Why Stories Last? The Cultural Impact of Storytelling

Recently I was a guest on the podcast Legendarium with Craig Hanks—and he prompted the question “Why do stories last?” We had a wonderful conversation, which inspired this blog. Check out my conversation with Craig!

A purple text on a black background - the logo for "The Legendarium Podcast" a series with Craig Hanks, a marketer, writer and multimedia specialist.

Stories endure because they are the timeless bridges connecting us across generations, cultures, and experiences. Great stories resonate because they echo the universal truths and emotions that bind humanity together. Through tales, we navigate shared dreams, fears, and aspirations, creating a collective tapestry of understanding and connection.

These recurring themes act as a shared touchstone, reinforcing values, beliefs, and societal norms that shape culture. By revisiting these motifs, communities strengthen their collective identity and perpetuate the core principles that unite us. Understood completely or not, becomes folklore…creating a suspended debrief; a new reality for a new generation…borrowing from the past and making them their own…a form of branded history. 

It’s based upon the uniquely human capacity to classify experiences, symbolically and then to share them…the process through which an older generation induces and compels a younger generation. Cultural myth holds a paramount place in storytelling because it embodies a society’s deepest values, hopes, and understanding of the world and its origins. 

These myths offer a lens through which communities interpret their past, navigate their present, and envision their future; they provide a shared framework that binds individuals together, allowing them to derive meaning, purpose, and a sense of belonging.  

By incorporating these myths into stories, authors tap into universal truths and emotions, creating narratives that resonate deeply with readers, even transcending the original cultural context to appeal to broader audiences. Furthermore, these myths often serve as archetypes, forming the backbone for countless narratives and ensuring the continuity of cultural wisdom and tradition across generations.

The importance of realism amid such heightened realities in worlds of fantasy, (J.R.R. Tolkien most famously) makes characters, specifically heroes and their powers, when stripped away, real to an audience that wants to believe that these people really do exist. This transformation is a blurring of ‘reality’ fantasy.

The book cover for J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" with gold text on a brown, leather-looking background.

“Lord of the Rings,” endures thanks to being a timeless exploration of universal themes: the battle between good and evil, the corrupting nature of power, the value of friendship and sacrifice. Hanging its hat on the enduring hope that even in the darkest times, light can prevail.

Tolkien’s richly constructed Middle-earth, lovingly crafted over a lifetime with its own histories, languages, and cultures, provides an immersive escape for readers, yet simultaneously holds a mirror to our own world. It is a reflection of both the beauty and its flaws of our true reality. The characters’ struggles with duty and destiny are deeply relatable, reminding readers of the strength and resilience of the human (and hobbit) spirit.

As modern society grapples with complex issues like environmental degradation and the erosion of community, Tolkien’s emphasis on the sanctity of nature and the importance of unity and fellowship becomes even more affecting. The saga, in essence, is a testament to the idea that even the smallest individual can make a profound difference– a message just as valuable today as the day it was penned. It shall remain relevant in any era to come.

“Alice in Wonderland,” still resonates because it delves into the fluidity of reality, identity, and logic, themes that are ever-relevant in our constantly evolving world. Carroll’s whimsical narrative allows readers to question and challenge the conventions and norms of society, echoing the universal journey of self-discovery and the quest for understanding in an often perplexing world.

Alice’s adventures, filled with bizarre characters and absurd scenarios, mirror the unpredictable and sometimes chaotic nature of life, emphasizing the importance of adaptability, curiosity, and resilience. The story’s trancelike quality and its celebration of imagination serve as a reminder that there is magic in the mundane and that questioning the “conventional” can lead to weighty insights.

In an era where individuality, self-expression, and challenging the status quo are more celebrated than ever, “Alice in Wonderland” stands as a poignant investigation of the boundaries of reality and the infinite realms of human imagination that has been playing out for generations.

Alice still matters today. Alice in Wonderland is primarily set in an upside-down world where chaos and randomness rule and nothing makes sense to the practical, stoic little girls who found herself marooned there. The world she encounters is threatening and unfamiliar, yet she navigates it, she challenges it, she triumphs and eventually, she returns home.

A black and white pencil drawing of a child-like Alice, from "Alice in Wonderland" by Lewis Carroll.

Alice has been read by multiple generations, so it captures a large part of our shared imaginative history. People who are adept at plumbing the zeitgeist are using our shared imaginative history of the Alice story, iconography to simultaneously reflect the chaotic world we live in (fear) and marry it to the comfort and reassurance of a childhood fairytale (escape and hope).

