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on February 6, 2008 at 10:27:49 pm

Alice Adaptation Project


Team Members: Salman Bakht, Robin Chin, Sarah Harris, Rama Hoetzlein



As a group, we propose to consider the general theme of "rules" - their construction ("making") and destruction ("breaking") - in relation to various cross-media adaptations of Lewis Carroll's famous nineteenth century children's book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Having identified the relationships between rules and their absence, between structure / system and human expression, and between distant and close reading as primary themes in this class, we will investigate the hypothesis that the history of literature and artistic expression can be thought of in terms of an increasing willingness to "break the rules," so to speak. In reading, for example, a systems view may be thought of as formalized study of the rule-breaking in literature by way of analysis, but one which also introduces its own rules that miss some of the complexities of writing. In our project, we plan to consider this dichotomy further as a recurring theme in literature, and in Alice in Wonderland in particular.


Our study will cover several different aspects of rules. We first propose to examine rules across different media by looking at a select number of adaptations of Alice; specificaly, the original two Alice texts, the 1951 Disney film, Jan Svankmajer's 1988 film, and American McGee's 2000 Alice computer game. Second, we will consider the many different types of rules which are broken in Alice in Wonderland, such as rules of etiquette, rules of physicality, and rules of logic. We will also look at the relationship between rule breaking and cyclical processes in the various texts of Alice. Finally, in our own methodology, we hope to eventually create our own set of rules for systematic anaysis, in order to examine meaning across the various adaptations of Alice. The goal of our methodology is, to the degree possible, to formalize the breaking-of-rules in Alice so that we can make sense of them on a new level. If we're fortunate, however, the end result will be to break all our own rules in the process.


Source List

Print texts(s):

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865) - (E-Book) (Audiobook (LibriVox))

Through the Looking-Glass (Lewis Carroll, 1871) - (E-Book) (Audiobook (LibriVox))


Film text(s):

Alice in Wonderland (Disney, 1951)

Neco z Alenky, aka Alice (Dir. by Jan Svankmajer, 1988, 1990)


Video game text(s):

American McGee's Alice (Designed by American McGee, 2000) - (Opening Scene (YouTube)) (Cut Scenes (YouTube))


Synopses of Original Sources

First published in 1865, Lewis Carroll's Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is an unusual work of Victorian juvenile fiction in which the main character, a seven year-old girl named Alice, finds herself lost in a confusing if amusing “wonderland” of anthropomorphic creatures, puzzling linguistic problems, and general nonsense. Having entered the realm accidentally by falling down a rabbit-hole in the text's early pages, Alice finds herself involved in a series of odd situations – many of them vaguely or explicitly perilous – each of which brings her slowly closer to the literal and metaphorical “heart” of the curious land: a ridiculously corrupt croquet match hosted by the belligerent Queen of Hearts herself. Alice’s strange adventures come to an end only when she finally grows up - again, literally and metaphorically - and pronounces aloud the existence of the heretofore suspended reality that contradicts the whimsy and inconsistency of Wonderland. Just as the violated realm begins abruptly to collapse upon her, Alice is awoken by her older sister, to whom she tells the story of her curious dream.


In Through the Looking-Glass (1871), the sequel to Carroll's 1865 text, Alice again manages to cross the imaginative border into a Wonderland - this time more deliberately, by climbing through a drawing room mirror into the "looking-glass room" on the other side. Once within this mirror world of appropriately backwards words and logic, Alice discovers its layout to be that of a giant chessboard - a nod to game play which resonates well with the (albeit looser) card game theme of the previous Alice text. Excited by this revelation, Alice proceeds to "play" the Wonderland game by taking over the open role of a white pawn, and moves through its various "squares" in the hopes of becoming a powerful queen like the Red and White Queen characters whom she encounters. She succeeds eventually in this royal ambition; however, instead of feeling satisfied by her new position as Queen Alice, Alice finds herself overwhelmed by the never-ending chaos of the Looking-Glass court. Soon her frustrations get the better of her manners, at which point she brings her own celebratory dinner to a crashing halt. As with the first novel, Alice mysteriously grows up in this crucial moment, which allows her to take hold of the now diminutive Red Queen character and shake her "into a kitten." In completing this act, however, Alice is surprised to discover that the queen is nothing but one of her own kittens after all, and that the dreamy Looking-Glass world has disappeared around her once more.


