Posted by: nathalieoates | December 6, 2011

Alice in Wonderland: Fairytale or Nightmare?

One of the most rewarding aspects of reading Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland for the first time was the fact that it was the original story, not illustrations or new connotations I have been exposed to for most of my life. I thought it was very refreshing to see a story portraying characters in different ways. It is also interesting that the one picture Lewis Carroll provided the illustrator with now dictates why Disney’s version held onto her classic skirt and apron outfit and long hair tucked behind a headband.

I opened the book thinking it would be a splendid tea party, but actually realized it was kind of scary. With each chapter, Alice seemed to approach a new hardship, instead of live a fairytale. This was not all fun and games. I was chronically nervous and slightly frightened when each new character was introduced. When Alice found the bottle labeled, “DRINK ME,” and was totally into consuming it, I was semi-paniced. Hopefully there would still be a happy ending?

This got me thinking: What do these connotations say about the original story? Society in general? Why isn’t it more popular for Alice’s story to be darker? Why wasn’t that sterotype preserved more? Perhaps that’s why Tim Burton made his new film – justice.

Before I read Alice, this is how I pictured her:


Or possibly this:


My dreams are not completely shattered, but it was interesting comparing what many children imagine Alice to be to Lewis Carroll’s original Alice. 


  1. I totally agree, Nathalie. I too feel nervous when Alice sees the “DRINK ME” tag, but her reasoning for it being ok to drink what’s in the bottle is interesting. She isn’t careless or blindly following directions, she consciously makes the decision that it isn’t poison, otherwise it would be labeled as such. Further, the bottle isn’t there before she imagines it and thinks about needing to be a smaller size, so it is in essence a product of her imagination. But it is still a bit odd.

    I have also been happily surprised about how intelligent, judgmental, and reflective Alice is. She isn’t the sweet, demure beautiful creature Disney has inundated us with. I guess reflective isn’t the best word, but she thinks about language – how it is used differently in different situations with different characters – and the mistakes she makes with it, and ways of interacting with other creatures, whether they are human, animal, material, natural, or supernatural. She is a really interesting character, but I do not know if I would want to go on adventures with her, or be her like some of the costume and make-up lines capitalize on.

    Alice’s Adventures and Findings are scary and wonky, and they definitely still continue to draw in and fascinate readers. I think it’s too bad that we first get to know Alice out of Wonderland, in her myriad of cute, sexual, or eagerly youthful representations.

  2. A number of years ago, I read part of an interview with Jorge Luis Borges in which he stated that “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” isn’t just a dream — it’s a nightmare. I’d never really thought of that before, but on further consideration, I realized that Borges was right. Practically every episode in the book makes her feel anxiety, and the clincher — she wakes up crying out in fear.

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