The Ohio State University
Presented at a Project Narrative event on October 20, 2011, this is the latest (and I hope last) version of a talk that began life as a short paper delivered at the Association for the Study of the Arts of the Present (A.S.A.P.) symposium at the University of Trier, October 2010. On that occasion I received so many valuable suggestions for further research that I began reworking and expanding the paper, subsequently presenting it in different versions at the Universities of Jyväskylä (Finland) and Uppsala (Sweden) in December 2010, at Washington and Jefferson College, in their Branton Lecture series, in March 2011, at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, in June 2011, and at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and the Pennsylvania State University in September 2011. On each of these occasions I acquired new examples and insights, for which I am grateful. I want especially to thank my friends Astrid Ensslin, Chaim Gingold, Susanne Greenhalgh and John Hellmann for steering key books into my hands.
In this version of the talk I have restored several passages that I did not have time for in my Project Narrative presentation of this material.
1. Millennial Alice
Curiouser and curiouser: Lewis Carroll’s Alice seems to have staged a major come-back as a cultural icon in the new millennium. In fact, it’s not a comeback at all since, as this talk will document, she never really went away in the first place. Nevertheless, Alice certainly achieved an unprecedented level of cultural conspicuousness in 2010, thanks mainly to the success of the Walt Disney Company’s spectacular 3-D film version of Alice in Wonderland, directed by Tim Burton. Since it was my viewing of this version in March 2010 that launched me on my present investigation into the postmodern versions of Alice, let me begin there.
Burton’s film is problematic in several ways, not least because it prompts questions about whether it even qualifies as a version of Alice at all. Common sense says it must be one, since it bears the title of one of Lewis Carroll’s (C.L. Dodgson’s) two Alice books, and its heroine is named Alice; moreover, it features many of the most familiar characters and situations from Carroll’s novels – the White Rabbit, Alice’s tumble down the rabbit-hole, the Mad Tea-Party, the animated playing-cards, the irascible Queen of Hearts, Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee, the Cheshire Cat, the Caterpillar on his mushroom, and so on. Nevertheless, viewers familiar with Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871), or with earlier film or television adaptations of these books, might have experienced some disorientation. Try sampling a few minutes from the climax of Alice’s dream of Wonderland in the Burton version. [.m4v; 13 mb]
Isn’t Burton’s Alice too old, one is bound to wonder – a young woman of marriageable age (nineteen) instead of a little girl of seven or eight? And how did the Alice that we thought we knew become a dragon-slayer, donning armor and wielding the vorpal blade in a climactic confrontation with the Jabberwocky, striking the same pose as the young (male) hero in John Tenniel’s famous illustration from Looking-Glass?
More disorienting still is the film’s epilogue, where Alice returns from her dreamworld to publicly reject her suitor and then make his father a business proposition. Consider the very end of Burton’s film. [.m4v; 12 mb]
Alice is volunteering to travel as her ex-father-in-law-to-be’s agent to China, newly opened to Western commerce – presumably in the aftermath of the Opium Wars. One can only marvel at the filmmakers’ tone-deafness to the imperialist implications of Alice’s entrepreneurial initiative (see Clover). Is this version really a version of Alice at all? And if it is, of what kind?
Leaving aside this curious question for the moment, I want first to focus on the striking coincidence that at least two other Alice versions had appeared only months before Burton’s, and yet another a few months later. One of these was a cable-television mini-series on the Syfy channel in the United States (December 2009), in which Alice’s adventures are updated to the contemporary world and their fantastic elements reframed as science fiction. Another was a long philosophical poem, “Alice in the Wasteland” (2009), by the American avant-garde poet Ann Lauterbach, in which Alice reads and reflects on The Waste Land, and engages in dialogues with various interlocutors in a landscape merging the topography of Eliot’s poem with Carroll’s Wonderland and Looking-Glass worlds. A third version was an iPad application, launched in the spring of 2010, a sort of interactive digital reinterpretation of a child’s pop-up book, based on Carroll’s text and Tenniel’s illustrations. It is the range of cultural levels and media platforms that seems most striking: from mass-market entertainment to the avant-garde, from print to film and television to digital media, Alice seemed to be everywhere for several months in 2009 and 2010.
Remarkable, too, is the relationship between Burton’s film and the Syfy channel’s version, which seem to mirror each other, though influence in either direction is out of the question, since they were in production at roughly the same time. Each of them, in common with many other versions of Alice, conflates material from both of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books (see Brooker 203); in both of them, for instance, Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts is conflated with the Red Queen of Looking-Glass, while in the Syfy version Alice both tumbles down a version of a rabbit-hole and also passes through a looking-glass. In each of these new versions, Alice has been advanced in age from about seven to her late teens or twenties; this, too, is typical of a number of recent retellings of Alice (see Pilinovsky 176). Moreover, in each of these versions, the framing narrative, which is minimal in Carroll’s original books, has been elaborated to include a marriage plot. In both versions the Jabberwock has undergone an ontological upgrade from a creature in a poem read by Alice (in Through the Looking Glass) to a denizen of Wonderland itself – in the Syfy version, an incidental hazard to be evaded; in Burton’s film, the Red Queen’s ultimate weapon, whose spectacular decapitation marks the end-point of Alice’s quest, as you have just seen.
Finally, each of these versions involves a return to Wonderland. Alice herself, or perhaps her double, has visited here before, and the inhabitants of Wonderland recognize her. In both versions, there is some debate about whether she is “the Alice.” One character in Burton’s version declares flatly that she is “the wrong Alice,” while the Caterpillar comes around to the view that she is “almost Alice.” In the Syfy version, asked whether she is “the Alice of legend,” Alice herself insists that she isn’t the Alice but “just plain Alice.” In Burton’s version, Alice eventually remembers a childhood dream in which she visited Wonderland, while in the Syfy version, the question of Alice’s previous visit remains unresolved. In this sense, it might be plausible to think of both these films not as versions so much as sequels. In any case, both films, through their motifs of return and recognition, acknowledge their own status as versions – as belated repetitions of an original.
