Sunday, November 23, 2008

Eat Me

Have you ever noticed how much we girls are effected by the fairy-tales of our childhoods? While fables are read to both girls and boys, they have a distinctly more profound impact on us girls, one that seems to carry over even into adulthood.

Personally I believe, that this is because of all the fictions in the world, fairy-tales are one realm where women characters get equal billing with their male counterparts. More often, in fact, women get the top billing, as protagonists and antagonists, while the male cast plays the bit parts. They are the gormless kings, who haven't the faintest clue their new wives might be out the get their daughters, and less-than-ingenious princes, who need to be rescued just as frequently as they rescue the maiden in disstress.

Truth be known, most of the original versions of such classic tales, as Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Snow White, had the girls themselves who tricking the wolf, exposing the witches, and killing their enemies. It was only as we neared the 20th century, that these girls became more witless and vulnerable with every re-telling.

Among them though, is one late addition, who has always been the hero of her tale, and has remained an enduring inspiration to generations young ladies peeking down the rabbit hole.
She, of course, is Lewis Carroll's Alice.

Of the many girl heroines of children's literature Alice seems to have the kind of staying power many other heroines lack. Sure, it's Cinderella who's story-line dominates the preferred narratives of most adult women (witness Sex & The City, any romantic comedy, and countless chick-lit novels), but it seems that many a female artist, and young woman outside the mainstream still identifies with Alice. She is, after all, just like us; a little lost and bewildered, headstrong, clever, adventurous, rebellious and outspoken. Certainly not a Disney Princess™.

According to some she is even something of a fashion icon.

She has been cast in many different roles in popular culture; including a grown-up comic book heroine of Alan Moore's Lost Girls, the violent and cynical survivor in American McGee's game Alice, and soon, so we hear, Tim Burton will make her over once more in an upcoming movie.

I'm hoping it'll be something like this trippy, mostly forgotten masterpiece, by Robert E. Lee. (Curiouser and curiouserly enough, the late Theresa L. Duncan was developing a project with the same name, also loosely based on the book. Starring Beck. Another link in the Great Theresa Duncan Mystery, perhaps?)

There have, of course, already been many film Adaptations of Alice's tale. There's, the seminal Disney version, in all it's PG psychedelic glory.

Not the mention the 1985 American version, that could be titled the "oh my"-version.

Along those lines also moves the 1999 version. Only with better CGI.

And let's not forget the 1933 version, starring such olden time-y Hollywood stars as Lillian Harmer, Cary Grant and W.C. Fields

Then there is the decidedly strange "Dreamchild". Yeah, what really did happen in that long-lost Victorian summer?

And then, finally, my personal favorite, whom I watched from VHS until the tape warped, the dark, obstinate, beautiful and often downright terrifying Alice, of director Jan Svenkmajer.

Witness the disturbing taxidermied nature of the White Rabbit, the"real doll" Alice, and the eye-balled little critters. Not to mention the creepy insect-like sound effects.

As a kid I loved Svenkmajer's Alice, because like most children's stories (at least the good ones) the original story contains a great deal of darkness, and this adaptation taps into it directly. Unlike the sanitized and sugar-coated versions of fairy-tales and children's stories would lead you to believe, most kids are perfectly capable of handling a little darkness, fear, and madness in their fiction. You could even say that these elements must be in place for a fairy-tale to become a true classic. It was, after all, their original purpose to warn children and adults alike about the very real dangers of the world.


  1. Ahh I loved this post! I'm gonna have to start downloading all the versions I haven't watched!

    If you're into fairy tales I recommend a book called "from the beast to the blonde: on fairy tales and their tellers" by Marina Warner. I haven't finished it yet, but it is amazing.

  2. It's amazing how many adaptations of "Alice" there are. I love the Svenkmajer one! It's so great. Have you ever seen the 1966 BBC version of Alice in Wonderland? It's my absolute favourite. It's every bit as sarcastic as the book. And the Ravi Shankar score makes it all the more psychedelic. :)

  3. What a wonderful post! I also prefer "old" versions of fairytales to the sugar coated version the Victorian (mostly) and then Disney made them to be.
    Alice is, of course, one of my favorite. If you think of the children literature of the time, she is the only one that really goes outside her own world and have an adventure. In those times little girls had "domestic" adventures (The Secret Garden, Little women, etc.), while boys got to have "real" adventures (Tom Sayer, Treasure Island...).
    I find it very interesting.

    Thank you for all the videos. Have a great day!

  4. oh, I don't remember if I had told you, but I gave you an award on my blog a while back.
    I really like your blog so so so much :)

  5. Walt Disney is apocryphally quoted as saying that the reason Alice was so hard to make rested in it being "no fucking children's story."

    I've been collecting illustrated versions of Alice for a few years now.

  6. Milla Milla, you always pick the best topics to post on! Alice in Wonderland is probably my favorite fairytale of all time. It is amazing how many different film versions are out there. I’ve never seen the Jan Svenkmajer version, I’ll be Netflixing it right away though because it looks like something I would definitely be into. I love stop-motion animation too.

    The last version I saw was the 1966 BBC version that Megan mentioned. I was going to recommend it but she beat me to it. I liked the dark, creepy mood and it’s definitely worth watching for the gorgeous imagery alone.

  7. I must say, I cannot wait for Tim Burton's take.

  8. Okay, I just watched the first clip of the Svenkmajer version you have here and the absolute best part is when the rabbit is putting on his gloves.

  9. I found your blog through Tara's. I love this last post and I think I must add you to my list of favourites.. hope you don't mind.

  10. I love fairy tales and this post. My favorite was always "Arabian Nights"--partly because there were so many stories in one set and also because the girl literally uses her smarts to survive. :)

  11. have you ever seen this small version?
    it is from 1903. it's beautiful, and so creepy.
    this is such a good post. you are full of them.

  12. Great post -- I love Alice! I just re-read the book and found so many more magical things in it...can't wait for Burton's version. I hope he'll do it justice!

  13. Sure, women are always given equal billing, but how often are they in an equal position is in terms of power? It seems like most fairy tales involve some sort of knight in shining armor to save the helpless princess--plus women who actually have power are generally evil (eg. witches). Regardless, fairytales are a good place for fashion inspiration.

  14. Oh wow-- thanks for showing all those different versions! I have to say the last one really is quite creepy! Now I need to find it....!

  15. Hello Milla! I loved this post. I have an antique copy of Alice that belonged to my great-grandmother, and it is one of my most treasured possessions.

    I have given you a blog award :) Details are here.

  16. Alice was always my favourite childhood story, i even had a wonderland themed party one year. I was excited about the version Marilyn Manson was creating starring Lily Cole but I don't think it is happening anymore.

  17. As I was reading I was wondering if you had seen Svenkmajer's version. The part I remember most vividly (saw it about 20 years ago) is when Alice is eating marmalade from a jar with her fingers and she pulls out a rusty drawing pin. Gave me nightmares of choking on rusty drawing pins for years!

  18. Thank your for introducing me to Svenkmajer's version, I looked at the youtube-clip you've posted and I'm already in love. Can't wait to see it!

  19. That 1985 version is like watching a combination of Little House on the Prairie and Poltergeist. Ugh.
    I don't think I can relate to the creepy Alice. That rabbit freaks me out. I am looking forward to the Tim Burton version though. Hope it is good.

  20. I loved the '85 version, I've been looking for it everywhere actually, along with Return to Oz too. :-)