What Alice means to me and maybe others…Alice’s journey down the rabbit hole represents escape; escape into fantasy because reality can sometimes be a prison. Alice has endured and thrived through the decades for one reason, yes, its classic literature, but it is powered by pure and fierce imagination that has bound Alice into the psyche of generations.

Imagination is the root of all creation, nothing that has ever been or will ever exist without first being imagined. Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more powerful than knowledge.” Also, Alice is a traveler, bombarded with oddities and weirdness at every turn, but she never loses her head. (Pardon the pun)

We relate to her journey; we can channel her when the world around us begins to collapse into chaos. For too many people, today’s world is upside down, chaotic, and random. We hope to be as stoic and courageous as she is exploring Wonderland.

A person holding a book in a library. The old cover for "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" by L. Frank Baum, with pictures by W.W. Denslow. Featuring a Lion, wearing glasses.

“The Wizard of Oz” continues to resonate today because it encapsulates the timeless themes of self-discovery, the longing for home, and the realization that we often possess the strength and qualities we seek externally, within ourselves. Dorothy’s journey from the gray plains of Kansas to the technicolor world of Oz parallels the universal quest for adventure and understanding, only to recognize the inherent value and comfort of home and familiar surroundings.

The diverse cast of characters she encounters—each with their own insecurities and desires—mirror our own vulnerabilities and yearnings, emphasizing the human need for companionship, courage, love, and intellect. The story’s central message, that we often have the power within us to overcome our challenges and that the things we desire most are sometimes right where we started, remains a powerful reminder of self-worth and resilience.

In an age of endless quests for external validation and fulfillment, “The Wizard of Oz” serves as a poignant reminder that sometimes, the answers we seek are already within us.

A picture of the book cover for "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe" by C.S. Lewis. Featuring children riding a lion, encircled by Satyr or Faun holding palms.

“The Chronicles of Narnia” is relatable today as it melds profound spiritual allegories with universal themes of courage, friendship, sacrifice, and the eternal conflict between good and evil. C.S. Lewis created an immersive world where ordinary children are thrust into roles of significance, emphasizing the idea that anyone, regardless of age or background, can rise to greatness when faced with challenges.

Not only might you be “the one” – but you could be the one regardless of pre-destiny. The adventures in Narnia evoke a sense of awe, tapping into the age-old human desire to explore and belong to a world greater than our own, where the boundaries between reality and fantasy smudge. Furthermore, the struggles of the Pevensie siblings and their companions, set against the backdrop of Narnian prophecies and battles, mirror our own familiar internal and societal battles, underscoring the importance of faith, redemption, and the resilience of the human spirit. In a world where complexities continue to grow and moral compasses are continually tested, Narnia remains a beacon, reminding readers of all ages of the enduring power of hope, love, and the potential for magic in everyday life.

Original movie poster for 1977's "Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope" by George Lucas. Featuring Mark Hammil as Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia Organa and Harrison Ford as Han Solo.

“Star Wars,” also lasts because it masterfully interweaves timeless themes of good versus evil, the hero’s journey, and the internal struggles of identity and destiny, set against the vast backdrop of a galaxy brimming with lore and wonder.

George Lucas’s vision tapped into foundational human stories, borrowing elements from ancient myths, religious narratives, and classic tales of adventure, thus grounding the space opera in a tapestry of universally recognizable motifs. The saga’s exploration of the Force—a metaphysical energy binding all living things—echoes our age-old fascination with the balance of light and dark, choice and fate, and the larger questions of purpose and interconnectedness.

Moreover, the diverse cast of characters, from farm boy Luke Skywalker to Princess Leia, and rogue Han Solo to the conflicted Darth Vader, showcases a range of human experiences, dilemmas, and aspirations, allowing viewers from varied backgrounds to find personal resonance.

In a world that often feels fragmented, “Star Wars” celebrates unity, resistance against tyranny, the power of hope, and the belief that anyone, from any corner of the galaxy, can rise to make a monumental difference.

5 Alice in Wonderland Events You’ll Have To See To Believe

Hello everyone, Denholm Afedoj, the famously redacted jester of wonderland, is back again with another task for you all to feast your eyes upon. No, it’s not the tasteful Alice in Wonderland-themed, boudoir photo shoot I did, that idea was, after careful delegation, shot down immediately. You’re going to have to wait for valentines day for that. Today, I’m bringing you a list of Five Alice in Wonderland Experiences around the globe.