Provoked by the coincidence of these two highly self-conscious revisitings of Alice – or four, if we take into account Lauterbach’s poem and the iPad app – I began by hypothesizing an upsurge of Alices in the first decade or so of the new millennium. Just as Burton’s film, the SyFy version, “Alice in the Wasteland” and the iPad app form a cluster at the end of the decade, I thought I detected another cluster right around the turn of the millennium, including a British television film of Looking-Glass in 1998, an NBC television version in 1999, and in the same year, the Wachowski brothers’ film, The Matrix, with its several explicit allusions to Alice. My intuition seemed to have been corroborated by Will Brooker, who noted the appearance around the turn of the millennium of three new editions of the books (Brooker 89-101) and three new illustrated Alices, as well as reissues of two earlier illustrated versions (111-145). Also dating from the turn of the millennium are American McGee’s horror videogame adaptation of Alice (2000; a sequel appeared in 2011) (Brooker 229-64); Jeanette Winterson’s novel The PowerBook (2000) (Torpey 2009) and Katie Roiphe’s Still She Haunts Me (2001) (Brooker 182-94); and a Royal Shakespeare Company production (2001-2002), adapted by Adrian Mitchell (Brooker 68-9).  Other Alice versions from the first decade of the new millennium include William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition (2003); Terry Gilliam’s film Tideland (2005); Robert Coover’s short story “Alice in the Time of the Jabberwock” (2005); at least two graphic novels, Lost Girls (2006), written by Alan Moore and drawn by Melinda Gebbie, and Alice in Sunderland (2007) by Bryan Talbot ; and even Christopher Nolan’s celebrated film Inception (2010). 
The more I pursued my inquiry, however, the more versions I found from earlier decades – the 1970s, ‘80’s and 90’s. I noticed, for instance, Philip José Farmer’s Riverworld series of science-fiction novels (1971-1983), in which the historical Alice Liddell Hargreaves, the real-life model for Dodgson’s character, makes an appearance; Angela Carter’s stories “Wolf-Alice” (1979), and “Alice in Prague” (1993), the latter inspired by Jan Švankmajer’s stop-action animated Alice (1988) ; and Alasdair Gray’s metafictional novel Lanark (1981), which cheerfully acknowledges plagiarizing from Alice. It seemed to me that Haruki Marukami had rewritten Alice books three times over, once in each decade from the eighties to the new millennium: Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985), The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles (1994-95) and After Dark (2004), a version of Looking-Glass.  I also noticed at least one remarkable theatrical version, directed by Robert Wilson, with songs by Tom Waits (Hamburg, 1992), and several film versions, including Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky (1977), Richard Rush’s 1979 film of Paul Brodeur’s novel The Stunt Man (1970), James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) and, incredible though it sounds, even a pornographic musical version (1976) (noticed also by Brooker  and Pilinovsky [182-3]).
Moreover, my own survey of Alice versions overlapped only partially with that of Kali Israel, who documents many Alice versions of which I had been unaware.  Israel mentions at least ten “literary” novels from the 1980’s and ‘90s by writers such as Emma Tennant, David Slavitt, Pat Barker, A.M. Homes and even Whoopi Goldberg; almost the same number of “genre” fictions (fantasy and science-fiction) from the same decades by John Crowley, Jeff Noon, Philip Pullman, Jonathan Lethem and others; and a number of films, television shows and plays from the seventies through the nineties, including Wim Wenders’ Alice in the Cities (1974), Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986), Dreamchild (1985), written by Dennis Potter, plays by Susan Sontag and Christopher Hampton, and even an episode of The X-Files (“Paper Hearts,” broadcast in December 1996).  I was forced to conclude that it is impossible to say for sure that disproportionately many Alices have appeared in the past decade. What I had initially hypothesized as a spike in versions around the turn of the millennium appears in fact only to be a continuation of the proliferation of Alice versions throughout the postmodern decades.
I had better pause here a moment for clarification. If Tim Burton’s film is a version of Alice (albeit a problematic one), and The Matrix is, too, then it seems relevant to ask, what is a “version,” anyway?
2. What is a Version?
The term version serves here as an umbrella-category designed to cover the broadest possible range of relationships between an earlier text – what we might call, not without appropriately cagey scare-quotes, the “original” – and a later text that repeats it in some way and to some greater or lesser degree, short of point-for-point duplication. I use the term “version” partly to pay homage to William Empson’s book, Some Versions of Pastoral (1935), which contains one of the earliest (and still one of the best) treatments of the Alice books as adult literature. But I also use the term as an alternative to the multitude of other potentially relevant competing terms, including adaptation, echo, imitation, intertext, parody, pastiche, remake, revision, rewrite, transposition and transfictionality (see Călinescu 243; Ryan). The heterogeneity and sheer number of these terms suggest how difficult it would be to reduce the manifold phenomena they identify to some systematic order. 
The interests of my present argument are best served by defining version as flexibly and capaciously as possible. So I will make do with some ad hoc distinctions, sharp enough to identify where some of the interesting problems lie, but with no claim to great theoretical rigor. If version may be defined as a later text standing in a relationship of partial similarity or partial repetition to some earlier text, then one way of constructing a typology of versions would be in terms of differing dosages of similarity and difference. I am proposing, in other words, a quantitative rather than qualitative criterion for categorizing versions – or pseudo-quantitative, rather, since I am not really counting anything). At one extreme of the scale, as a kind of limit-case, we could place later texts that exactly duplicate earlier ones, where the version matches the original at every point – plagiarisms, or exercises like the one Borges imagines for “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote” (1939). At the other limit, we could place later texts that have no point in common with the earlier text in question. What falls between these extremes on the continuum of versions?
