Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Looking Glass Wars

Title: The Looking Glass Wars
Author: Frank Beddor
Year: 2006
Genre: Fiction
Rating:  2

Playful, charming, mischievous, and endearing, Frank Beddor's takeoff on the classic Alice in Wonderland has taken the world of fairytale adaptation to another stratospheric level. Over the past few years, we've seen an increasing fascination with Lewis Carroll's magical world of caterpillars, card soldiers, singing flowers and the Red Queen-- Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, SyFy's miniseries, and the disturbing video games, among numerous others-- with each instance growing a little more dark and twisted. The Looking Glass Wars is a step above the others, with Beddor imagining Wonderland as something else entirely.
We first get the idea that something is wrong in the introduction, with a tempestuous Alice-- or Alyss, as Beddor spells her name-- throwing the draft for Alice in Wonderland back into the face of Charles Dodgson, the real name of Lewis Carroll. From there, we learn that Alyss is the last of the Hearts, the rightful rulers of Wonderland with extremely powerful imaginations, and that her foul aunt Redd has gruesomely murdered her father and mother and exiled her to Victorian England. Alyss's story is populated by familiar characters, twisted into far more fallible, unrecognizable people (the Mad Hatter becomes Hatter Madigan, the White Rabbit becomes the tutor Bibwit Harte, and the caterpillar becomes six distant oracles) who form the Alyssian Resistance, fighting against Redd for the future of Wonderland.
And yet, Beddor has kept the intrinsic playful nature of the original book. In a dry, acidic humor, he makes jokes out of Redd's cruelty, and the grimy streets of Wondertropolis are filled with whimsy. He has created all sorts of interesting details, even down to the favorite foods of the Wonderlandians. Wonderland also becomes one nation in a world full of ones just as outlandish and interesting; Boarderland lies across the vast desert, and suddenly, we're confronted with a whole world.
Alyss herself is an interesting conundrum. At first, she spends much of her time on Earth trying to preserve her royalty and memories of her home, but after dozens of people have told her that she is making all this up, she begins to wonder if she indeed has. Her imagination fades away, and she becomes an embarrassingly normal young woman on the brink of marriage when she is suddenly dragged back to Wonderland. All of a sudden, instead of the dreamy little girl in a white frock, she is a full-grown woman with real danger all around her.
The redesigning of Redd and her servant the Cat (a particularly unsavory creature twisted from the Cheshire Cat) is clearly the one that took the most work for the author. He has changed every aspect of the nearly impotent Red Queen of the book and movies, retaining only her affinity for scarlet and her catchphrase, "Off with his head!" Instead of having cronies do all of her executions for her, she has a delightfully grisly dress made of carnivorous vines that eats people that cross her. She also has a wicked pleasure in patenting products designed to cause misery with tacky names, which only adds to the charm of the book.
Beddor has created a spectacular world that is impossible to be uninterested in. Even from the first few pages, the story draws us in and grips us tightly until the end. Fortunately for us, this is not the only book-- there are two more in the series (Seeing Redd and Arch Enemy) to complete the full tale of Alyss.
On a side note, one of the more interesting choices that Beddor made was to include illustrations. I wouldn't term this novel as for children-- maybe for teens, but no one under 14 or so-- but there are four pages of full-color illustrations, even in the paperback. They're notably Burton-esque, with sketchy lines and dark looking characters, not at all definitive of the whimsy of Alice in the past. I prefer to imagine the characters in my own mind, so I skipped them until the end, but they're a bemusing addition.
The Looking Glass Wars is definitely worth your time. You can pick up an eBook copy for $8.99, or a paperback for as low as $3.22 on Amazon. Although I only gave it a 2-- just because it's not the sweeping, meaningful tale that other novels are-- I usually read once a year or so, so I'd recommend buying it if you can. I actually own all three, as I got started when they were first coming out.

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