Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has captivated minds, young, old and eternally, since its publication in 1865. From literary spin-offs to film adaptations, its influence has been widespread. 154 years has not lessened its charm, and Titan are celebrating its longevity with an anthology, simply titled Wonderland.
This array of stories is as myriad, mind-bending and magic as Alice’s adventures themselves, but with modern updates including the macabre and the nightmarish. Edited by award-winning writers, Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan, eighteen story-weavers have joined forces to build a new series of adventures. Fans of fantasy and horror will be familiar with the line-up, with a range of established writers, including M.R. Carey, Juliet Marillier & L.L. McKinney.
Before beginning Wonderland, I refreshed my fond memories of Caroll’s texts with a re-read, then, feeling excited, I jumped down the rabbit hole. And I wasn’t disappointed.
Most of the writers have opted to write about Alice herself. We have various alternate Alices, including Western noir Alice, robot Alice, and world-destroyer Alice, and indeed some of these stories are very strong. In particular, “How I Comes to be the Treacle Queen” by Cat Rambo showcases a socialist Alice, who after being thrown down a treacle mine by the White and Red Queens, befriends the treacle miners and learns about their conditions. Robert Sherman’s “Wonders Never Cease” follows Alice into a modern office, where she becomes a mother who wants to give her daughter a Wonderland of her own. Both Rambo’s and Sherman’s stories capture the heart and whimsical humour that made Caroll’s work a masterpiece and really stand out as the best Alice-orientated stories.
However, the strongest stories are those that are influenced by a detail from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, whether it was a poem, line, or side character, in the story, or even a historical fact about the author. Juliet Marillier’s “Good Dog, Alice!”, about a wee girl who finds size-changing berries and feeds them to her dog, takes a sinister and heart-breaking, yet important, turn. “The White Queen’s Dictum”, by James Lovegrove, shows a ghosthunter who believes in six impossible things before breakfast (while desperately wanting one of them to be ghosts). Mark Chadbourn’s emotional story, “Six Impossible Things” follows the child that Caroll based Alice on, as she finds that being the star of fiction isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The surprise story, meaning one I wasn’t expecting to enjoy, came from Rio Youers, purely as I wasn’t keen on his latest novel, The Forgotten Girl. However, his story “Vanished Summer Glory” is about Alice’s missing brother, whose grieving wife discovers her husband has been receiving visits from a certain white rabbit… With varying point-of-views and engaging prose, Youer’s has managed to create an emotionally charged yet humourous story that looks at grief and identity.
But the most outstanding story was “There Were No Birds to Fly” by M.R. Carey. To discuss it in any depth would be to spoil it, so I will just note that Carey’s input is eerie, layered, and quite frankly brilliant. His inspiration from Wonderland is creative and engaging in a way that differentiates it from the other stories.
To top the anthology off, it is bookended with fantastic poems by Jane Yolen. The opening poem prepares us for battle in Wonderland as we charge our way through the woven layers of the stories within, whereas the end poem serves as a fitting closing curtain to the masquerade.
Due to the mish-mash of topics and ideas, it’s expected that not every story will resonate and, as with most anthologies, there are highs and lows. However, overall the quality of Wonderland is consistently high, and I suspect lows will come about from personal taste, rather than poor writing. The only slight downfall with the anthology is the seemingly random allocation of illustrations, which appear on only a few stories. More illustrations, perhaps even one per story, would really have enriched this already sound anthology and helped spill some of the tales from the pages.
With monsters, mirrors, enough dream-like familiarity to make you feel cosy and enough nightmarish difference to make you feel uneasy, Wonderland is thoroughly entertaining and inspired. So, make yourself a cup of tea (oh, why not make it a mini tea-party?) and lose yourself in the rabbit hole of this delightful anthology.