I propose three categories of version, in order of increasing attenuation or dilution of the relationship between “original” and “version.” Versions that correspond maximally to their originals (short of point-for-point identity, of course), I propose to call remakes, adopting the term from cinema studies (see Zanger; Leitch “Twelve”; “Twice-Told”). Included in the category of remakes are many (though not all) remediations (Bolter and Grusin), involving the more or less faithful transposition of the original into a different medium (e.g., film adaptations of novels or comic-books, novelizations of films, etc.). Versions that involve substantial correspondence with their originals, but also substantial deviation – which may be more or less “pointed” or tendentious – I propose to call rewrites (see Călinescu; Moraru). Finally, approaching the absolute bare minimum of correspondence – potentially as minimal as a single word – the most attenuated kind of version of all is the one we call allusion (see Ben-Porat).
With respect to the versions of Alice, examples of remakes would be the many successive remediations of Carroll’s texts as live-action and animated films and as television programs, but also the American composer David Del Tredici’s musical settings of various songs and episodes from the Alice books (1968-1992). Examples of rewritings of Alice might include Angela Carter’s novel Several Perceptions (1968) and Alison Habens’s Dreamhouse (1994). Each of these novels updates Alice’s adventures as contemporary picaresques. In each of them, Alice’s Wonderland dream is collapsed into a climactic all-night house-party during which the protagonist – male in Carter’s version, female in Habens’s – has a series of curious encounters and undergoes life-altering experiences. Another updated rewrite is Don DeLillo’s Ratner’s Star (1976), which, like the Syfy channel’s version, remotivates the fantastic elements of the original in science-fiction terms, slyly acknowledging its indebtedness to Alice through the titles of its two parts: part one, “Adventures”; part two, “Reflections.”
Finally, allusions to Alice are abundant and ubiquitous, in films as in literature. For instance, both Cameron’s Aliens and the Wachowskis’ The Matrix allude to Alice through various visual and verbal materials and plot motifs. In Aliens, the little blonde girl who calls herself Newt, the sole survivor of the alien attack, strongly resembles the Alice of Tenniel’s illustrations; when she disappears down a sort of rabbit-hole – in fact, a ventilator shaft – the film’s heroine, Ripley, must rescue her from the monstrous alien mother, unmistakably modeled on Tenniel’s Jabberwock illustration (see above). In The Matrix, Neo is instructed to follow the woman with a white rabbit tattooed on her shoulder, and Morpheus famously offers him a choice of capsules, blue or red, echoing the Caterpillar from Wonderland: choose the blue pill and “the story ends”; choose the red and “you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.” In Nolan’s film Inception, Ariadne the architect, on her first visit to someone else’s dream, appears poised to pass through a looking-glass, Alice-fashion – but then pointedly shatters it instead.
Literary allusions to Alice are everywhere in postmodernism, for instance in Guillermo Cabrera Infante’s Tres tigres tristes [Three Trapped Tigers] (1965), Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and Gravity’s Rainbow (1973), John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1969), Paul Auster’s City of Glass (1985), Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (1988), Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (2000), and Junot Díaz’s The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), as well as several texts I have already mentioned, including Gray’s Lanark and Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. Indeed, so ubiquitous are Alice allusions that one might ask whether there are any novels that we generally regard as “postmodern” that do not allude somehow or other to Alice. The intertextual presence of Alice might almost be considered a marker of postmodernist fiction.
In some cases the Alice allusions are explicit and overt – for instance, in Gravity’s Rainbow and City of Glass; in others they can be more oblique or covert.  In The Crying of Lot 49, Pynchon alludes obliquely to Alice in Wonderland by conspicuously deploying one of its key words. Chapter three of Pynchon’s novel begins: “Things then did not delay in turning curious” (Crying 28). “Curious” is a something like a synecdoche of Alice, occurring no fewer than twelve times in Wonderland (one occurrence per chapter, on average), most memorably at the beginning of chapter two: “‘Curiouser and curiouser,’” cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot to speak good English)” (Carroll 14). Alice herself is punningly characterized in one place as “this curious child” (Carroll 12). Pynchon’s Oedipa Maas is another such “curious child,” grown up to be a curious young woman: eager to know, as her name, Oedipa, suggests, but also curious in the sense of “strange” – a stranger in a strange land.
William Gibson is similarly covert when, in Pattern Recognition, he has his heroine, Cayce Pollard, reflect on the slightly uncanny unfamiliarity of London from an American visitor’s perspective, calling it “mirror world”: "The switch on [the] Italian floor lamp feels alien: a different click, designed to hold back a different voltage, foreign British electricity …. Mirror world. The plugs on appliances are huge, triple-pronged, for a species of current that only powers electric chairs, in America. Cars are reversed, left to right, inside; handsets have a different weight, a different balance; the covers of paperback books look like Australian money" (Gibson 2-3). Cayce has passed Through the Looking-Glass, and what she finds in this mirror-world of London seems to be modeled, in a more or less oblique way, on Alice’s experiences in the looking-glass world.
However ad hoc and under-theorized these three categories of remake, rewrite and allusion might be, identifying and distinguishing them give us tools to do some useful work on the Alice corpus, throwing a whole series of interesting problems into high relief. For instance, most versions of Alice that we might be disposed to call remakes or remediations actually strain that category to the breaking-point, and might more logically qualify as rewrites. As I have already observed, even the most “faithful” versions typically combine material from both Wonderland and Looking Glass. Nevertheless, I think we tend to regard some of these more or less “unfaithful” versions as remakes, while others strike us as rewrites. Is Tim Burton’s film, for instance, better described as a remake or a rewrite? On the one hand, it retains many features of the Alice books, and remains faithful to their nineteenth-century setting; on the other, it advances Alice’s age and gives her a suitor. Does the aging of Alice necessarily disqualify this version from being a remake? Would updating Alice to the contemporary world, as many versions do, disqualify it?
As for allusions, these typically trigger the search for further, more global analogies between the “original” and the “version” (see Ben-Porat). Many Alice versions that appear at first glance merely to allude might, on further reflection, be construed as more or less distant rewrites of the original. This might be the case with The Crying of Lot 49 and Pattern Recognition, but probably not with Gravity’s Rainbow, Lanark or City of Glass. The analogies between Cameron’s Aliens and the Alice books are sufficiently few that we might be disposed to regard it as alluding to the originals without rewriting them, but The Matrix might be regarded as a rewrite. As for Nolan’s Inception, Ariadne’s gesture of shattering the looking-glass instead of passing through it might even be construed as something like a pointed gesture of refusal to rewrite Alice – rewriting under erasure.
