Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Riding the Wonderland Wave

Yes, this will be a review on the trilogy of Wonderland-inspired novels by Frank Beddor, more commonly known as "The Looking Glass Wars"!

I just finished the final book in the trilogy, Archenemy, but the previous two books have been on my shelf for years, and I fell in love with the racier, darker Wonderland in the first few paragraphs. I have to admit my bias here - I fall for anything Wonderland - I am not sure why, but psychiatrist analysis aside, I think it's mostly due to the fact that anything written in rhyme, like the original Alice in Underland, can be subject to such a myriad of interpretations and such, that it just lends itself to wonderment (no pun intended).

Since I don't think this book can be reviewed separately from the previous two - and I recommend you read them together, too - I will be reviewing all three! (Work for me, but it really is delightful! and besides, I have been neglecting this blog for too long a while) and I will include stuff I think important to understand the development of the series or the author himself - since I find him a very fascinating person and artist and I relish the opportunity to delve into his creative process a little bit.

So without further ado, my review of "The Looking Glass Wars":

Now, I will preface this with the simple fact that the original Alice in Wonderland is actually a string of nursery rhymes and sing-song sayings in the guise of a story - that is, the rhymes and logic of the stories connect in such a way that it is reminiscent of a nursery rhyme, as opposed to a story of morals for children, quite popular at the time it was written. I took a class on this in my undergrad at the University of Toronto, but basically, my professor Deirdre Baker (excellent professor and great to talk to about Children's Lit; find her here), and the idea is basically that there are two main story types of children, Moral stories and Nursery rhymes. And the older of the two is the latter, and, this is my opinion now, it is more interesting to study, since the logic of nursery rhymes is completely out of whack with reality ... usually.

That is to say, nursery rhymes follow their own logic - and in the middle of a nursery rhyme world - the logic makes sense. It is perfectly reasonable to have a race with a Dodo bird, or to have a pig baby grow in your arms at an alarming rate. Nursery logic is supposed to tip the edges of our reality and give us a peak at what could have been, should the world had been ordered differently.

They're also dark - much darker then fairy tales (moral stories) and such. I mean, think of the nursery rhymes from your childhood - "Rock-a-by-baby, on the tree's top, as the wind blows, the cradle will rock, As the cradle rocks, the bough will break, and down comes baby, cradle and all" - riiiight, infanticide in a lullaby. Nice. But it's a strange dark, isn't it? A darkness put to music and colour - something that peeks out at you and winks, like a smiling death figure.

And essentially, that is what the original Alice is.

And, I would posit, that is why there is so much revision and remaking of the story - nursery rhymes are dark, fun literary tools that are riddled (again, pun, not intended) with deeper meanings and cultural significance - that of course, change, witht he changing cultures. And that is why Alice remakes get to me, I think.

Now, for a bit of the remake history.

I want to start with the political cartoons drawn by Francis Carruthers Gould, written by "Saki" (H.H.Munro) and compiled in The Westminster Alice (1902). Basically, it is a collection of political cartoons in the style of the original John Tenniel, and it satirizes the British Government at the time and it involves Alice basically muddling her way through British Parliament, much like she did in Wonderland, trying to make sense of such a strange atmosphere and cloaked dealings. The brilliance of this parody is exactly what I meant about the adaptability of nursery rhymes and their undying presence throughout time.

The Disney take on Alice was ... okay. I will admit, that when I first saw it, I was at the stage where Alice just annoyed me with her mild mannered English cuteness and no real substance. Anyways, looking back on it now, I am annoyed for different reasons, but ultimately, I like the Disney Alice for what it is - and it stays true to those nursery rhyme roots I keep harping on about - it kind of jumps from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and takes some from one, and other parts from the other, etc - and it makes sense. And I like it for that. Keep in mind it was originally conceived in the 30s and finally made it to the screen in the 50s and you get an even better cultural appreciation.

Onto my generations!

Recently, there have been a tonne of Alice adaptations and so forth - including the Beddor trilogy. For example, the Tim Burton Alice, which takes off years after the second book, Alice is in her twenties and Wonderland is a much darker place. Though this is true, Alice herself retains a lot of her Disney persona. The blonde, wide eyed, sticky British-ness. American McGee's Alice video game (besides being a brilliant video game) takes the wonderland story on its head and basically takes Alice to be mentally disturbed and homicidal - an interesting point of view in this journey that Alice has taken. Added to this, with less dark venom, is the Syfy Alice - a continuation of their great adaptations began by the really awesome Tin Man (an adaptation of another favourite of mine, The Wizard of Oz). Alice adaptations have seemed to be either modeled on the Disney version, or of a darker, edgier quality.

I must say, I am quite a fan of the darker stuff.

And here we enter the literary world.

And it is a rich, multi-tiered place where Alice references are peppered everywhere. Terms like "Down the Rabbit Hole" and "Through the Looking Glass" are common now, and most Westerners know what they mean. And literature reflects this in many ways. But adaptations of Alice (and by this I mean, with Alice herself, not another girl, or a granddaughter or a cyborg) are what really gets me going. I like the idea of ebing able to take a story - a well known story, and make it your own, so that it reflects your world.

