“Johnny Depp has made it cool to like Alice,” was Miss Alice Llandudno Nicol Thompson’s answer to my question — Why do children today still love Alice in Wonderland? With Johnny Depp’s 3-D visual spectacle of a movie currently standing at a worldwide gross of $1,024,299,904, I suspect he made Alice in Wonderland very cool for a lot of Disney executives too.
But what about serious Carroll fans? How do they view Disney’s 21st-century technological efforts to keep the legacy “cool”?
“Despite the errors and license used by Disney in the story, it is Disney that continues to bring Aliceto the children of today,” comments Lewis Carroll Society member Keith Wright (Chairman and Editor, Daresbury Chronicle). “Tim Burton’s Alice, although not an Alice that Lewis Carroll would recognize, did contain the Wonderland characters and used some of the text from the books.”
Lewis Carroll (aka Charles Dodgson) wrote his Alice books for children. His inspiration for Alice, namely Alice Liddell, is the focus of a magnificent 160th birthday celebration in Llandudno, Wales on May 4, 2012.
“Charles Dodgson was a man who enjoyed teaching children; he liked a child with an inquiring mind but he was not a disciplinarian,” adds Wright. And Alice Liddell was indeed a child with an inquiring mind. Her favorite expression was “Let’s pretend,” and so it didn’t take long for her to become Mr. Dodgson’s favorite child. She adored the fun escape an undisciplined teacher offered in the disciplined world of Victorian life at Christ Church, Oxford during the mid 19th century. Mr. Dodgson would take Alice and her siblings on fun outings, which always included exciting storytelling. The most famous outing of all is the one credited with Dodgson’s first full telling ofAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This took place on Friday, July 4, 1862. Soon after hearing the story, young Alice pestered Mr. Dodgson to write it down for her. Thanks to Alice’s persistence, Mr. Dodgson (who had never written down any of his amazing tales) finally did create the book and presented it to her as an early Christmas gift on Nov. 26, 1864. The book, which took Dodgson 18 months to finish, and which he originally called Alice’s Adventures Underground, was handwritten and hand-illustrated by him.
Miss Alice Llandudno, Nicol Thompson
Over 145 years later, artists and creators are still reaping huge rewards from adapting Lewis Carroll’s classic books for every form of media and for each new generation of audiences. Tim Burton and Disney opted to update the story so that it would be “cool” for today’s younger movie going audience. But how do literary societies such as the Lewis Carroll Society, which strive to preserve Carroll’s classics in their original format, feel about staying “cool” in terms of appealing to younger fans?
“There is no doubt that literary societies in the UK have their backs to the wall,” explains Keith Wright. The younger generations do not join literary societies. They see them as elitist organizations, which does not help. Meetings containing research papers are not accessible to a generation brought up on getting their knowledge in a fairly unchallenging way — that is via TV or the Internet.”
Mr. Wright is a good friend and in ways a teacher to Miss Alice Llandudno, Nicol Thompson, who admits she prefers “reading the book to watching the films.”
There are currently Alice weekends in many towns around England supported by the Lewis Carroll Society, including Oxford (where the book was born), Lyndhurst in Hampshire (where Alice Liddell lived after she was married), Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge, and of course Llandudno in Wales (where Alice Liddell vacationed with her family), which is preparing for its commemorative Alice affair on May 4, 2012. All these towns attempt to appeal to fans both young and old.
Llandudno has historically enjoyed a healthy tourist trade thanks to its connection to Alice Liddell. This connection grew stronger in the 1970s when local residents Muriel Ratcliffe and her husband Murray began to consider an idea for an Alice adventure.
The couple found a basement in a property in the town that was damp and often flooded. With the help of local tradesmen, they created and launched the Rabbit Hole. The Rabbit Hole tourist attraction complete with life-size models of the book’s characters remained very popular with tourists from 1990 until Muriel Ratcliffe decided to retire in 2009.
At this point the content was put up for sale and was purchased by entrepreneurs and owners of Alice In Wonderland Ltd., Barry Mortlock and Simon and Eileen Burrows.
Much like the approach taken by Burton and Disney, Mortlock and the Burrows saw an opportunity to build a bigger and grander Alice adventure, utilizing cutting edge technology to create a 21st-century experience that was both modern and educational for children of all ages.
They worked with local government to conceptualize a Llandudno Alice Trail, which would utilize key locations around the town, including a popular tourist spot known as Happy Valley.
“The upcoming Alice Day is an excellent opportunity to reaffirm the connection that Llandudno has with Alice, and also with the Alice Trail that the County and Town Councils have funded to be built in the town. This will feature sculptures, a giant pocket watch and a new bandstand in Happy Valley, which will have the various characters from the stories cast into it. We already have a Cheshire Cat in the Happy Valley!” says Llandudno’s Mayor, Greg Robbins.
Mortlock and the Burrows will continue development over the summer with a young creative team of 3D artists and technical wizards. Their big picture concept? A visual spectacle such as has never been seen before in any other attraction in the UK.
So what might Alice Liddell have said about these creative upgrades to her favorite story in her summer vacation town?
I don’t know for sure of course. I do know Alice was a talented artist herself whose favorite expression as a child was “Let’s pretend.” Hence I like to imagine she might be thinking “Cool!”
Photos courtesy of Alice In Wonderland Ltd. and Keith Wright
C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, “The Global Search for Education” and “How Will We Read?” She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland.
Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@cmrubinworld
The Sisters (1864) by Sir William Blake Richmond can be seen at the Alice In Wonderland exhibit at Tate Liverpool (Photo courtesy of Tate Images)
What does the Queen of Welsh resorts, the town of Llandudno in Wales (3 hours on a direct train from the city of London), have to do with Alice in Wonderland?