Nothing about this categorizing scheme is unproblematic, but at least it allows these and other problems to be identified as such. In any case, the contemporary rewriting of Alice seems to be inevitable, and even singularly appropriate. After all, Carroll’s “originals” are already rewrites themselves – parodies of didactic children’s literature, reimaginings of nursery-rhyme characters and situations, and so on. Alice herself already knows the texts from which these beings and situations derive, and so can “read” them, and even anticipate events, as in the case of Humpty-Dumpty’s fall or the outcome of Tweedledum’s and Tweedledee’s battle. Moreover, John Tenniel’s illustrations, which are so integral to the original Alice books, might be thought of as the first and most influential remediations of Alice. Alice is already a version – of other “originals,” but also of herself; no surprise, then, that she has begotten so many versions in turn.
3. Go Ask Alice, 1966
I initially hypothesized a spike in Alice versions around the turn of the millennium, while Kali Israel, associating the proliferation of Alice versions with postmodernism, dated their upsurge to the 1980s and ‘90’s; now I tend to think that we were both wrong. Our periodizing hypotheses were contradicted by our own findings, which yielded plentiful Alice sightings from earlier decades, pushing the onset date of this upsurge of Alices back to the seventies and even the sixties. Which does not mean that no onset date can be determined – it can, I believe. Indeed, it was right there under Kali Israel’s nose the whole time – literally in her title: “Asking Alice.”
“Asking Alice” of course alludes to the lyrics of a psychedelic rock song that derives its imagery from the Alice books, Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit”: “Go ask Alice/I think she'll know.” Apart from alluding to it in her title, Israel herself actually has nothing to say about this song, perhaps assuming that its familiarity (not to say overexposure) has made further comment unnecessary. If so, then she underestimates its importance, because, in my view, the upsurge of recent Alice versions can be dated rather precisely to the appearance of that song.
The hit version of “White Rabbit” by the Jefferson Airplane, the San Francisco acid-rock band, was released in 1967, but Grace Slick, who wrote the song, had already been performing it the year before with another Bay Area band, The Great Society, with whom she made at least one live recording of it. Despite the fact that very few people actually heard the song until a year later,  dating “White Rabbit” to 1966 suits my purposes, because that dating corroborates an argument I have advanced elsewhere (McHale “1966”) for treating 1966 as the onset year of postmodernism – postmodernism’s Year Zero. “White Rabbit” joins an astonishing number of other cultural landmarks of 1966, in a range of fields – structuralist and poststructuralist theory, architecture, film, poetry, literary fiction, science fiction and of course rock music – which together create an irresistible momentum for the new aesthetic that would eventually be called postmodernism.
Moreover, “White Rabbit” is not the only significant version of Alice to appear in 1966, though it may be the most memorable of them. In fact, landmark Alice versions abound in and around that year, roughly from the centennial of Wonderland in 1965 to that of Looking-Glass in 1971. In 1966, the year of the Great Society’s “White Rabbit,” three televised Alice versions aired, one animated, two live-action, including Jonathan Miller’s notable adaptation for the BBC; moreover, Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 also appeared that year. In 1967, the same year as the Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” Ralph Steadman, who would later go on to collaborate with Hunter S. Thompson on several memorable books, illustrated Alice in Wonderland. Nineteen sixty-seven also marks the posthumous publication of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, a darkly comic version of Alice. Between 1967 and 1970, Joanna Russ published four sword-and-sorcery stories, later collected as The Adventures of Alyx (1983), about a resourceful female thief and assassin seeking her fortune in strange lands.  In 1968, Angela Carter’s Several Perceptions appeared, and the first work in David Del Tredici’s Alice cycle was performed. In 1969, the philosopher Gilles Deleuze published Logique du sens, which commented extensively on Lewis Carroll’s nonsense, and the surrealist artist Salvador Dalí produced a set of woodcut illustrations of Wonderland. In 1970, the British artist Peter Blake, best-known for creating the cover of the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, began a series of Alice silk-screens; and so on. Moreover, in the wake of “White Rabbit’s” success and the successful re-release of Fantasia, Disney’s 1951 animated version was re-released and screened for newly receptive audiences on college campuses across the United States (Brooker 208). The image of Alice evidently became a fixture in political cartooning, especially in the U.K., in the late ‘60s and ‘70s (Brooker 78).
Of course, many versions predate 1966, beginning almost as soon as Dodgson’s original Alice books appeared. Carolyn Sigler reports that nearly 200 literary imitations, revisions or parodies appeared between 1869 and 1930, including the most influential version of them all, L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), the quintessential Americanized Alice. Sigler claims that the number of popular adaptations falls off sharply after the 1920s, blaming the modernists for appropriating Alice for highbrow literature, and it is certainly true that the Alice books were enthusiastically embraced not only by the British high-modernists (Woolf, Eliot and others; see Dusinberre) but, on the avant-garde wing of modernism, by Joyce in Finnegans Wake (Brooker 80) and by the French Surrealists as well (Jones and Gladstone 244-45).  However, modernist appropriation is not the whole story; Sigler overlooks the migration of Alice into other entertainment media around the same time that popular literary adaptations declined. Beginning in the 1930s, Alice crossed over into film, and then in the post-Second World War period into television.  Kamilla Elliot in 2003 counted nearly fifty film and television versions (surely not an exhaustive total, given the entertainment industry’s erratic record-keeping).