This list consists of five suggestions for more experiential Alice in Wonderland experiences. These are things to do that will make you the envy of all the Alice other fans.

5.) “Alice Day” (Celebrated every year in Oxford UK on July 4th)

Though this event is hosted by the Story Museum in Oxford, this is a city-wide festival that spans a few days. It doesn’t get much for frabjous than this. The festival has a multitude of activities, exploring the museum, a scavenger hunt called the Red Queens Trail, a Mad Tea Party, crafting your own mini teapot, character meet and greets including a specific event called Meet the White Rabbit with Blackwell’s, and if you’re feeling competitive or hungry, there are cupcake competitions.

If you want to learn more about the history of Alices Adventures in Wonderland the Lewis Carroll Society hosts many talks, including a seminar hosted by Alice Liddell’s real great-granddaughter. If you think the Dormouse is left out from this occasion, you thought wrong. Head over to the natural history museum to make your own teacup that is the perfect size for the sleepy little fellow. I can keep talking about each and every event but that will take up this whole list. If you like Alice in Wonderland and you can get over to Oxford during the festival, do it.

4.) Recreate Lewis Carroll’s Picnic with the Liddells with the Oxford River Tea Cruise

Located in Oxford, this scenic river cruise has many different options, but I know which one you all are really interested in. The little electric boat takes you through the route that Alice Liddell and Lewis Carroll took when composing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Those who are interested in making the event more experiential can take turns pretending to be Alyss getting upset at Mr. Carroll for pretending to believe that she is the princess of Wonderland just like what happened in the Looking Glass Wars. Doing this is almost completely free, except for the price of having the captain of the boat give you a strange look.

This two to three-hour boat ride also includes a selection of finger sandwiches, homemade quiche, or tart of the day. Tarty tart is unfortunately not an option. As well as other tasty treats and drinks. The tour operates between April and October, bookings must be done in advance and private versions of this cruise are also available.

3.) The Alice in Wonderland Experience by CluedUpp Games

With locations in over 1,500 cities worldwide, the Alice in Wonderland experience is a geogaming experience that any Alice fan would enjoy. For those that don’t know, geogaming is what happens when you take an escape room, mix it with a scavenger hunt, and use an app to run around all over your city solving puzzles and doing various tasks.

While their website does not give a lot of details as to what actually happens during their Alice in Wonderland Experience, the trailer I saw on their Facebook page sets the scene quite well. Alice has gone missing from Wonderland and it is up to you and your friends to track her down. This game uses an app to give you locations and tasks, which will take you through a wild and wonderful experience all over your town. As the journey unfolds before you things are bound to get curious and curiouser. From the trailer it looks like you are going to travel down the rabbit hole and interact with many characters from Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, and of course the Red Queen.

This experience takes place all over the world and they have a search option to find an event nearest you. Tickets cost $40 which is good for a team of 2-6 people, kids play free.

2.)  The Alice Cocktail Experience

This isn’t your average, everyday, pop-up bar experience, this is an “Immersive cocktail adventure!” According to their website, you and your friends will go on a ninety-minute journey through Wonderland. You will create two Alice in Wonderland-inspired cocktails, solve riddles and challenges, eat an “eat me” cookie, paint roses red, and much more.

If you like booze and Alice in Wonderland, this is the place for you. This event has many different locations all across the globe, so click the link to see the closest place for you to get your Alice-themed drink on!

1.) Beyond Wonderland, the Alice in Wonderland Themed electronic music festival

Do you like flashing lights, DJs, and Alice in Wonderland? Well, this is the place for you. I, Denholm Afedoj, have actually been to this event, and let me tell you, it’s a blast. Once you walk in you are greeted with pounding bass, amazing set designs, and fantastic people.

There are a lot of amazing photo ops, performers, art installations, and other experiences that all revolve around Alice in wonderland. Including Red Queen. Don’t worry about losing your head though, it’s not the real Queen Redd. On top of the many different art installations and performers, there are five Alice-themed stages for each genre of electronic music.

There’s the Caterpillar’s Garden. What the Caterpillar has to do with dubstep is beyond me. While the Blue Caterpillar himself does not make an appearance, there are performers that walk through the crowd with a Caterpillar that dances along to the music.

