Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is something of an reference-generating machine. This piece of children’s literature and its sequel, Through the Looking Glass have been alluded to more often than can probably be accounted for in the hundred and fifty-odd years since its initial publication.
The story has been retold on film as Alice in Wonderland (with varying levels of faithfulness to the original novel) numerous times (including a great, recently restored version from 1903) and has also been alluded to in adaptations and has influenced television and music as well.
Why is it that there are so many references to and retellings of this story in various types of media? Probably because its familiarity makes it a bit of a shorthand to help audiences understand plot and character developments. The term “Wonderland” itself signifies an unusual, or perhaps, not-quite-sane or lucid setting or state of mind (yep, I’m aware that references to the story are also often drug-related, but that’s not my point here), and it’s not a surprise to hear someone describe odd behavior or circumstances as being a sort of “Wonderland.”
|Lost: Jack searches for his White Rabbit|
Similarly, we might say that someone is “chasing a White Rabbit” when they are following or searching for something foolishly or in vain (like Lost‘s Jack Sheperd in the clip above). And it’s not uncommon to use the phrase “falling down a rabbit hole” about someone who, in chasing their White Rabbit like Alice, ends up in strange circumstances, or even in a “Wonderland,” removed from reality or normalcy (as Morpheus describes in the clip below).
|The Matrix: Neo falls down the rabbit hole|
The world of Alice and her Wonderland is an idiomatic goldmine, so think of the Cheshire Cat the next time someone proclaims “off with his head!,” or wishes you a “very merry unbirthday,” or suggests that you “begin at the beginning…and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” And while you’re at it, does anyone know — why is a raven like a writing desk?
- TVTropes.com offers some interesting examples of how the plot elements of Alice are often used in storytelling.
- Wikipedia has a large list of works based on Alice in Wonderland.