ALICE IN WONDERLAND – A NEW TAKE ON A CLASSIC
by Marina Petrova
Imagine Lewis Carroll’s Alice was not an innocent girl lost in Wonderland. Imagine she was instead a hormonal teenager with a propensity for violence. Like the original Alice though, she was confused and in a perpetual conflict with her own self. Carroll’s Alice, when she found herself in Wonderland, reacted to her bewilderment with quiet amazement and, at times, tears. In author Raul Contreras’s adaptation – Alice’s Bloody Adventures in Wonderland – the teen Alice does no such thing. After all, Contreras’s book starts with the White Rabbit murdering Alice’s sister and her cat Dinah in cold blood. This Alice, various weapons in her hands, muddles through a Wonderland run red, feeling angry, disoriented and doubting herself every step of the way. How did this dream turn violent? Contreras jumps down a rabbit hole with Honeysuckle to share how his Alice turned from a naïve girl into a bitter and vengeful combatant.
Marina Petrova: You seem to have a special relationship with Alice in Wonderland. Could you explain how it developed and why you decided to adapt the book?
Raul Contreras: I grew up in Washington DC in the 70s and my mother would take me with her to college. I was used to sitting at a table with an eclectic group of intellectuals and it influenced my tastes. Alice always had a special spot in my heart. Whenever I traveled, I always had a copy with me. I think Disney’s adaptation is one of the best ones – I could completely identify with Alice and the surreal nature of Wonderland. [Some years ago] I started looking into public domains and never found a film adaptation of Alice I thought was good. So I decided to try it. Then I heard that Tim Burton was working on his Alice film. It stopped me dead in my tracks – I figured his would be the ultimate version. I hate to say this, but his film was a disappointment to me. It only strengthened the dark images of Alice running through my subconscious.
I work in art departments in the film industry and also write screenplays. My screenplays tend to be dark, but with humor. Alice was originally a script. After seeing the Burton movie, I tore through my script using the visions in my head: the White Rabbit with a bloody sword, Tweedle Dee and Dum as Mexican banditos and the Mad Hatter with a Tommy gun. Once I was done, I knew it had to become a book. I have never written a book but I took my mother’s advice and wrote one page at a time. Alice just called to me. I knew I had to do it. The visions were so strong and it was the easiest and the hardest thing I had ever done. I was out of my comfort zone in every respect. That was daunting and exciting at the same time.
MP: The plot of this book closely follows the original. Why did you decide to leave the original plot fairly intact?
RC: The plot is very similar, but it’s not. I wanted to update the story by giving Alice a better focus and make her a more of an active participant in Wonderland than a passive observer. My story is the story of vengeance.
MP: In your version, Alice is a violent and sexualized teenager. The violence gives this tale almost a video game feeling. But the violence has a somewhat cartoonish quality. In other words, things are not quite real, only, unlike in the original tale, all innocence has been lost.
RC: You are right – the violence is cartoonish. When I first started the book, I thought it was going to be pure horror. But that idea bored me: it wasn’t the path I wanted to take. I decided to go with a more Shakespearean approach. There is a violent trigger (the murder of Alice’s sister and cat), followed by a journey of revenge and a violent ending.
MP: Your Alice is very sarcastic and self-deprecating. In fact, she knows she can give herself good advice but rarely follows it and she scolds herself severely for this. How (and why) did you create her this way?
RC: I saw Alice’s conflict being Wonderland itself. Her sarcasm, self-deprecation, intelligence and internal fears are set in contrast with the world around her, with its characters and landscape. Before Alice can focus and achieve her goal, she has to work through the jarring sense of it all. Plus, Alice is a classic dream tale. In dreams, our self-confidence and our fears tend to play off each other. I wanted to explore that conflict within Alice, the one between her confident self, ready to take action, and the self-doubt she constantly feels.
MP: Even with all cursing and violence in your version, the spell the original tale casts has been preserved. How did you manage to keep the magic in this rather adult world?
RC: An earlier draft had quite a lot and that just read wrong. But when I got rid of all the foul language, my editor hated it. She said “you took away her balls.” I tried for a happy medium and to be a bit more clever than using the F word.
MP: The illustrations portray the violent nature of this adaptation quite well. Could you talk a bit about Tweedle Guns, the local street artist who illustrated the book?
RC: Tweedle Guns is a friend who loves a challenge. He liked the idea of taking the classic illustrations by Sir John Tenniel and mutating them to fit my writing. He also liked that in my demented imagination I wanted Doctor Who to find my book, see the illustrations were off, and go back in time to find out what had happened. What if The Doctor was walking down the street and picked up a copy of my book from an outdoor bookstand? He flips through it, calls out a few facts, and notices that the illustrations are all wrong. Then, of course, he would be caught in a time vortex, sent straight to Wonderland and find himself in the clutches of the Queen of Hearts. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see The Doctor in conversation with the Mad Hatter?
MP: Sounds exciting. Maybe that could be your next book?
* Alice’s Bloody Adventures In Wonderland will be available in a new colour edition in June. *