The hardstyle stage, Cheshire Woods, which is has a wild entrance involving the Cheshire Cat.

The techno stage, the Looking Glass, has a bunch of crystals refracting the lasers all over the place. Don’t try to jump into it though, it’s not a transport system.

Mad Hatters Castle for all you trance heads, built out of LED panels.

And of course, there is the main stage the Queens Domain.

This event is happening from the 23rd-24th of March 2023. This event also has a Pacific North West version that is on June 17th and 18th 2023. Unfortunately, this event has an age requirement of eighteen or older. Say the word and I with Frank will go to this coming event and do a write-up on it. I’m usually more closeted about my affinity for raves but you’re reading about Alice in Wonderland-themed things to do so I feel like this is a judgement-free zone.

I hope you all enjoyed the list and found an Alice-themed experience that you will be going to next. If you have been to any of these experiences let us know how they were or if you have been to an amazing experience that was not mentioned on this list, I want to hear about it. That’s it for me, I hope you all have a most frabjous day.

Meet The Author

Jared Hoffman Headshot

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

Wonderland Look-Alikes: Some of the People Lewis Carroll Got Wrong

Princess Alyss Heart’s history was a bloody tale, full of power and terror and even a glowing glimmer of hope. When Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll) heard the harrowing story, he was full of good intentions. Jotting down her story he tried to help the troubled foundling, adopted by his dear friends, to adjust to her own childhood in Victorian England.

The writer did his best, crafting a story of whimsy that amused children and adults alike—however, they did not amuse Alice Liddell (as she had become accustomed to calling herself over the years since departing the adventures in Wonderland). The familiar faces of her childhood were warped, the truth obscured.

These are the facts behind Lewis Carroll’s fabrications:

Bibwit Harte (The White Rabbit)

Bibwit, like so many others, figured prominently in the stories Princess Alyss Heart imparted to Charles Dodgson thus resulting in his being written into the book as the character of the White Rabbit in Alice’s Adventures Underground. He became this particular character because his name could be anagrammed to spell: “White Rabbit.”

An imperious, but loving 6-foot-tall albino with pale green veins that pulse beneath his alabaster skin, Bibwit is known for his excellent hearing, swift body and razor wit. He is also fond of conversing with others and is often fond chatting with anyone who will take the time to listen, including the flowers that populate the palace grounds.

Trained in the Tutor Corps in the tradition of his kind, Bibwit was head of his class, excelling in everything he set his mind to. Though his people act as great conveyors of knowledge, they lack the ability to utilize the magic of Imagination themselves—and so excel as instructors. Becoming the Royal Tutor to the Queens of Wonderland was an honor bestowed on Bibwit for his unparalleled grasp of the principles of Light Imagination.

Capable of doing six things at once, Bibwit can often predict what the Queen will say and always follows orders to the letter. His sensitivity, however, makes him fragile physically and emotionally. As he takes pride in the triumphs of those he has trained, so to does he take their failures to heart and look for the fault within himself. 

Such is the case when Rose Heart, the princess who would one day be disowned and become Redd (The Red Queen), begins to tread upon those darker paths, turning her back on light imagination and committing fully to the path of dark imagination. In the years following her exile, Bibwit often blamed himself for failing her, attributing her fall to a failure in her education. 

Bibwit would have tutored Princess Alyss as he did for her mother Queen Genevieve (The White Queen) had Redd’s coup not ousted the Princess from Wonderland. Though he obeyed Redd during her terrible reign, he did so only to maintain a place in her court— while funneling information back to the Alyssian resistance.

Upon Alyss’ return to Wonderland, Bibwit will be among her closest allies. Resuming her education, the Royal Tutor will assist Alyss in preparing to navigate her Looking Glass Maze. 

Bibwit Harte from The Looking Glass Wars vs Lewis Carroll’s White Rabbit

General Doppelgänger (Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum)

The Commander of the Royal Army, General Doppelgänger is made up of two people, Doppel and Gänger, whose natural state is to reside within one body. The able warrior distinguished himself in the war between Genevieve and Redd for the throne, becoming a close compatriot of The White Queen.

Through much of Wonderland’s history the condition suffered by General Doppelgänger was considered purely mental, a split personality disorder. That is until a pioneering physician found a way to unravel the afflicted person into two (or more) distinct people.