Clearly, Alice versions abound throughout the twentieth century; nevertheless, beginning in1966 there is a qualitative as well as quantitative change in the Alice corpus. Not only do sheer numbers surge, but a certain threshold is crossed, a certain critical mass is achieved. We might say that, post-1966, in the aftermath of “White Rabbit,” Alice goes viral. One measure of the change is the fact that, whereas before 1966 versions of Alice engaged mainly with the “original” texts, after 1966 versions typically engage with Dodgson’s originals but also with at least one other previous version (see Leitch “Twice-Told”). For example, A.M. Homes’s novel The End of Alice (1996) rewrites both Alice and Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita (1955/58), which is itself a version of Alice (Israel).  Alison Habens’s Dreamhouse rewrites both Alice and Angela Carter’s Several Perceptions. Jonathan Lethem’s As She Climbed Across the Table (1997) rewrites both Alice and DeLillo’s Ratner’s Star. The Wachowskis’ The Matrix rewrites both Alice and Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit” (“One pill makes you larger/And one pill makes you small/And the ones that mother gives you/Don't do anything at all”). Gibson’s Pattern Recognition rewrites both Alice and The Crying of Lot 49; Gibson’s Cayce Pollard, who visits the “mirror-world,” is a version of Alice, but at the same time also a version of Pynchon’s Oedipa Maas. The Syfy channel’s Alice rewrites both Dodgson’s Alice and The Matrix, and, arguably, so does Nolan’s Inception; while Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland rewrites both Alice and The Wizard of Oz; and so on.
4. Trips vs. Missions
“White Rabbit” introduces a new and transformative understanding of Carroll’s Alice books as reflecting or anticipating psychedelic experience. “White Rabbit” emphasizes, for the first time as far as I can see, the literally hallucinatory quality of the Alice world  – its abrupt, unmotivated juxtapositions and transformations, its disjointedness and sense of non sequitur, its dreaminess and mutability. The reframing of Alice in terms of psychedelic experience very quickly became a commonplace of popular culture, both among advocates of the drug subculture, such as the egregious Thomas Fenesch (“Lewis Carroll”; Alice in Acidland), and in anti-drug polemics such as the educational short-film Curious Alice (1972) – that keyword again! – or the bestseller Go Ask Alice (1971), allegedly the diary of an anonymous young drug-user (in fact a hoax, though that did not prevent it from being adapted as an ABC Movie of the Week in 1973). I would venture to say that all the Alice versions subsequent to 1966-67 are colored to some greater or lesser degree by this psychedelic reinterpretation; they are all more or less influenced by the model of Alice as trip.
This reorientation of Alice is readily traceable in popular music, beginning with the Beatles. Lennon and McCartney’s song, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967), was widely interpreted as a song about psychedelic experience, partly on the basis of its suggestive initials – LSD – but mainly because of its hallucinatory imagery: “Picture yourself in a boat on a river, with tangerine trees and marmalade skies ….” [.mp3; 9 mb] John Lennon would later protest (not entirely convincingly) that the song never had anything to do with drug experience at all, but drew its inspiration wholly, and innocently, from Alice: "The images were from Alice in Wonderland. It was Alice in the boat. She is buying an egg and it turns into Humpty Dumpty. The woman serving in the shop turns into a sheep, and next minute they’re rowing in a rowing boat somewhere – and I was visualizing that …. It’s not an acid song" (Beatles 242; cited by Hellmann 192).
Not just the “boat on the river,” incidentally, but also the last verse’s “train in a station, with plasticine porters with looking glass ties,” [.aif; 13mb] seems derived from Alice – not Wonderland in this case, but the episode in the railway carriage from Looking-Glass, also memorably illustrated by Tenniel.
In any case, Lennon’s defense of the song’s innocence seems somewhat disingenuous: given the pervasive psychedelic interpretation of Alice as trip, nothing prevents “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” from being both a version of Alice (as Lennon claims) and also a song about drug experience. 
The trip model emphasizes the weak narrativity of Lewis Carroll’s original books (see McHale “Weak”). Eventful though they are, literally event-filled, they are also episodic, disjointed, weakly plotted, picaresque in structure rather than strongly end-oriented. “Carroll designed his stories,” Cristopher Hollingsworth writers, "exactly so that the reader’s sense of dramatic causation and relations are generally uncertain and often beside the point. And in the absence of a firm plot, marvels begin to wander, becoming assertive, argumentative, and obscure and even inexplicable" (90).  “Picaresque” seems exactly the right term for the structure of Alice’s Adventures, whose very title seems designed to evoke the tradition of Don Quixote, Joseph Andrews, Roderick Random, and so on. One might have expected Through the Looking-Glass to be the more firmly plotted of the two books, given its overarching narrative of a chess endgame, but in fact this is not really the case. On the contrary, “the narrative and spatial vagaries and disjunctions of the Looking-Glass World of Through the Looking-Glass are even more extreme, despite the chess-game plot” (xx-xxi). Notice that Through the Looking-Glass is subtitled, not “what Alice did there,” but what she “found there,” emphasizing accidental encounters and passive receptivity over purposeful action. Here plotting suffers from Alice’s lack of agency. While she does have a definite purpose in Looking-Glass – to become a queen when she reaches the Eighth Square – Alice seems powerless to affect her progress toward that goal very materially. Though she is permitted a bird’s-eye view of the chessboard and players from the hill at the beginning, once she descends to the level of the board she literally loses sight of the narrative in which she participates; she is, after all, only a pawn in someone else’s game.
Only weakly narrativized, the Alice books are literally pointless in the sense of refusing to make a point. In contradistinction to nearly every other children’s book of that era, and by Dodgson’s conscious design, they teach no moral, deliver no warning, offer no model of behavior for a child to emulate.  They are also pointless in the sense of literally going nowhere. It is perhaps misleading to refer to them as novels at all, picaresque or otherwise. They are, rather, Menippean satires, and in common with other texts of this genre (or anti-genre), they use narrative structure not to drive a sequence of events toward a conclusion or telos, but mainly as an alibi for juxtaposing a series of “numbers” or “turns” (in the variety-show sense): encounters with colorful characters, usually inconclusive; conversations – often baffling or agonistic, but in any case inconsequential; recitals of poems and performances of songs. Narrative in the Alice books does not so much advance as pause, then pause again, and then pause some more.
