board games. Alice’s story has directly and indirectly inspired musicians and storytellers, most recently with Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things. Words and phrases such as a “Cheshire Cat grin” and “down the rabbit hole” are constant parts of everyday speech. But Alice isn’t just ubiquitous in culture, you can also find her in every facet of science. From the cosmos to psychology, Alice has influenced how we understand and define our world.

Here are five places where you can find Wonderland in science:

The Alice Ring

Wonderland is a wild, mind-bending world entirely different from our own. However, a recent creation by Finnish and American scientists shows that our world might have more in common with Wonderland than we previously thought. The Alice Ring is a decayed monopole “that flips the magnetic charge of any other monopole passing through its center, creating an anti-monopole.”

Yes, as someone who never took physics, that was confusing for me too. A monopole is essentially a magnet with just one magnetic pole. The Alice Ring looks like a regular monopole but when you look inside, things get curiouser and curiouser. “Everything seems to be mirrored, as if the ring were a gateway into a world of antimatter instead of matter,” said co-creator Mikko Mottonen of Aalto University in Finland. A realm where everything appears to be the opposite of the norm? It makes sense why they named it after Alice. The prospect that science can quite literally create mirrored realities is both exciting and frightening, similar to Wonderland.

Medicinal Magic Mushrooms

Mushrooms are synonymous with Alice in Wonderland, especially the psychedelic ones. In the novel, Alice eats a mushroom that changes her size, evoking the hallucinogenic effects of psilocybin mushrooms. While there is no evidence psychedelics or any other type of drug, influenced Lewis Carroll, the story’s connection to mind-altering substances is undeniable, especially since the 1960s when the counterculture embraced the connections to drugs found in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Mushrooms, however, are becoming more and more mainstream. Specifically, their medicinal qualities are being fully explored for the first time. In a recent presentation to the Memphis Rotary Club, Dr. Ronald L. Cowan of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center outlined the exciting possibilities that magic mushrooms have for treating depression. Magic mushrooms showed effects in a few days to two weeks and helped to resolve depression in about two-thirds of patients, both at better rates than traditional antidepressants. Though it is a small sample size, the results are encouraging.

How does Alice play into this? The music, film, literature, and values of the 1960s counterculture that embraced and espoused the psychedelic qualities of Alice in Wonderland have become part of the mainstream, bringing with it more progressive attitudes toward drugs. It is not improbable that Alice’s role in that counterculture, along with its continuing prevalence in our culture, played a role in society being comfortable with exploring the possibly life-changing benefits of psychedelic mushrooms.

Alice in Wonderland Syndrome

Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, example of Alice in science is the mysterious Alice in Wonderland Syndrome. The rare syndrome involves distorted perception and instances of it began cropping up in medical texts around 1900. In a 1952 paper, neurologist Caro Lippman recounted several examples from patients including “a sensation of the neck extending out on one side for a foot or more,” a woman’s “left ear ‘ballooning out 6 inches or more,’” and another patient reporting that if felt like her head grew to “tremendous proportions” and floated up to the ceiling. The litany of other testimonies is very similar to Alice’s experiences in Lewis Carroll’s novel. A common thread amongst Lippman’s patients was that most also suffered from migraine headaches. This gave rise to speculation that Carroll, who also suffered from migraines, may have been directly influenced by his affliction, though no such complaints have been found in his diaries.

The cause of Alice in Wonderland Syndrome is not well understood. Brain inflammation due to the Epstein-Barr virus seems to be the most common cause of symptoms in children while symptomatic adults most often present with migraines. Tumors and schizophrenia are also potential causes. While the syndrome is just as mysterious as the inner workings of Wonderland, scientists are better able to explore the disorder due to neuroimaging technology which can help track the relationship between symptoms and brain activity.

Cheshire Cat Galaxies

The mischievous grin of the Cheshire Cat is an iconic image that has cropped up in a variety of media. The cat’s teasing, enigmatic smile can also be seen in the cosmos. The Cheshire Cat galaxies are a group of distant galaxies that resemble the grin of Lewis Carroll’s feline. The galaxies are an example of gravitational lensing, where the galaxies’ light “has been stretched and bent by the large amounts of mass,” which is usually dark matter. In this case, the mass surrounds the “eyes” and “nose”. The circular “face” is formed by the gravitational lensing of four galaxies far behind the “eye” galaxies.