 This clarified the problem but was an imperfect solution as many of the twins, once disentwined, became traumatized. The true breakthrough came a generation later, when a method was devised which allowed the twins to be either one singular being or separated into two or more beings at will.

As Alyss told Lewis Carroll of her mother’s loyal servant that could split in two, the author took liberties to contain the martial nature of Wonderland’s leading military mind into the farcical Tweedledee and Tweedledum (thanks to a little help from the poetry he was constantly consuming).

The truth of the matter is the General was one of the few present at Redd’s attack on Heart Palace to escape the palace with both their lives and their freedom that day, alongside a handful of chessmen and the traumatized Dodge Anders. 

Together the beaten and grieving group made their way into the Everlasting Forest and over the following weeks, General Doppelgänger would work alongside these forces and the others who fled Wondertropolis to establish the Alyssians. Named for the lost princess that all assumed dead, the rebels dared to strike back at Redd Heart. 

At the height of their activities, the Alyssian forces struck out at strategic locations striving to right the worst of the wrongs committed by Redd. However, as the years of tyranny mount, the strength of the rebels begins to wane, creating a dire situation at the time of Alyss’ return.

With the rightful heir returned to Wonderland, General Doppelgänger is unflinchingly prepared to oust Redd from the throne.

General Doppelgänger from The Looking Glass Wars vs. Lewis Carroll’s Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum

Frog Messengers

Though being a rather humble member of the Royal Court in Wonderland, with what most could call a “simple” job— the Frog Messenger is insultingly misrepresented as “the Frog Footman” in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

While the character in Lewis Carroll’s children’s tale sits with an invitation undelivered for days, to royalty no less, the Frog Messengers of Wonderland would never delay in carrying out their courier duties. They would also have you know a Frog Messenger would never tangle their wigs with the Fish Footman—because everyone knows Fish Footmen do not wear wigs!

The Frog Messenger from The Looking Glass Wars vs. Lewis Carroll’s Frog Messenger

The Walrus

A butler at Heart Palace whose uniform is a tuxedo jacket two sizes too small. He’s a servant—first of Genevieve, then Redd; a comic figure whose helpless innocence and good wishes for all endear him to anyone he meets (except maybe Redd and her vicious servant known, wrongly, to some as the Cheshire Cat). 

He carries a pouch of dust around the palace, sprinkling dust on objects and surfaces as needed—Wonderland’s version of our household chore known as “dusting.” When nervous or worried, the Walrus tends to overcompensate by, bringing endless supplies of refreshments.

How Lewis Carroll could twist the selfless servant of the ruling family is beyond Alyss. While the character in The Walrus and Carpenter poem within the absurd book is a glutton for oysters, the Princess could not recall at any time seeing the Walrus consume even so much as a tarty tart. Surly the sweet creature did eat, but never in sight of anyone.

After surviving, and escaping, Redd’s oppression on Mt. Isolation the Walrus will hold the honor of being the first to call Alyss “Queen” after she successfully navigates her Looking Glass Maze.

The Walrus Butler from The Looking Glass Wars vs. Lewis Carroll’s Walrus

Where In Wonderland? Key Locations of The Looking Glass Wars

The Wonderland of The Looking Glass Wars is full of places that perhaps you know from Lewis Carroll’s (sanitized) Alice In Wonderland. However, the truth behind the fiction is far more epic, beautiful, and at times dangerous.

Here are but a few of the highlights a Wonderverse traveler would see upon stepping through the looking glass:

The Pool of Tears

Unlike the Pool of Tears as described by Lewis Carroll, “Alice” (Alyss) did not cry this body of water alone. A swirling, luminescent lake of water, a portal connecting Wonderland to other worlds (notably Earth), and the means by which Hatter Madigan and seven-year-old Princess Alyss escape Redd Heart’s (the Red Queen’s) murderous intentions. 

At the start of The Looking Glass Wars, no one who has entered the pool has ever returned. Loved ones of Wonderlanders who’ve vanished into its depths sometimes stand on an overlooking cliff, mourning, letting their tears drop into the water; hence the name. 

On Earth, the portal manifests as puddles where no puddles should be, such as in a desert. Though the Pool of Tears is the only portal entry/exit point in Wonderland, there are numerous puddles where no puddles should be on Earth providing access. 

Essentially, the pool is an open channel through which Wonderland’s most dangerous elements can, at any time, intrude upon the already treacherous world of Victorian England and beyond. 