There are a few examples of this - mostly, for some reason, in the science fiction world, and of course, then there is my favourite - The Looking Glass Wars. (Yes, this is a long winded review ...)

The premise of the books I am reproducing here from the Frank Beddor Looking Glass Wars promotional website:

The Looking Glass Wars unabashedly challenges the world’s Carrollian Wonderland assumptions of tea parties, dormice and a curious little blonde girl to reveal an epic, cross dimensional saga of love, murder, betrayal, revenge and the endless war for Imagination. Meet the heroic, passionate, monstrous, vengeful denizens of this parallel world as they battle each other with AD-52’s and orb generators, navigate the Crystal Continuum, bet on jabberwock fights and slip each other the poisonous pink mushroom. Finally, someone got it right. This ain’t no fairytale.

Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland throne, was forced to flee through the Pool of Tears after a bloody palace coup staged by the murderous Redd shattered her world. Lost and alone in Victorian London, Alyss is befriended by an aspiring author to whom she tells the surreal, violent, heartbreaking story of her young life only to see it published as the nonsensical children’s sojourn Alice in Wonderland. Alyss had trusted Lewis Carroll to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere would find her and bring her home.

But Carroll had got it all wrong. He even misspelled her name! If not for the intrepid Hatter Madigan, a member of the Millinery (Wonderland’s security force) who after a 13 year search eventually tracked Alyss to London, she may have become just another society woman sipping tea in a too-tight bodice instead of returning to Wonderland to battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

This is the synopsis for the first book, but for our purposes,

Basically, Wonderland has transformed into the collective imagination - the Source, as Dodgson comments in the third book, of the real world. And those in Wonderland - Wonderlanders, are caught in the dual roles as people for themselves and imaginiationists who have the responsibility of providing innovation to the real world, and Wonderland itself. And into this world is thrust a Queendom in trouble and a princess in exile, in our world.

I was not overly excited about this book initially, but my friend K, lent it to me, and by the time I saw her the next week I was salivating for the next installment (which was still a bloody year away).

The second one, Seeing Red, I devoured much like the first, though it got increasingly more complex and I realized at some point that reading the Hatter M comic addendum was probably important - and so I embarked on my study of the website which can be found here. Beddor has been criticized for many things -mostly though, that he is an enterprising artist in that he makes things for money only, not pleasure. After reviewing the website over years, I would have to disagree. Yes, he has made an empire of this, and he wants to make a movie and there's a card game and such, but to me all this says about him is his excitement over this series - and it is a great series.

It is action packed and it is sentimental, it has twists and turns and it has great fight scenes. It is complex and at times, it takes a while to get to a point you knew was coming, but it is a great read.

And here comes the actual review part of this entry: Archenemy.

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

The Heart Crystal’s power has been depleted, and Imagination along with it. The people of Wonderland have all lost their creative drive, and most alarmingly, even Queen Alyss is without her powers. There is some comfort in the fact that the vicious Redd Heart seems to be similarly disabled. Amazingly, she is attempting to team up with her enemy, Alyss, in order to reclaim Wonderland from King Arch. Alyss might have no choice but to accept Redd’s overtures, especially when she begins to receive alarming advice from the caterpillar oracles.

So, basically - Wonderland is in a huge amount of trouble - both Redd and Alyss are left without powers, and the overly misogynist King Arch of the Borderlands, is instigating a war against Wonderland.

Uh oh.

Now the narrative, as with the other two, is fast. One second you are being appraised of the situation, and the next you are on the battlefields. And that is something I appreciate. This style of writing has got a lot of flack for being too "movie like" and less literary, but I think that this type of writing fits with the overall feel of the book - which is a fast paced thriller. With tonnes of twists and intrigue.

One thing I really appreciate about Beddor's LGW trilogy (hereafter LGWT) is the strong female characters. Like, strong. Some may be evil, some may be powerless, but they are strong. Like Alyss, Queen of Wonderland - military strategist but so in command of all the other facets of her life - including the life she left behind, in our world. When she jumps through the Pool of Tears to the real world to save the Liddels from certain doom, you are left thinking she is strong but stupid, for leaving Wonderland and all her responsibilities there. But then she faces her childhood tormentor, Dodgson, and this is an excellent example of how strong she really is. And it is a great counter balance to her relationship with Dodge, childhood sweetheart and all around amazing badass.

Homburg Molly would be another such strong female character - she is lost from what she has gone through, in the previous book, and is ridden with a guilt for the events she caused to happen. But in the end, she is able to push past her own guilt and inhibitions, and get the job done. She is able to get through to the end in one piece, better then before.

And this strong female empowerment is not at the expense of the male characters, who are in themselves wonderfully expressed. Excepting Arch, who is probably the least developed character, the male characters are both sweet and complex - they get on your nerves and they also inspire you.

The plot is quick, and this is generally a criticism, but I liked it - I thought it was what was needed for the story to further itself.

Anyways, in the world that is my Book Fort, I would give this a 9/10 of Alice adaptations and a 10/10 of YA Fantasy.

Cheers! :D

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