But these galaxies are not just stagnating in space. Much like Wonderland, they are constantly changing. The two “eye” galaxies, for example, are on a collision course, hurtling towards each other at over 300,000 miles per hour. Astronomers believe that the Cheshire Cat galaxies will eventually become more like a Cyclops group once the two “eye” galaxies collide and merge. But don’t worry, that won’t happen for another billion years.

Borogovia Dinosaur

Lewis Carroll created many fantastical creatures for Wonderland and one of his creations lent its name to a wondrous creature of Earth – a dinosaur. The Borogovia was a small theropod (hollow bones and three toes and claws on each limb) that lived 66-84 million years ago and was first discovered in the 1970s in southern Mongolia. The Borogovia, which belongs to the group of dinosaurs that evolved into birds, reminded paleontologist Halszka Osmolska of another avian creature – Lewis Carroll’s borogoves. Borogoves are mentioned in the poem “Jabberwocky” and Humpty Dumpty describes a borogove as “a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round—something like a live mop.” The spindly legs of the dinosaur certainly evoke the characteristics of its Wonderland namesake and it’s fitting that fiction became fact and this feathered Wonderlander lives on in an ancestor of birds that once roamed Earth.


Meet The Author

An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.

Battle of the IPs: Alice in Wonderland vs. The Hunger Games

Alright, everybody, we are back with another head-to-head battle. This time I will be pitting our undefeated champion, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland against another popular book and film series, The Hunger Games. A recurring theme in The Hunger Games is going against unbeatable odds, which I find quite fitting in this instance. I mean, this is a blog about Alice in Wonderland after all. But, perhaps, the bow-slinging Katniss Everdeen and cake boy Peter will be able to steal the throne that has been consistently held by Alice. So, The Hunger Games, ready your bows, somehow camouflage yourself because you are good at icing cakes, and may the odds be ever in your favor, because you’re going to need it against the juggernaut that is Alice.

Mia Wasikowska as Alice in Tim Burton's 2010 film "Alice in Wonderland".
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2".

Worldwide Cultural Impact:

In this first round of our showdown, we’ll examine the global impact of these two massive franchises. Both have earned their places in the hearts of audiences worldwide, but in the end, one will come out on top.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – There is barely any comparison here, Alice is the winner. Don’t believe me? Go outside to a place where there are people, and just watch them. Take a mental tally of how many Alice-related shirts you see compared to Hunger Games shirts. Exactly. If that does not sway you, I don’t know a single song that is about the Hunger Games, whereas with Alice-related songs, there are too many to count.

Alice and singing flowers in Disney's 1951 film "Alice in Wonderland".

Critical Appeal:

In this category, let’s compare the critical acclaim of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunger Games. I’ve decided we will be focusing on the critical appeal of the books due to the unfair advantage that Alice would have if we were comparing the critical reception of the films. An Academy Award trumps a Teen Choice Award.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandThe Hunger Games was close, but of course, Alice is going to win here. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has endured for over a hundred years. The critics loved it then and they love it now.

Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games".

Influences on Language:

Now, let’s talk about language. Both franchises have left linguistic marks with unique phrases and terminology.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – I’ve done this section in every single comparison and after this one, I will be removing it from the competition. It’s always a “gimmie” for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the true way to measure a book’s impact on language is to see how many words and phrases that were created in the book are used today without even thinking of the reference material. For example, if I were to say, “May the odds be ever in your favor,” people would go, “Haha yeah, Hunger Games.” But if I say, “I didn’t get any sleep last night. I went down a rabbit hole online and ended up learning how to blow glass,” people won’t be thinking, “Rabbit hole, like Alice.” They will be thinking, “Yeah man, you look super tired.” I also decided to ignore the fact that Carroll had invented the word “chortle” to make this comparison more unbiased.

Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton's 2010 film "Alice in Wonderland".

Controversy:

Let’s stir the pot here, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunger Games have faced controversies related to their content and themes. Do I agree with the points raised here? No, but I think it’s important to see which IP has “offended” the least amount of people.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandAlice is the clear winner here. I mean the criticism that was raised is a Super Weeny Hut Jr. level of complaint. It’s too whimsical? What does that even mean? Whereas concerns about violence in The Hunger Games are to some extent more legitimate.

Rachel Zegler as Lucy Gray Baird in "The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes".

Books Published:

Numbers never lie, except when they are made up to prove a point, which I did not do here. In fact, I did math here, which is something I thought I would never have to do when I became a writer. But here we are…let’s take a look at book sales.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – While both books have had immense success, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is the victor here. While they both have sold over 100 million copies, The Hunger Games needed three books to get there. If we divide 100 million by three, we get 33.3 million copies, whereas Alice’s 100 million divided by 1 still is 100 million. Hooray, math!