Top: The Pool of Tears from The Looking Glass Wars; bottom: Alice in the Pool of Tears by John Tenniel

House Of Cards

This structure is to Wonderland what the Red Keep was to King’s Landing. The House of Cards is center of military and political wheeling and dealing in the Queendom. From here Card Soldiers (no, not the stick figures with playing cards for bodies in the Disney adaptation) are dealt into battle— a source of might that Redd abuses at every turn during her reign to inflict her tyrannical whims.

The Suit Families, powerful houses that rule over Wonderland, each retain presence in the House of Cards— or at least they did until Redd came to power and announced that she needed no advisors, only loyal obedient subjects. While the Suit Families kept their heads by playing along, not all are so loyal to the wicked despot. The halls of the House of Cards echo with schemes and deceptions, feeding into The Queen of Heart’s paranoia.

The House of Cards, from Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars series

The Millinery

The training campus of Wonderland’s elite security force, where those born to protect the queendom are molded into spies, assassins, and bodyguards.

 Its graduates—the famed Hatter Madigan (perhaps you know him as The Mad Hatter) and his brother Dalton among them—are called Milliners on account of the hats they wear, which serve as their most potent weapons and allies in combat. 

The Millinery, complete with training fields and dormitories, sits within the capital city of Wondertropolis. Its buildings and outer wall are constructed largely of silk from the queendom’s caterpillar-oracles, each color of which has certain properties that protect students from outside threats. (The Blue Caterpillar of Lewis Carroll’s creation makes more smoke than thread—a stark difference between the fiction and truth of the story Alyss told him.)

The building in which classes are held, instilling the Milliner ethic (stoicism, duty above all else), is shaped like a top hat. The campus’s state-of-the-art training arena, known as the HATBOX (Holographic and Transmutative Base of Xtremecombat), is comparable to Star Trek’s Holodeck . . . but, with all due respect, it’s cooler. (For more on this amazing thread-tech, read Hatter Madigan: Ghost in the HATBOX)

The Millinery from Frank Beddor’s Looking Glass Wars series

Valley Of Mushrooms

A landscape of giant mushrooms nestled within a ring of twilight-blue mountains, home to Wonderland’s caterpillar-oracles. No two mushrooms are alike, and what with the play of light on their caps and the many-hued shadows cast on the valley floor, visitors are inevitably greeted with a sight of impressive kaleidoscopic brilliance. 

Should a visitor be remarkable enough for the caterpillar council to reveal itself, she would see six caterpillars nearly the size of jabberwocky (large!), their bodies coiled beneath them as they smoked from the same ancient hookah. Each of them would be sitting on a mushroom as distinct in color as himself: red, orange, green, blue and violet.

Redd, concerned that the caterpillars might breed dissent with their predictions, tries to do away with them when she first takes control of Wonderland. But every time she attacks, they see her coming and vanish like smoke. So she exercises her rage on their beloved valley, and now its colors, which were once like the sprouting of renewed hope, are muted, scraped, marred. Mushroom stalks everywhere are hacked, and butchered caps litter the dank ground. 

The once magical place is a fungal wasteland, as it will remain until, if ever, it’s allowed to grow back to its former splendor.

Left: The Valley of Mushrooms from The Looking Glass Wars; Right: The Blue Caterpillar on his Mushroom by John Tenniel

Crystal Continuum

A network of byways that enables Wonderlanders to enter through one looking glass and exit from another. Focused looking glasses lead to specific destinations. Unfocused looking glasses allow travelers to choose their own destinations, provided there are looking glasses at those destinations out of which they can be reflected. 

It takes practice to stay inside the continuum and master basic navigational skills, because just as a body underwater tends to rise to the surface, a body entering a looking glass wants to be reflected out. An inexperienced traveler might enter a looking glass in her own home, thinking to pay a visit to a friend across town, only to be reflected out of a looking glass at her next-door neighbor’s. Given time and experience, she would be able to make the trip. 

Covering long distances in the Crystal Continuum is possible only for the most experienced traveler, but short trips are within the skill range of everyone.

The Crystal Continuum

Chessboard Desert 

This is not the “curious country” that Alice stumbled upon in Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. This is the Chessboard Desert, acres of icy snow alternating with acres of tar and black rock, forming what looks from the air like a giant chessboard. A place of pain and hardship, the desert is home to Jabberwoky and ShardBeasts— only after being removed from succession to Wonderland’s throne, Redd Heart was banished to this inhospitable region, living in a fortress on Mt. Isolation. The tyrannical practitioner of Dark Imagination launched both the unsuccessful war against her sister Queen Genevieve (the White Queen)—then later, the bloody coup that would kill Genevieve and exile Alyss to Earth. 