It is this aspect of the Alice books that the trip versions capitalize on, in the aftermath of “White Rabbit.” Indeed, one could argued trip versions of Alice may actually be more faithful to the spirit of Carroll’s originals than any others. Be that as it may, pure trip versions of Alice are rare, perhaps for obvious reasons. The purest expressions of the trip model occur in non-narrative or weakly narrative genres, for instance in musical adaptations or in lyrical or discursive poetry. Ann Lauterbach’s “Alice in the Wasteland,” itself a verse Menippean satire, is one example. Another is the memorable music video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” (1985) by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, featuring Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, and based (according to Stewart) on an Alice-like party at the house of Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac. In the same vein, “trippy” mash-ups of footage sampled from the animated Disney version of Alice abound on YouTube, matched to various styles of music.
A special case of the trip model is David Del Tredici’s obsessive series of musical settings of Alice material, beginning with Pop-Pourri (1968) and An Alice Symphony (1969; revised 1976), and continuing through Final Alice (1974-75) and Child Alice (1977-81) down to Dum Dee Tweedle (1992) – a total of at least nine works in all. Examplary of Del Tredici’s Alice cycle is Haddocks’ Eyes (1985), a setting of the White Knight’s song “A-Sitting on a Gate,” [.m4a; 13 mb] from Looking-Glass, which begins:
I'll tell thee everything I can;
There's little to relate.
I saw an aged aged man,
A-sitting on a gate.
"Who are you, aged man?' I said.
"And how is it you live?"
And his answer trickled through my head
Like water through a sieve. (Carroll 187)
If Del Tredici’s Alice pieces were assembled into a cycle, and performed on successive nights, they would rival Wagner’s Ring in scale – except that, unlike the Ring, they would not yield a continuous narrative, but only disjointed episodes, lacking narrative’s connective tissue. The effect would be, like Alice itself, diffuse, meandering – trippy.
This psychedelic model of Alice as trip is one of two major types of Alice versions that I detect in the postmodern (or post-1966) era. If the trip model capitalizes on the weakness of narrativity in Carroll’s Alice books, the alternative model responds to the originals’ weak narrativity by seeking to ameliorate it – to repair the deficiency by narrativizing Alice. Narrativizing versions link up the disjointed episodes of the originals, stringing them together on a single narrative thread; they supply the missing connective tissue, and bring narrative order to the disorder of the trip. They give Alice something to do, devising a mission for her to undertake, whether in the action-hero sense of Mission: Impossible, or in the missionary sense of saving the heathens – or both, as in the double ending of Burton’s Alice, where Alice in the dreamworld completes her mission by beheading the Jabberwocky, while in the real world of the frame-tale she embarks on a mission to civilize the benighted Chinese by exposing them to Western commerce.
“The tendency in any commercial adaptation of Alice is often to water down the surrealism and smooth out the ragged plot,” observes the science-fiction writer Rudy Rucker (Hooley and Hollingsworth 61), and he is right. Narrativizing is the typical solution to Alice’s trippiness on the part of commercial movie and television adapters of the books. Walt Disney’s animators, for instance, reflecting on the 1951 animated version of Alice in Wonderland, frankly admit that they never overcame the anti-narrative tendencies of Carroll’s Alice – though they certainly tried. Disney himself, they write, "liked the idea of a young girl living in her own dream yet not realizing why everything was so strange …. Unfortunately, either he lacked the energy to make a strong feature out of the episodic story material or he failed to communicate his uncertain feelings to his staff …. [T]he result was a very interesting, disjointed film with moments of high entertainment and other sections that seemed mild or puzzling" (Johnston and Thomas 105).
“Peculiar actions and visual gimmicks can hold an audience only for a limited time,” the animators go on to say, “and there is always a problem with the continuity once that crucial point has been passed” (Johnston and Thomas 107). For “continuity,” read “narrativity.” In this case, by the animators’ own admission, the project of narrativizing Alice failed. It is surely no accident that, almost two decades later, their film would acquire a new audience of college students who valued it precisely for its trippy qualities, in other words, for its failed narrativity. 
The CBS television adaptation of 1985, directed by Harry Harris, compensated for the story’s weak narrativity by attributing a motivation to Alice – precisely, the drive to get out of Wonderland, once she has fallen into it. Nick Willing, director of the 1999 NBC adaptation, gives Alice the opposite motivation: she flees into Wonderland in order to avoid having to perform a song at her parents’ garden party. “The main thing I insisted on,” Willing is reported as saying, "is that Alice is asked to sing a song and is scared. The reason I did that is I felt the book is a collection of anecdotes, sketches written at different times and then cobbled together in a book. It is not written as a story with a beginning, middle and end. And our modern movie sensibility has to have an emotional pull for us to stay with a character" (quoted in Brooker 217-18).
Finally, Tim Burton, director of the 2010 Disney version, seems as self-conscious as any of his predecessors about the decision to narrativize Alice. As quoted in the New York Times, he seems quite clear in his own mind about which model he chose, and why. Other versions, he is reported to have said, “always end[..] up seeming like a clueless little girl wandering around with a bunch of weirdos” (Rohter) – which is to say, they ended up as trips. Burton evidently regards the narrative weakness of other versions as sufficient justification for imposing a robust narrative of his own. He motivates Alice’s trip by giving her a mission, that of liberating Wonderland from the capricious tyranny of the Red Queen – the same mission, coincidentally, that the Syfy channel’s contemporaneous version sends its Alice on.
However, even the most aggressively narrativized commercial adaptations, as Brooker has discovered (23-5), inevitably retain certain episodes that serve no larger narrative purpose and only slow Alice’s progress. None of the movie or television adaptations that I have mentioned forego the Mad Tea Party, for instance, or the croquet game played with live flamingoes and hedgehogs, though neither of these episodes advances Alice’s mission or moves the story forward. Here, as in many other instances, the trip compromises the mission – just as the mission (rescue, escape, or what-have-you) compromises the trip.
Missions, trips: surely it is no coincidence that these are the same terms that came to be associated with the American experience in the Vietnam War during the very years when Alice emerged as a touchstone of postmodernism. The same tension between missions and trips that characterizes postmodern versions of Alice also characterizes representations of Vietnam, for example in Michael Herr’s Dispatches (1977), Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato (1979), Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987). Some of these Vietnam representations explicit acknowledge Alice as model. Several episodes of O’Brien’s Cacciato, for instance, allude more or less obliquely to Alice, while Herr, describing senior officials’ collective lapse into irrationality in the aftermath of the 1968 Tet Offensive, writes, “The Mission Council joined hands and passed together through the Looking Glass” (74).
