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The Enduring Power of Lewis Carroll’s Classic

Sheep and Alice row a boat in Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by John Tenniel

On July 4, 1862, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Rev. Robertson Duckworth, and the three young daughters of Henry Liddell (Lorina, Alice, and Edith) rowed a boat from Oxford to Godstow. On that leisurely afternoon boat ride , Charles made up some silly stories about a bored little girl named Alice and her search for adventure. The girls loved the stories, and Alice (the real Alice, not the one in the story) asked Dodgson to write them down for her.

On November 26, 1864, Dodgson made good on his promise and gave Alice a handwritten copy of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, complete with illustrations. A year later (and after a few changes to the text), Dodgson published the book, under the pen name Lewis Carroll, with the illustrations by artist Sir John Tenniel, as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (later Alice in Wonderland). The rest is history.

The tea party in Alice in Wonderland, illustrated by John Tenniel

Alice in Wonderland baffled the critics of its day because, unlike most literature of the Victorian Era, Carroll’s children’s book was not explicitly didactic. The nonsensical nature of the stories and deconstruction of well-known children’s lessons appealed to young and old audiences alike in fresh and exciting ways, leading to the book’s success. Later, Lewis Carroll continued the story of Alice in Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872) and The Hunting of the Snark (1876).

The story of Alice in Wonderland follows Alice as she chases the White Rabbit down a rabbit hole and finds many wondrous, often illogical adventures underground. She encounters many bizarre creatures on her journey including the Caterpillar, the Mock Turtle, and the infamous Queen. Her strange experiences with these characters culminates in the trial of the Knave of Hearts, who is accused of stealing the Queen’s tarts. Alice is called as a witness at the trial, but when the Queen declares Alice is to be beheaded, Alice wakes up and realizes her adventure was only a dream.

Today, adaptations of the story exist in almost every medium imaginable. There are hundreds of adaptions in over 90 languages—enough material to inspire scholarship and reimaginings all over the world. Given it’s playful setting and fascinating characters, film and television adaptions of Alice in Wonderland abound. These range from film history fascinations like the 1903 short film, to Disney’s 1951 classic and its 2010 collaboration with Tim Burton, to the 1983 international TV hit Fushi no Kuni no Alice. Tapping into the lyrical nature of Alice in Wonderland, operas and dance productions including Unsuk Chin’s 2007 operatic adaption and The Royal Opera House’s 2017 ballet  express the story’s curiosities in highly technical ways. Keeping with the fun and sometimes frightening themes of the story, video games and many popular manga titles explore the world of Wonderland. The many media used to tell the story prove the power this narrative holds over the modern imagination.

If you’re looking for a theatrical Alice, look no further than Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati’s Alice in Wonderland! Based on the adored original tale by Lewis Carroll, this modern retelling is the toe-tapping story of a lost girl, a cool cat, a wild hare, and the original “dancing queen.” Written by local playwright Joseph McDonough with music and lyrics by local composer David Kisor, this beloved musical will delight audiences of all ages this holiday season as Alice learns valuable lessons about friendship, personal responsibility, and growing up.

At the risk of sounding a little tart, we think it’s the best adaption yet!

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