Left: The Chessboard Desert from The Looking Glass Wars; Right: The Chessboard from Alice In Wonderland by John Tenniel

Looking Glass Maze

A unique Looking Glass Maze exists for every would-be sovereign of Wonderland, which she must successfully navigate to reach her imagination’s full potential and become a Warrior Queen (i.e., fit to rule). 

As a sacred Wonderland text states, “Only she for whom a Looking Glass Maze is intended can enter.” But where a given maze might be, or what it consists of exactly (it’s a test of both physical skill and emotional maturity), only the caterpillar-oracles allegedly know. One who successfully completes her maze emerges with her scepter, which serves as both token of her newfound power and a tool for its exercise. 

Redd Heart hasn’t gone through her Looking Glass Maze, which is why, if Alyss can find and successfully navigate hers, the usurper just might be defeated.

Alyss Heart’s Looking Glass Maze

Who The Queen of Hearts is Based On: Queen Victoria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Queen Victoria wasn’t accustomed to failing.

A Look At Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland Through the Pool of Tears

As the Royal Scholar of Wonderland, I, Bibwit Harte am tasked with peering through the Pool of Tears to see the myriad of creations inspired by Wonderland, from Lewis Carroll’s fanciful novels, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  and Through the Looking Glass first published in 1865, to the 1951 animated movie Alice in Wonderland from Disney to the very accurate 2006 New York Times best-selling series The Looking Glass Wars with Princess Alyss by Frank Beddor.

Today we will explore the influence of The Royal Millinery on other worlds. You maybe quite surprised to learn that in the less imaginative realms, hats are never imbued with Caterpillar Thread and are very rarely used as weapons. The only acts of violence ever ascribed to this mundane millinery is they are on occasion referred to as “Killer Looks.” (chortle)

In spite of their less dangerous designs, several hats in this world (and their owners) have become rather famous. Here is a little list…

The Venus of Willendorf’s Woven Cap

While there are not many official records of hats before 3,000 BC, they probably were commonplace before that. The 27,000-to-30,000-year-old Venus of Willendorf figurine appears to depict a woman wearing a woven hat. Similar sculptures, first discovered in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, are traditionally referred to in archaeology as “Venus figurines”, due to the widely-held belief that depictions of women represented an early fertility deity, perhaps a mother goddess. Hats have been around since the time of the mastodon.

The Cap-Crown of Queen Nefertiti

Nefertiti was a queen of the 18th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, the great royal wife of Pharaoh Akhenaten. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshipped solely the sun disc, Aten, as the only god. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of ancient Egyptian. Nefertiti favored a flat-topped version of the blue war crown (or Cap-Crown.) The famous bust of Nefertiti depicts her wearing this crown. The crown linked the queen with the goddess Tefnut, a solar deity and it looked stunning! (Note to self: I should look into getting a similar hat made for Alyss of Wonderland.)

Archibald Armstrong’s Jester’s Cap

When King James I  succeeded to the English throne, Armstrong was appointed court jester. Archibald modified the traditional “donkey eared” fool’s cap and added bells and a third floppy cone creating the now famous (or infamous) Jester’s Cap.

His influence was considerable and he was greatly courted and flattered, but his success appears to have gone to the jester’s head. He became presumptuous, insolent, and mischievous and was much disliked by the members of the court, but James favored him and as long as he pleased his audience of one, he was able to keep his head (and his hat) safely attached to his body. Certainly, if Archibald had been in the Court of Queen Redd of Wonderland, she would have said, “Off with his head!”

Marie Antoinette’s Boat Hat

Marie Antoinette  was the last Queen of France prior to the French Revolution and before she lost her head, she was known for her outlandish hats and hairstyles. In Paris, following a maritime skirmish in 1778, women of fashion commemorated what they saw as a French victory against the British with the Coiffure à la Belle Poule, an elaborate hairstyle containing a replica of the ship itself.

The Queen was not to be outdone by her courtiers, so she created the most lavish nautical fascinator of them all. Certainly, this elaborate headpiece did nothing to silence claims of her extravagance. Queen Genevieve of Wonderland (Queen of Hearts) would have never tolerated such decadent behavior! Her royal subjects were her priority.

