Imagine an anthropomorphic white rabbit leading you into his underground hole. As you fall down deep, you hit a door with a talking doorknob. Behind it lies a world where nothing is what it seems. The fact that everything you eat and drink will make you smaller or bigger is not helping either. The only creature that seems to be willing to help you is a talking cat, and on top of that, the Queen of Hearts decided it’s “off with your head!” All very adult issues at the least, I would say.
I had just popped my “Alice in Wonderland”-cherry in Ice Auditorium, and I was overwhelmed. This clumsy first time with young and modern Tim Burton had answered questions, but raised others that could only be answered by a new partner. And so I approached a much older and more experienced male.
Surely English author Lewis Caroll was poking fun at the moralistic novels so common in his time, when he published his novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” in 1865. The tale’s play with logic and multiple wordplays made the story popular with adults as well as children. It encouraged readers to use their imagination and follow creative rational pathways. Where had Lewis Caroll picked up this wisdom? LSD had not been around yet during that time, but was the mushroom fed to Alice inspired by the immemorial magic mushroom? Doctors prescribed opium as a medicine easily at that time, but Caroll’s diaries do not mention any drug use once.
Apparently the writer of this fairytale passed away a little while ago, leaving my questions unanswered. As I moved on, wealth caught my eye and I started seeing mister Walt Disney (unfortunately, also dead). He produced his animated “Alice in Wonderland” movie in 1951. Was his “Alice”-movie intentionally about a drug trip then? It would not surprise me, as naughty Walt had educated his young fans about taboos before: In the Lion King the petals that ascend into the air as Simba lies down in the grass seem to spell the word “SEX”, and the old priest in “The Little Mermaid” has been pointing out to having an erection under his robe.
If the story is a reference to one drug trip after another, including a caterpillar smoking hookah while sitting on a mushroom with magic powers, I still do not know, but it is not what is important either. What made “Alice in Wonderland” – new and old – such a good movie is the lack of a real plot, so that the audience can truly focus on the fun that imagination and playing with language can cause.
Doris ter Horst
Columnist Doris ter Horst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo courtesy of RCA
Video courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures