A LIZARD, A CATERPILLAR, AND A DUCHESS

Lynnette J. (NDM#271) (13 Posts)

Lynnette’s love of all things Disney grew out of the close connection it had to good times spent with her family. Whether that was loading up the car to go see the latest Disney film at the drive-in, watching World of Disney every Sunday night together, or pouring over the newest Grolier Disney book to show up in the mail, it always included time spent together. As a native Southern California girl, her family took yearly trips to Disneyland. Those memories gave her a greater love for the Magic that continues today. Lynnette is a mom of two, an elementary school teacher, and avid reader.


I have wanted to keep Alice the book separate from Alice the movie, but the last three chapters have just begged for comparison.  As I was reading along, images from the 1951 animated Technicolor marvel crept up into my brain and made me think, “that’s not the same…” or “oh, they kept that part.”  Were you feeling that way as you read, too?  Maybe it was just me.  Regardless, I felt I couldn’t have an honest discussion about the book without including some of Disney’s film adaptation.  It was really interesting to see which things were included, but even more interesting was how the film differs from the novel.

"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.

There are several differences in chapter four.  To begin with, the White Rabbit is late for the Duchess and not the Queen.  But similarities include the White Rabbit calling Alice “Mary Ann” and sending her to fetch his gloves.  Lizard Bill is still sent in to assist in Alice’s removal when she grows to giant size inside White Rabbit’s house.  Alice launches him with a swift kick out the chimney, but I had to add my own “Poor Bill” because the text didn’t have that line.  It is the White Rabbit who suggests burning down the house rather than the Dodo, and when they aren’t successful they try to stone her instead of continuing to burn it.  Of course, those pebbles turn into cakes allowing her a chance to eat some, shrink down, and make her escape.  A part that I felt unsure of why it was included in the text was Alice’s running into the puppy.  It seems out of place and he behaves as a normal puppy would.  Obviously, this was not included in the film.

In chapter five we find Alice meeting the Caterpillar.  This was the most familiar portion of the text so far.  Nearly all of the conversation that Alice has with Caterpillar is the same as in the movie, including that famous line “Who are you?”  I could just picture that pompous, blue creature smoking on his hookah and puffing the words into the air.  (Side note: this is a continuation of Alice’s struggle with her identity. She is continually being asked to define who she is and still isn’t sure.)  A difference here is in Alice reciting “Father William” instead of the Tweedles.  That poem, by the way, is a parody of the poem by Robert Southey.  Alice has indeed gotten the words mixed up as the original poem talks about how important it is to live in moderation.  Children in the Victorian era were required to memorize it.  You can tell Wonderland has started becoming part of her mind because she’s getting more and more discombobulated.  Another difference is the way Alice grows in the book when she eats the mushroom.  Her neck and head shoot up and she can’t see her shoulders.  This helps make the comment “serpent” from the Pigeon actually make sense.  In the film I always wondered why the bird said that to her.  She never looked like a serpent in the film, but she certainly does in the book!  (More identity issues here.  Pigeon asks Alice, “What are you?” and Alice stumbles over her answer.  She’s not even sure she’s a little girl.)

Chapter six had me scratching my head and saying, “What in the world?” That’s probably what animators were thinking when they left the majority of this chapter out of the movie.  Did you think it was just outrageous for the characters not to notice the chaos going on around them?  Plates, saucepans, and frying pans are flying around smacking into the Frog Footman, the Duchess, and her baby.  The Duchess is absolutely cruel to her child and that lullaby she sings to it? Whoa.  I did some searching and found that the lullaby is Carroll’s mockery of the Victorian poem “Speak Gently” by David Bates. This entire scene with the Duchess and Alice seems to be a sock in the eye to traditional Victorian society and its conventions.  Even manners-conscious Alice doesn’t seem to have a problem going along with all the shenanigans.  It’s so absurd that when the baby turns into a pig she doesn’t seem to see the craziness of it all.  Enter the Cheshire-Cat and the return to similarities between the novel and the film.  The Cheshire-Cat’s comments are nearly all the same as the film.  He explains that you have to be mad to even come to Wonderland and to stay, you have to accept it and remain mad.  And of course, he vanishes and reappears or fades away to nothing but his grin.  He also gives Alice directions to visit the Mad Hatter or March Hare which leads us into next week’s readings.

If it’s been a while since you’ve seen Walt Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, or –GASP– you’ve never seen it, get it out and watch it.  Compare for yourself how Carroll’s work is portrayed in the animated feature.  And if you want a treat, listen in to episode five of Disney Film Project’s podcast where they discuss Alice with special guest NDM 1, J.L. Knopp.  They have some pretty interesting insight into the characters, and they made me laugh along the way.  Don’t forget to let me know your thoughts about the book! And look for details of our monthly chat in next week’s post.

Reading for week three:  Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Chapters 7-9

Things to ponder:

  • Cheshire-Cat’s logic amongst the madness
  • Why doesn’t the puppy have any crazy characteristics like the other animals in Wonderland?
  • Did you catch additional wordplay and homophones?

Contributed by: Lynnette Johnson (NDM#271) Lynnette is the DDL Book of the Month Blogger.