John Tenniel illustration of Alice and a giant anthropomorphic flamingo from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland".

Box Office Success:

Next, we compare the box office success of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunger Games.

Verdict: The Hunger Games – While both have achieved success, The Hunger Games’ substantial box office earnings give it the edge in this category. I wanted to find exact box office information for Alice, but inflation and the sheer amount of Alice films that have come out makes it difficult to get proper numbers. So, I decided to compare the most successful of the adaptations. It is no question here.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire".

Theme Park Rides:

Who doesn’t like theme park rides? Okay, probably a few people, but I love them. As a kid when I read a book or watched a movie, I would always imagine parts I liked as rides and wanted to see how they could come to fruition. Fasten your seatbelts and keep your legs and arms inside the blog at all times.

Verdict: Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandAlice has rides around the world, The Hunger Games has none. The closest thing to a Hunger Games ride is Fortnite, which isn’t a ride. I’ve read The Hunger Games books and can’t even come up with an idea for a ride.

Entrance of "Alice in Wonderland" dark ride at Disneyland.

Conclusion:

Alright, I’ve tallied up the score and, oof, okay, Alice in Wonderland got six points and The Hunger Games got only one. I can hear the cannon firing in the distance signaling the defeat of yet another IP. You put up one hell of a fight Hunger Games but when you go against the champ, you have to be prepared to take a few licks. But it was a valiant effort on The Hunger Games’ part and for that, we raise our three fingers in its honor, and let out a whistle, doo dee dee doo… Look, I actually really like The Hunger Games books, so when you decide to write your hate mail for your favorite IP losing against Alice, just remember, you can do that, or you could get a hobby. Perhaps archery or baking.

In the spirit of trying to broker good faith between the fanbases, I will now present some AI image mashups of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunger Games.

First off, we have Katniss Everdeen as Alice. And yes, she’s brought her bow to Wonderland.

Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games" with bow and arrows dressed as Alice from "Alice in Wonderland".

Next, we have the Mad Hatter as a District 1 socialite, ready for the opening ceremonies.

The Mad Hatter from "Alice in Wonderland" as a District 1 socialite from "The Hunger Games".

I hope you all enjoyed this blog, let me know what you think. What IP do you want to see face-off against Alice for the next blog? Do you agree with what I said here? If you didn’t and can remain calm about it, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you didn’t and can’t remain calm, Frank would love to hear your thoughts.


Meet the Author:

Jared Hoffman

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 egos 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?

Walt Disney and Alice in Wonderland: The Long and Winding Road of Disney’s Passion Project

With CEO mudslinging, sagging box office returns for Marvel, and looming board battles, it can be easy to forget the Walt Disney Company is, at its core, a dream factory. The House of Mouse has produced movies, TV shows, theme park rides, and games that have inspired and entertained, forming core memories for its legions of fans. This assembly line of amusement originally stemmed from the dreams of one man – Walt Disney. And what inspired Disney? Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

“No story in English literature has intrigued me more. It fascinated me the first time I read it as a schoolboy.” Disney was fascinated by Lewis Carroll’s fantasy tale as a child growing up in Missouri and it’s easy to see how the novel influenced his later work. Disney’s films told fantastical stories in magical lands, infused with comedy and whimsy. Micky, Snow White, Pinnochio, and Cinderella captured the world’s imagination, just like Alice, the White Rabbit, the Mad Hatter, and the rest of Wonderland’s denizens did in 1865. But Disney wasn’t just content being inspired by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, from his first forays into making movies, Disney was intent on bringing Alice to the big screen.

In 1923, Walt Disney was working at the wonderfully named Laugh-O-Gram Studios in Kansas City, Missouri. Laugh-O-Gram was not a runaway success, folding after two years and nine cartoons. But it was with Laugh-O-Gram that Disney made his first Alice film, a 12-minute silent short titled Alice’s Wonderland. The charming live-action/animation hybrid is loosely based on Lewis Carroll’s novel and follows Alice, a young girl who, after being inspired during a visit to an animation studio, dreams of traveling to an animated world filled with anthropomorphic animals. Alice is greeted at the train station and is the guest of honor in a parade around the animal realm. After escaping a pack of hungry lions, Alice leaps off a cliff and wakes up back in her bed, exhilarated by her fantastic dream.

