I am Red-Queen wroth with Richard Corliss. In Time, the much-published film critic starts out a lively article on Burton’s treatment of Alice with the question, “Did many children truly love Lewis Carroll's Alice books? Did they embrace the absurdities and antique wordplay of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass with the same rapt fervor they invested in other favorite stories, or did they find the Carroll works dry and remote? Couldn't it be that kids were listening out of politeness to the big person sitting by their bed? Martin Gardner, author of the 1960 The Annotated Alice, thought so. ‘It is only because adults — scientists and mathematicians in particular — continue to relish the Alice books,’ he wrote, ‘that they are assured of immortality.’ Make that scientists, mathematicians and '60s potheads, who saw Alice's descent into the rabbit hole, the EAT ME cake and the mushroom-borne caterpillar as evidence of the first great psychedelic trip.” He ends his feature by referring to “the kids who find this film much livelier than earlier versions and easier to warm to than the original. And is Burton's vision trippy enough to serve as a hallucinogenic blast? Go ask Alice.”
High, all right.
Very high dudgeon.
I haven’t seen Tim Burton’s movie yet. N, age 12, saw it today and liked it. R will see it tomorrow with the group of high schoolers who are doing “Alice” as the senior play--and she will no doubt be more measured and analytical than N. In the senior play, R is playing the Dodo, although I would guess that in her heart of hearts she is Alice.
No doubt the rest of us shall get around to seeing the movie some time. Of course, it would be difficult for me to like a movie better than the original.
And that leads me back to Richard Corliss. He asks, “Did many children truly love Lewis Carroll’s Alice books?”
Dear Richard Corliss, I was given a slipcased copy of the two books when I was five years old and living in Gramercy, Louisiana, a suitably down-the-rabbit-hole kind of place where our tomato plants grew up into the live oak trees and giant spiders lived in holes in the back yard and where I wore earrings that were live lizards, their throats pulsing helplessly. And yes, I “truly loved” the Alice books. If love means to read them over and over, then I loved and loved dearly. I read them under the covers. In the tub. Down the rabbit hole and up in a tree. And over many years. The Alice books taught me the fine art of re-reading, which is the very best sort of reading and should never be discouraged in children.
“Did they embrace the absurdities and antique wordplay of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass with the same rapt fervor they invested in other favorite stories, or did they find the Carroll works dry and remote?”
a.) Yes, this “they” did—and with the fervor of a March Hare in intoxicating spring grass or a Mad Hatter spinning in a mercury hat.
b.) Dry and remote? Dry and remote?
Despite all of your charm and all of your fame as a movie critic, Richard Corliss, I am in the highest of dudgeons.
These are fertile books. Little boys and girls have grown up to draw and paint and write and compose who drank at the sparkling fount of Wonderland. Have any other books intended for children given birth to so astonishingly many illustrators? Or to so much opera, fiction, and art of all sorts?
“Couldn't it be that kids were listening out of politeness to the big person sitting by their bed?”
This is a very odd conception of children and is entirely too coy, Richard Corliss. Children do not listen to “the big person” out of a desire not to be rude. They just don’t. Any book that doesn’t hold its own is quickly jettisoned, either by being clearly rejected (verbally or by tossings) or by the child tumbling into that other Wonderland, slumber.
Mr. Corliss, I want to tell you in all confidence that there is something rather creepy about “the big person” you imagine sitting by the child’s bed. Perhaps “the big person” has crawled out of that horror zone under the bed with the dropped books, socks, and dust bunnies: the lair of monsters. To your imagined “big person,” I say to keep altogether out of my children’s rooms!
On a side note regarding rejections, it is wrong to think that any book can be the right book for every child, just as it is wrong to think that any book can be the right book for every “big person.”
I am not a “big person.” For once, I am relieved and satisfied to be 5’3”. And maybe a tad over that mark? But not more than a tad.
“Martin Gardner, author of the 1960 The Annotated Alice, thought . . . ‘It is only because adults —scientists and mathematicians in particular — continue to relish the Alice books,’ he wrote, ‘that they are assured of immortality.’”
And now I must go head-to-head with Martin Gardner, it seems . . . This is wrong-headed. What assures the immortality of the Alice books is that they are wonderfully, impossibly fecund! They give birth to new works of art and have done so over many years. That is, Richard Corliss, why you are writing a review about a movie sprung from Alice for Time: because a little girl called Alice is the mother of invention.
So there, dear Mr. Richard Corliss.
It’s a rather nice name, Richard Corliss.
I wonder if he would let me borrow it for a whirl of adventure . . .