"English mathematician, writer and photographer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll (1832 - 1898) with Mrs George Macdonald and four children relaxing in a garden. (Photo by Lewis Carroll/Getty Images)" -- Image Date: 1/1/1862

Charles Dodgson, Lewis Carroll, and Alice: Adapting and Branding Wonderland

"Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."-Lewis Carroll
The legacy of Alice in Wonderland, and the lasting influence of Lewis Carroll's fantasy tale on society, culture, and media through its many adaptations is no small thing. In fact, a look at just some of the many versions of Carroll's world demonstrates how significant the original text has been in inspiring a wide variety of artistic reflections on Wonderland and the fantastic world of Lewis Carroll.

One of the more interesting aspects of Carroll's story was his intent to see the Alice character and his fantasy tale turn into a franchise of sorts and survive through not only the literature but also other media:

Apart from writing two influential children's books, Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, was an entrepreneur who pioneered literary branding . The Oxford don, much like J.K. Rowling today, was closely immersed in every aspect of a marketing and cross-branding operation that helped to establish his tales, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass, around the world. The first stage adaptation was in 1876, five years after Alice Through The Looking Glass was published. The exhibition's curator, Eleanor Clayton, said: "In the 1880s it [Alice] was on in London at Christmas every year." Alice memorabilia appeared "on biscuit tins, porcelain Cheshire cats, wallpaper and other fabric designs", she added
(Times United Kingdom 1)

Like other adapted materials, Alice's adventures changed as they were reimagined and reconsidered over time, but Carroll's focus on marketing and his attention to detail when presenting his characters to the public meant that even as his stories took different forms and mutated to take on the characteristics of different cultures, tastes, and times the main images would stay intact. From the rabbit leading Alice down the hole, to the diabolical Red Queen, even when the adaptations take great liberties with much of the story, these and other elements are still present.

Even in its first film adaptation, the 1903 silent film directed by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow, the characters are instantly identifiable and share characteristics with even the newest adaptations.

Disney's Alice in Wonderland
Of course, the most famous adaptation of Carroll's story is the 1951 Disney animated film. What is significant about Disney's Alice is that it managed to take the weird and nonsensical tale and make it acceptable and mainstream through its imagery and the depiction of the animated characters. The addition of musical numbers also helped to turn what was sometimes a dark and confusing story into something much sweeter. Disney's Alice is really a combination of Carroll's characters and a symbol of the times in the early fifties when American society was moving away from the normal and moving toward a radically new world full of unknowns, much like Alice's journey through the rabbit hole. The theme of two separate worlds is obvious in Alice adaptations.

The Darkening of Alice
While Disney's adaptation made Alice and her adventures safe for children, the most recent versions of the story have opted for a darker version focusing in on the themes of insanity, isloation, fear, and madness. These versions have also become more liberal with how the story is presented, but still, referring back to Carroll's marketing, the characters and the overarching themes are still there.

Using the classic Lewis Carroll books Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass as a jumping off point, writer/director Nick Willing has created the modern-day story of Alice Hamilton (Caterina Scorsone), a fiercely independent twenty-something who suddenly finds herself on the other side of a looking glass. She is a stranger in an outlandish city of twisted towers and casinos built out of playing cards, all under the rule of the deliciously devilish Queen of Hearts (Oscar winner Kathy Bates) who's not very happy about Alice's arrival. In the course of her adventure, Alice enlists the help of an array of characters including the resistance fighter Hatter (Andrew-Lee Potts), resistance leader Dodo (Tim Curry) and the White Knight (Matt Frewer). For this re-imagined adaptation, writer/director Nick Willing mines the bizarre ingenuity and twisted logic of Carroll's work to create a daringly different, boldly colorful and delightfully skewed dreamscape of his own (Syfy).

Even Disney's own live action re-imagining of Alice in Wonderland was darker and more twisted that their family-friendly 1951 version. Director Tim Burton, known for his eccentric visual style, took Carroll's characters and made them his own, and played with the conceptions of what Disney's interpretation of Alice in Wonderland should be.

Video game designer and artist American McGee darkened Wonderland even further with the original grim "Alice" PC game in 2000, and the 2011 sequel "Alice: Madness Returns." The games take the notion of Alice's journey as being not-so-pleasant and runs with it making the fantasy much more of a nightmare. Still, even among all of the horrific images and terrifying scenarios, Carroll's franchise still appear.


While Carroll's characters often maintain similarities, the transformation of Alice from innocent girl to anti-heroine, and in some cases, a sex-starved seductress can be seen in these comic book covers spanning from 2009-2011. In fact the introduction of sexuality and graphic violence into the story of Alice in Wonderland has led to increasingly darker and more lurid adaptations of the story. Are these adaptations of what was once an relatively innocent but strange child's story a reflection on our society, or are these adaptations a normal progression from innocence to maturity. Like Alice's journey down the rabbit hole into a strange and unknown world, the adaptations of her story continue to create their own universes and boundaries, which in some ways, is exactly what Wonderland should be about.

And following the progression to its inevitable end, Alice's journey into a strange and unknown world leads to a presentation of the character's psyche as a modern-day horror film complete with graphic violence, drug use, sexual content, and a postmodernist look at the fairy tale as an examination of our real mental instability.

Alice's journey from innocence to darkness and debauchery comes to its inevitable conclusion with a 2010 Alice adult film (and a number of similar xxx knockoffs). Still, even with the alterations, changes, twisting, and tweaking of Carrol's text, the core of Wonderland still remains which demonstrates that a great story with compelling characters is truly timeless

"Alice: About the Show." Syfy. N.p., 2011. Web. 18 Nov 2011. <>.
"How Lewis Carroll created the Alice brand."Times, The (United Kingdom) [London] 31 Oct 2011, 1. Web. 18 Nov. 2011. <>.