Alice’s Wonderland didn’t save Laugh-O-Gram from bankruptcy but it did serve as the proof of concept for the Alice Comedies, a short series that chronicled the adventures of a live-action girl, Alice, and her animated cat Julius. Running from 1924 to 1927, the Alice Comedies were an important foundational piece for the nascent Walt Disney Corporation. It wasn’t until 1933 that the prospect of an Alice feature at Disney surfaced again, with the “Queen of the Movies” Mary Pickford in talks to face down the Red Queen as Alice. But the emergence of a competing live-action adaptation at Paramount scuppered the project and Disney contented himself with making Thru the Mirror, a short featuring the Mickey Mouse in a Through the Looking-glass parody.

The project that became the 1951 film Alice in Wonderland first started in the late 1930s after the tremendous success of a little film called Snow White. An initial story treatment was completed and Disney hired David Hall to create concept art for the feature. The results were…interesting. The art itself is beautiful, presaging the darker routes that future adaptations of Alice would take. But dark isn’t what Disney wanted for Alice. He was convinced that the film’s success would hinge on highlighting Carroll’s humor in the novel and ultimately rejected Hall’s work.

It was around this time that Disney’s enthusiasm for the project seemed to wane. “I don’t think there would be any harm in letting this thing sit for a while. Everyone is stale now,” he said. The prospect of Alice in Wonderlandgetting the Disneyland treatment became even more unlikely, with the underperformance of Pinnochio and Fantasia and the collapse of the foreign market due to World War II. Bank of America even prohibited the company from producing new feature films until they had fixed their finances.

Yet Disney didn’t give up. Come 1945, he was back in Wonderland, tapping famed Brave New World novelist Aldous Huxley to pen the screenplay for a live-action/animated hybrid production. While Disney found Huxley’s script too literal, he hadn’t lost his enthusiasm for the source material, telling American Weeklyin 1946, “Carroll was revolutionary in the field of literature. He violated the serious Victorian tradition by writing Alice in a vein of fantasy and nonsense. In fact, he was a pace-setter for the motion picture cartoon and the comic strip of today by the style he introduced in his fantasy.”

Disney decided to make the film fully animated and directed that the script focus more on the humor, joy, and whimsy of the novel. Mary Blair’s concept art introduced a modernist bent and her use of vivid colors and warped perspective captured the tone Disney desired. He also commissioned talented songwriters such as Sammy Fain and Bob Hilliard to compose music and songs for the film. The train was now truly on the tracks and Disney’s clarity of vision and eye for artistic talent came to the fore as Alice in Wonderland coalesced into a bright adventure with catchy songs and contagious comedy.

The production was massive by the standards of the time. The production of Alice in Wonderland took five years and the budget ran to $3 million (over $47 million in 2023), requiring Disney to ultimately utilize some of the profits from Cinderella to ensure the film reached his lofty standards. A full live-action feature was shot for reference during animation, a process that produced over 350,000 drawings and paintings by 750 artists. A 50-piece orchestra directed by Oliver Wallace (later nominated for an Oscar in recognition of his work) completed the score. And above it all, was the Missouri schoolboy who was finally about to turn his childhood dream into reality.

Alice’s road to becoming a revered classic, however, was to prove to be just as winding as her adventure in Wonderland. Reviews were not favorable upon the film’s release in 1951, with critics citing the divergence from the source material and a lack of heart and warmth. Audiences were similarly underwhelmed, resulting in a $600,000 shortfall at the box office. But, like Carroll’s book, Disney’s film proved to have considerable legs. Several re-releases encountered more receptive audiences, especially in the early 1970s when the studio connected the film to the recent prominence of psychedelia. Subsequent generations reevaluated Disney’s passion project and the film is now considered one of his company’s best. In the film, Alice remarks that “Curiosity often leads to trouble.” And while Walt Disney’s childhood curiosity regarding Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland did result in some stressful times, it also led to an indisputable animated classic.


Meet the Author

An itinerant storyteller, John Drain attended the University of Edinburgh before studying film at DePaul University in Chicago and later earned an MFA in Screenwriting from the American Film Institute Conservatory. John focuses on writing mysteries and thrillers featuring characters who are thrown into the deep end of the pool and struggle to just keep their heads above water. His work has been recognized by the Academy Nicholls Fellowship, the Austin Film Festival, ScreenCraft, Cinestory, and the Montreal Independent Film Festival. In a previous life, John created and produced theme park attractions across the globe for a wide variety of audiences. John keeps busy in his spare time with three Dungeons and Dragons campaigns and a seemingly never-ending stack of medieval history books.