Napoleon Bonaparte’s Bicorne

French emperor Napoleon understood the importance of branding, and throughout his life used imagery and clothing to convey power and status. His most famous hat was his black-felted beaver fur bicorne. The imposing nature of this chapeau gave the Emperor some much needed stature. Traditionally, the bicorne, with its distinctive deep gutter and two pointed corners, was worn with the corners facing to the front and back, but so as to be distinct on the battlefield, Napoleon wore the hat sideways so that anyone scanning the crowds would instantly know him by his jauntily angled hat.

The conquering ways remind this author of the Wonderland’s ArchEnemy,  King Arch of Archland.

Davy Crockett’s Coon Skin Cap

Davy Crockett was a celebrated 19th-century American folk hero, frontiersman, soldier and politician. Even after he left his deep woods home to become a member of the United States House of Representatives, he still would frequently don his signature cap to remind himself (and others) of his humble beginnings.  Coonskin caps are fur hats made from the skin of a raccoon, with the animal’s tail hanging down the back.

The caps were originally worn by Native Americans, but were appropriated by 18th century frontiersmen as hunting caps. Davy Crockett, who is frequently depicted wearing a coonskin cap, seems to have had an authentic connection to them. He wore the hat during the famous Battle at the Alamo and the presence of the coon skin cap allowed his battle torn body to be identified.

Abraham Lincoln’s Stovepipe Hat

Sixteenth president of the United States Abraham Lincolnwas exceedingly tall at 6 foot 4 inches, and the addition of his famous top hat accentuated his height even further. Lincoln used to keep papers and speeches tucked inside his hat and he would fish them out when needed, making his hat not just a natty bit of headgear but also a useful repository. The most famous of Lincoln’s stovepipe hats was the very one he wore on the night of his assassination at Ford’s Theater on April 14, 1865. Gentle readers, you may recall that Hatter Madigan once instructed President Lincoln on the art of Hat Throwing. This adventure was chronicled in the thrilling tome, Mad with Wonder.

Winston Churchill’s Homburg

British wartime prime minister Winston Churchill was renowned for his hats. Churchill himself once wrote a humorous essay on the subject, remarking that as he did not have a distinctive hairstyle, spectacles, or facial hair like other famous statesmen. Cartoonists and photographers of the day focused instead on his love of headgear.

Churchill wore a number of styles of hat, from top hats to bowler hats, but he is probably most famous for his homburg. The homburg is a felt hat with a curved brim, a dent that runs from front to back, and a grosgrain ribbon that forms a band. On the subject of homburgs, we are all very familiar with the Wonderland resident, Molly Homberg. Churchill certainly would have admired her spirit!

Jackie Kennedy’s Pillbox Hat

Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was one of America’s greatest style icons, and one of her most memorable looks was the pillbox hat perched on the back of her head. Kennedy had many versions of the pillbox, but the most famous is the watermelon pink one she wore with matching pink Chanel-style suit on November 22, 1963, the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. Jackie, who had been at his side in her pink suit, was covered in her husband’s blood. When aides repeatedly suggested she change her clothes, according to biographer William Manchester Jackie refused, saying “No, let them see what they’ve done.”

If you enjoyed my little Hat History, please return soon for more posts about all things Alyss (and Alice) in Wonderland!

Lewis Carroll, the Writer that got Alice In Wonderland Wrong

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

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

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

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

Especially Alice, the youngest child, an adoptee.

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

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

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

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

“No,” she replied.

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

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

Dodgson laughed. “Whatever are you talking about?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dodge. Dodgson.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The dream-child moving through a land

Of wonders, wild and new,

In friendly chat with bird or beast –

And half believed it true.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

London, England. 1859.

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

“God save the queen!” someone shouted.

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

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

“The queen is my mother!” Alyss declared.

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

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

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

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

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

Nightmare, hallucination: whatever this was had to end.

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

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

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

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

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

She vowed to stay alive until he came.

Alyss’ Birthday Dress – Art by Chris Appelhans

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s not a trick,” Alyss insisted.

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

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

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

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

Alyss On The Street – Art By Catia Chien

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

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

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

She lowered her face and stayed silent.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

She decided to do some shopping of her own.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mad Tea Party – by Sir John Tenniel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or does.

Victorian Alice – Art by Andrea Wicklund

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

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

Warrior Alyss – Art by Vance Kovacs