In the summer of 1864, Alice Liddell (Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice in Wonderland) and her two sisters, Lorina (who inspired the Lory) and Edith (who inspired the Eaglet), posed for up to ten hours a day while the distinguished English artist, Sir William Blake Richmond, created one of his most famous paintings, called The Sisters. The painting of the three Liddell sisters set against the background of the Great Orme, Llandudno’s famous mountain, is one of the highlights of the Tate Liverpool’s Alice in Wonderland exhibition. Sir William Blake Richmond painted the portraits of the most prominent people of the day. The Sisters, well received by the art critics of the day, was regarded by Richmond as a milestone in his career. Sir William had this to say about Alice Liddell:
“Little Alice, to whose pretty face and lovely coloring no reproduction can do justice, is seen on the right in profile, peering at the big volume on her sister’s lap.”
The group scene with the Hatter, Alice, King of Hearts, Tweedles and Caterpillar(Photo courtesy of Alice In Wonderland Ltd.)
When my daughter and I were creating our book, The Real Alice in Wonderland, about our relative Alice Liddell, we spent time researching Llandudno’s long connection to Alice Liddell and her family. Alice’s father, Henry Liddell (who inspired the White Rabbit), his wife Lorina, and the governess Miss Pricks (who inspired the Queen of Hearts) came to Llandudno for family vacations. It was here that the Liddell family built their large, gothic styled vacation home, which they called Penmorfa. Many famous celebrities of the day, including Prime Minister William Gladstone, came to visit them. As the Alice in Wonderland books became more famous, Alice Liddell also became a celebrity. Tourists wanted to enjoy beautiful Llandudno, perfectly situated on the western shores of Wales, and learn more about the story behind one of the greatest children’s stories of all time. In time, the town offered related tourist attractions, including an Alice trail, a Wonderland store and a Rabbit Hole attraction conceived by residents Muriel and Murray Ratcliffe that recreated Alice book scenes with life-size robotic characters. Eventually, Penmorfa was converted into a grand hotel. Around the turn of the 21st century, some attractions began to disappear for a number of reasons, including insufficient traffic to support the upkeep of some of the historical sights that celebrated Llandudno’s important connection to the Alice in Wonderland story.
All that is about to change just in time for two important anniversaries related to the Alice books: July 4, 2012, the 150th anniversary of the first telling of the story to Alice Liddell, and November 26, 2015, the 150th anniversary of the first publication of the book.
The Directors of Alice In Wonderland Ltd., Barry Mortlock and Simon Burrows, have purchased the Rabbit Hole content from Llandudno resident Muriel Ratcliffe, the owner of 20 years. They have launched a new Wonderland website to offer the finest Alice in Wonderland collectibles from around the world, http://www.wonderland.co.uk, and to act as portal to communicate new Alice initiatives underway in Llandudno. The team is working closely with the local County Council to bring an updated Alice trail to Llandudno. It will be a walking trail with 10-12 key places of interest that will depict the connection of Alice to the town. The new age trail will feature high tech interactive activities and will be open to the public in fiscal 2013/2014. Llandudno’s existing railway station is also undergoing a major redevelopment. It will become the start of the trail. Mortlock and Burrows’ coffee shop, currently housed within the town’s large Waterstone’s book store, is also being revamped “Alice style”, which no one will be able to miss since it will be the final watering hole at the end of the Wonderland trail. Muriel Ratcliffe will stay involved in their plans to bring the strong Alice connection back to the town of LLandudno. Ratcliffe explains, “I get phone calls and emails to this day asking if the attraction is still open.”
The Queen of Hearts (Photo courtesy of Alice In Wonderland Ltd.)
I had the opportunity to chat with Barry and Simon about their “Alice of Llandudno” project:
Why do you believe what you are doing is so important to Llandudno, Wales, and to the rest of the “Alice” loving world?
Llandudno is a beautiful Victorian seaside resort that is full of character and has charmed visitors, young and old, for many years. It is a lovely part of the world with the stunning Snowdonia National Park and World Heritage sites nearly. It also plays an important role in telling the story of the young Alice Liddell who was the inspiration behind the books. Alice’s parents honeymooned in Llandudno and stayed in one of the beautiful hotels whilst their holiday home (Penmorfa) was being built. The family spent many summers in Llandudno and they must have shared some stunning sunsets since the house had magnificent views. Alice Liddell is important to Wales. She is a Llandudno celebrity, having graced our shores with her presence. Her story needs to be told to the world and remembered. The charm of the book, Alice’s personal story, and the charm of the resort go hand in hand.
The White Rabbit (Photo courtesy of Alice In Wonderland Ltd.)
Why do you think Alice in Wonderland continues to be so inspiring to generation after generation?
We think the fact that the story of Alice in Wonderland has a fascinating story behind it makes it all the more inspiring. We are intrigued by the story behind the book and have a genuine interest in the lives of the real people involved. In our daily crazy worlds, we occasionally need some escapism from reality. Alice in Wonderland is a story that takes us into a different dimension; it stimulates, feeds and drives the imagination. There are no boundaries, no religion, and no discrimination; we are free to let our imaginations run wild; anything impossible can become possible. As a child, we know no boundaries; with a vivid imagination, all things seem possible. It is the boundaries and walls we put in place that make things impossible! Break down the boundaries, tear down the walls, feed your imagination, and you get Alice in Wonderland……………..!
Simon Burrows, C. M. Rubin and Barry Mortlock
C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, “The Global Search for Education” and “How Will We Read?”. She is also the author of three bestselling books, including “The Real Alice in Wonderland.”
Follow C. M. Rubin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@cmrubinworld