The tension between trip and mission makes itself felt particularly acutely in two related Alice versions, both already mentioned above, that roughly bookend the postmodern period: Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) and Gibson’s Pattern Recognition (2003). Lot 49 begins unmistakably as a quest narrative, but “things [do] not delay in turning curious,” and before long the quest bogs down in proliferating information and tangential encounters. Oedipa Maas’s mission mainly provides a narrative alibi for a trippy, Alice-like tour of various Californian sub-cultural enclaves and underworlds. Ultimately, the quest itself falters and finally is suspended, stalling out just before its resolution and leaving us, like the heroine herself, awaiting the crying of lot 49. The trip compromises the mission.
Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, simultaneously a version of Lot 49 and of Alice, actually involves two missions. Gibson’s heroine, Cayce Pollard, is commissioned to track down the creator of a series of mysterious and hypnotically attractive online video clips, while at the same time she seeks to confirm the fate of her father, who disappeared on September 11, 2001, in the vicinity of the World Trade Center towers. Each of these quests interrupts the other, and neither achieves entirely satisfactory closure. The fate of the lost father is almost but not quite ascertained, while the quest for the source of the online footage, though it does yield the identity of the creator, leaves many other mysteries unresolved. The footage itself, an unfinished fragment of narrative in which almost nothing happens, exhibits just the sort of weak narrativity that characterizes the very novel in which it appears; it constitutes, in other words, a scale-model or mise en abyme of Pattern Recognition. Like Pynchon’s Lot 49, Pattern Recognition ends up taking us on a literally pointless grand tour of the heroine’s world, involving episodic encounters with grotesque and colorful characters in exotic “mirror-world” locales. Here, too, the trip compromises the mission.
If the trip sometimes interferes with the mission in recent Alice versions, the reverse is also possible: even the trippiest versions sometimes display traces of narrative momentum. Surprisingly, this is the case even with the text that I have been treating as foundational for the model of Alice as trip, Grace Slick’s song, “White Rabbit”:
One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all
Go ask Alice
When she's ten feet tall
And if you go chasing rabbits
And you know you're going to fall
Tell 'em a hookah smoking caterpillar
Has given you the call
When she was just small
When the men on the chessboard
Get up and tell you where to go
And you've just had some kind of mushroom
And your mind is moving (s)low
Go ask Alice
I think she'll know
When logic and proportion
Have fallen sloppy dead
And the White Knight is talking backwards
And the Red Queen’s off [with] her head
Remember what the dormouse said:
"Feed your head
Feed your head
Feed your head" 
The speaker of these lyrics addresses a second person who is manifestly not Alice herself, but some other person who comes after Alice. In other words, like Tim Burton’s film and the Syfy Alice, the song seems aware of its own status as repetition, implicitly acknowledging its own belatedness. However, what is most striking about these lyrics, which supposedly advocate for blissful, hedonistic psychedelic experience, is their surprising aggressiveness, their pushiness. Not content with merely addressing this other who is not Alice, the song actually issues orders: “Go ask Alice”; “Call Alice.” These lyrics are imperative, importunate. Their tone is that of a proselytizer for psychedelic experience, in the spirit of Timothy Leary or Ken Kesey in his Merry Prankster phase (as well as many other psychedelic rock songs of that era). Far from blissfully trippy, “White Rabbit” seems charged with implicit narrativity. It seems, in fact, to be assigning a mission – one not that different, ultimately, from Alice’s mission to China at the end of Tim Burton’s film.
The same tension between trip and mission that is detectable in the lyrics is also reflected in the differences between the two different arrangements of the song – the 1966 arrangement by Grace Slick’s first band, The Great Society, and the definitive arrangement from 1967 by the Jefferson Airplane. The Great Society version [.m4a; 12 mb] begins with a long instrumental prelude, lasting nearly four and a half minutes of a six-minute, 15-second cut, in a wandering, vaguely Middle-Eastern modal arrangement that is distinctly trippy. The music circles, weaves and doubles back on itself, apparently in no hurry to get anywhere.
Only weakly narrative, the arrangement seems pointless, in something like the same way that the Alice books themselves are pointless. By contrast, the Jefferson Airplane’s arrangement [.m4a; 5 mb], brashly appropriated from Ravel’s Bolero, is a marching, charging crescendo from beginning to end. [link]
Same song, different effect: lasting all of two and a half minutes, the Airplane’s version sounds more driven than drifting. I don’t know about you, but this sounds to me more like a mission than a trip. When at the song’s climax Grace Slick sings – or rather, bellows – “Feed your head,” it feels more like “Off with your head!” She is hardly less urgent or purposeful in her delivery than Burton’s Alice bringing the vorpal blade down (snicker-snack) on the neck of the Jabberwocky. The mission overwhelms the trip.
Here perhaps we glimpse one reason for the affiliation between Alice and postmodernism that has been a theme of this talk. The same contending impulses that I detect in many of the post-1966 Alice versions – the resistance to narrativity, on the one hand, and the impulse toward narrativization, on the other, or what I have been calling the trip vs. the mission models – also characterize postmodernism as a whole. On the one hand, postmodernism inherits from the modernist-era avant-gardes a suspicion of conventional models of coherence, legibility and closure, all associated with dominant ideologies – in other words, a suspicion of narrative. This suspicion is reflected in postmodernism’s various anti-narrative strategies of metafictional self-critique and self-erasure, not least of all its recourse to weakly narrative genres such as Menippean satire. On the other hand, postmodernism also frankly embraces the populist pleasures of narrativity, reviving and recovering narrative – “replenishing” it, to use John Barth’s term. The two impulses complicate and interfere with each other right across postmodern culture and right down the decades, from the Sixties to the present – as they do, on a miniature scale, in so many of the Alice versions of the same period. In this sense, postmodern Alice is postmodernism in a nutshell.
