Like it or hate it, we who write fantasy stand under a long shadow.
Actually, we’re probably in a whole wilderness of shadows. Some get a lot of publicity—Tolkien, for instance, or Howard. Others, more remote but equally significant, hide in subtle obscurity (at least as far as we writers are often concerned)—Goethe, or Dante.
But one of the most inexplicable and powerful shadows stretches from the fastidious figure of an Oxford mathematician. Charles Dodgson, alias Lewis Carroll, wrote what is perhaps the Holy Grail of fantasy literature. Or at least the special cup.
Like it or not, Alice keeps reappearing.
The Alice books have tempted filmmakers and playwrights for over a century. Walt Disney famously fell under their charm. More recently, several television producers and director Tim Burton have attempted film retellings. It’s a deep bow, as it were, to the nervous don who gave us the genre as it is today.
Travis Prinzi, in an excellent review of Burton’s film at The Hog’s Head, discusses in some detail the archetypal centre of Carroll’s work. What, precisely, is the difference between dreaming and waking? Does something have to be ‘outside’ our heads to be ‘real’? Whose dream is it, anyway?
The riotous nuance of Carroll’s two worlds—Wonderland and Looking-Glass World—defy simplistic explanation. Every dreamlike nonsense sequence is built on its own plane of logic. Every absurd conversation has eerie parallels in normal conversation. Every whimsical question Alice asks in her bewilderment has roots in the deepest reaches of philosophy.
(Except, of course, for the bits that are just hysterical fun. Enjoy figuring out which is which…)
These complexities may forever frustrate filmmakers. But the fascination with the books may forever continue.
So it’s really not too surprising to discover that Alice is now chamber music.
Art of Élan has announced the world premiere of ‘ALICE: Re-imagining Wonderland through Music, Dance and Spoken Word’. This April, the San Diego ensemble will collaborate with the Colette Harding Contemporary Dance Company to perform Joe Hallman’s musical retelling of Carroll’s nonsensical Sangreal.
According to the official press release:
this modern depiction of the classic Lewis Carroll story will […] shed new light on Alice and her adventures, revealing the tale of a girl coming into maturity through a journey that mixes both reality and fantasy.
This adventure into fantasy typifies Art of Élan’s exploration of music. Their 09-10 season has explored the synchronicity of music, visual arts, and fantasy, drawing inspiration from fantasy works from masters such as Picasso and Bouguereau. Their final concert of the season is appropriately names ‘Storytelling’.
In many ways, this is as it should be. It may, frankly, be impossible to recreate the narrative contours of Alice—or any fantasy masterpiece—on the screen. But the emotions of these stories—delight, puzzlement, wonder, a lingering sense of beauty and loss—these permeate the arts as a whole. Perhaps Alice deserves retelling in an entirely different art form.
If you’re in the San Diego area, please consider re-discovering Alice with Art of Élan. If not, consider—what would be the music of Wonderland—of golden afternoons and talking mice, of the place between dreaming and waking?
May the music will help you discover that inverted world of waking dreams with élan.
For tickets and concert information, visit www.artofelan.org. The contents of this post have in no way been commissioned, requested, or suggested by Art of Élan or their associates.
They probably don’t even know I’ve written this.