Synopses of Adapted Sources

Disney's "Alice in Wonderland" (1951) is an animated film adaptation combining elements from "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking-Glass". The film, which targets a family audience, focuses on the use of whimsical visual elements and music (with over a dozen songs included in the 75 minute film). The film is likely the most well-known adaptation of the Alice novels, with its presence in American popular culture even overshadowing that of the original works.


"Alice" (1988), directed by Jan Švankmajer, adapts the Alice novels to film, combining live action and stop motion animation to create a dark wonderland. His mixture of cacophonous textures, soundscapes and shot compositions create a distinct style in this adaptation, where extreme close-ups of Alice's mouth intermittently narrate the story.  Also noteworthy is Švankmajer's incorporation of violence into Wonderland as well as his oscillation between 2-D and 3-D spatial configurations.


American McGee's Alice (2000) is a puzzle/third person shooter video game adapted from the Alice novels. The game acts as a sequel to the novels, set several years after the events of "Through the Looking-Glass". During this time, Alice has been residing in an insane asylum, becoming catatonic after witnessing the death of her parents. At the start of the game, the White Rabbit again leads Alice to Wonderland. Alice finds the world to be a much darker world than the one she entered as a child. The residents of Wonderland see her as a savior who will free them from slavery and the despotic rule of the Queen of Hearts.


Reasons for Choosing Sources

As two texts published just after the height of the Victorian Age - an era in British history often characterized by its general concern with "rules" and social propriety - both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass are striking for their respective, incredibly inventive means of referencing (and reversing) other nineteenth century cultural texts, from parlour games and nursery rhymes to famous and respected works of "high" art. Carroll, by playing with these different media and incorporating them into his literary texts, set an example for later authors to follow with regards to the incredible value in flexing the boundaries of the written word, and using this to venture into new imaginative categories of written thought and meaning. However, while Carroll certainly stretches many of "the rules" within his Alice texts, one cannot but notice that his works continue simultaneously to accept, if not promote, other levels of formal or informal limitation - some even borrowed unnecessarily from the same "adapted" texts mentioned previously. For these early internal complexities among other reasons, our group has chosen Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass as the base texts for its investigation of "rules" and literary and artistic expression.


Project Ideas

To investigate (1) ways in which even a somewhat surrealist or nonsensical text like Alice in Wonderland contains a system of rules present in the narrative and formal structures; and (2) how the careful maintenance and breakage of these rules functions to move the story forward.


To analyze written, film ,and game texts of Alice as distinct systems of rules that share commonalities, yet are each distinguishable in particular ways, as each text's formal and narrative structure depends on authorship/author aesethetics, technology and social milieu.


Links to Tools (for entire class)

aiSee http://www.aisee.com/download
IBM Many Eyes http://services.alphaworks.ibm.com/manyeyes/home
Graphviz http://www.graphviz.org
Quanta http://www.rchoetzlein.com/quanta



Primary Sources:

Carroll, Lewis. The Annotated Alice: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass. Ed. by Martin Gardner. New York:Bramhall House, 1960.

Geronimi, Clyde, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske. Alice in Wonderland. 75 min., color. Burbank: Walt Disney Productions, 1951.

McGee, American. Alice. Video game. ...

Svankmajer, Jan. Alice. 84 min., color. New York: First Run Features, 1990.


Secondary Sources

Laurel, Brenda. "Computers as Theatre." The New Media Reader. Eds. Nick Monfort and Noah Wardrip-Fruin. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2003.

Moretti, Franco. Graphs, Maps, Trees. New York: Verso, 2005.

Salen, Katie and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004.

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