1 Mitchell, a poet of radical sensibilities, both politically and aesthetically, had (among many other things) translated and adapted Peter Weiss’s Marat/Sade for Peter Brook in the annus mirabilis 1966 – about which I have much more to say below.
2 In Lost Girls, a grown-up Alice joins Wendy, from Peter Pan, and Dorothy Gale, from The Wizard of Oz, to exchange erotic life-stories (see Pilinovsky; Brooker 156-8); in Alice in Sunderland, Talbot integrates Dodgson’s biography with material from the Alice books.
3 Apart from the sequel to American McGee’s Alice, the most recent version of which I am aware, as of this writing, is a Broadway musical entitled Wonderland, which opened in New York in March 2010, in which Alice, a grown woman, “encounters a magical world beneath the streets of New York City” (New Yorker 14 March 2011, p. 14).
6 The lack of much overlap between Israel’s tally and my own is partly to be explained by our different emphases: Israel particularly focuses on versions of Alice that incorporate elements of the troubling real-life relationship between Dodgson and Alice Liddell – a fascinating subset of Alice versions, but not one that I have singled out for special attention here.
7 There were earlier graphic novel versions of Alice as well. Brooker (152-6) observes that a character called the Mad Hatter had been introduced as one of Batman’s antagonists as early as 1949, though his most memorable appearance comes much later, in Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s graphic novel, Arkham Asylum (1989). My friend Kit Hume reminds me of the recurrent Alice allusions in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series (1989-1996).
8 Which has not, needless to say, discouraged scholars from undertaking to do so, including such distinguished and resourceful systematizers as Gérard Genette, Linda Hutcheon, Peter Rabinowitz, Lubomír Doležel and Marie-Laure Ryan.
9 Actually, Pynchon’s allusions to Alice in Gravity’s Rainbow are both overt and covert. On the one hand, Slothrop encounters a girl at a party “with a face like Tenniel’s Alice, same forehead, nose, hair …” (250) and dreams of the White Rabbit statue in Llandudno (476); on the other hand, his mentor, an Oxford scholar and sexually repressed voyeur, is named Sir Stephen Dodson-Truck, slyly alluding to C.L. Dodgson, who did indeed pronounce his family name Dodson.
10 The science-fiction writer and mathematician Rudy Rucker – whose own fiction is full of more or less oblique allusions to Alice – reports having seen a looping clip from the Disney film version of Wonderland as part of the lightshow accompanying a Jefferson Airplane concert at Swarthmore in 1966, suggesting that “White Rabbit” and Alice were already part of the Airplane repertoire by that early date (Hooley and Hollingsworth 54).
12 Lewis Carroll is included both in the surrealist Anthologie de l’humour noir (1940) and in Le Dictionnaire abrége du surréalisme (1938); Louis Aragon translated the books and Max Ernst illustrated them (Brooker 78-9), as did Dalí, much later (as noted above). It is no doubt the Surrealists’ interest in Carroll and Alice that helps explain their continuing presence in the later French avant-garde – e.g., Raymond Queneau’s rewriting of Alice as Zazie dans le métro (1959), adapted as a film by the New Wave director Louis Malle (1960) – and among French theorists, including Gilles Deleuze (as noted above), Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray (Falconer).
13 There had been stage adaptations of Alice from the very beginning; Dodgson himself collaborated on stage productions in 1886 and 1888, and there were annual Christmas revivals of that production from 1898 to 1939. The pace of Alice productions onstage has not slackened in more recent decades; one source reports 150 new productions between 1979 and 1988 (Jones and Gladstone 242-43). Presumably these included many avant-garde productions. “Every experimental director has to go through an ‘Alice in Wonderland’ thing,” someone is reported as saying in a New Yorker magazine profile of an avant-garde theatre company (Mead 47).
15 Brooker (211) thinks Jonathan Miller’s 1966 BBC adaptation of Alice in 1966 already had hallucinatory qualities, and that it owed its “trippy” atmosphere to its soundtrack of Ravi Shankar sitar music, which he associates with George Harrison’s “Within You Without You” on the Sgt. Pepper’s album. This is a slight anachronism, since that track would not appear until the next year, 1967 – though the association of sitar with trippiness had perhaps already been suggested by “Norwegian Wood,” released in December 1965.
16 Brooker (81) also identifies the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus” as a song based on Alice, claiming that it recycles Humpty-Dumpty from Looking-Glass. The association between Alice and the subcultures of drugs and pop music persists: as recently as 1998 a journalist’s account of the Ecstasy-fueled U.K. rave scene of the late eighties and early nineties bore the title Adventures in Wonderland.
17 Compare Michael Hancher: “The dreamlike, episodic structure of both books, the heavily charged psychological subtext, and the explicit privileging of pictorial illustrations, have from the start led her [Alice’s] audiences to register her story in terms of character, scene, myth, and image, rather than of plot, narrative voice or (save for some memorable phrases) diction” (quoted by Hollingsworth xviii-xix).
18 “Carroll made one of the most radical statements on behalf of the fairy tale and the child’s perspective by conceiving of a fantastic plot with no ostensible moral purpose,” writes Jack Zipes (quoted in Pilinovsky 178).
20 The song actually reflects a fairly complex and sophisticated relationship to the Alice books. Slick’s lyrics freely mingle details from both Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass – as do many other versions of Alice, as we have seen. Her various deviations from Carroll’s originals, however, seem calculated rather than accidental or merely haphazard. For instance, it is not the case that “the White Knight is talking backwards” in Through the Looking-Glass; however, the White Queen does live backwards, and the transposition of these two characters, substituting one kind of reversed chronology for another, seems deliberate. Similarly, the exhortation to “remember what the Dormouse said” seems to refer to the fact that, when called to the witness stand during the Knave of Heart’s trial, this is precisely what the Mad Hatter fails to do: “ ‘But what did the Dormouse say?’ one of the jury asked. ‘That I ca’n’t remember,’ said the Hatter” (Carroll 90).
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