Alice Liddell, the “Alice” in Alice in Wonderland, photographed by C.L. Dodgson (a.k.a. Lewis Carroll).
Two new essays, both pegged on Tim Burton’s Alice, each taking subtly different (though hardly contrariwise!) angles of analytical attack.
In the Las Vegas Weekly, I’ve published “What’s inside the hatter? The surprising significance of the top hat, in Alice and other wonderlands.” It’s a meditation on the deeper meanings of the Mad Hatter and his hat, featuring a lengthy digression on the social history of the top hat.
Consciously or not, Tim Burton hints that the Mad Hatter is [Alice author C.L.] Dodgson’s funhouse-mirror reflection. His Hatter has CGI doll-eyes, larger than life and slightly cockeyed for that zany effect; Dodgson’s eyes were asymmetrical. And he always wore a top hat. Depp reads his character as “hypersensitive”; Dodgson was painfully sensitive in social situations, grateful for any little kindness, acutely conscious of slights. Depp’s Hatter needs “to travel into another state, another personality, to be able to survive,” the actor says. Dodgson, too, lived a double life. He was chloroform in the classroom, a humorless bore tripped up by his stutter. In the company of the beautiful “little misses” he worshipped as icons of innocence, however, his stammering vanished and he morphed “into another state, another personality,” transforming into a charming joke-teller and talespinner of endless ingenuity. His dean’s daughter Alice Liddell was one such girl; for her, he free-associated the story that would later become Alice in Wonderland, dreaming it out loud as they rowed along the river on a drowsy summer’s day.
Over at True/Slant, I’ve posted “Coming of Age in Wonderland: Burton’s Alice, Depp’s Hatter, Carroll’s Dreamchild,” a related, yet far from redundant, essay, theorizing Depp’s Hatter as one of the “beautiful boys” (bishonen) in Japanese manga (graphic novels) for teenage girls, and tying that analytical thread around the tweenage-girl cult that worships Johnny Depp and Carroll’s own obsession with 10-year-old girls such as Alice Liddell.
“Tarted up with bruise-purple eyeshadow and grenadine-red lipstick,
Depp’s Hatter is an emo-punk dream of adorable weirdness, packaged for the Hot Topic shopper. He’d totally let you give him a celebrity makeover, and when he looks at Alice with those lost-puppy eyes and says, “Why is it you’re always too small or too tall?,” you just know he’s talking to you. That’s why Avril Lavigne—and every tweenage girl in the audience—wants to have tea with him (as Lavigne does in the video for her song “Alice”), not Wasikowska’s palely loitering Alice.”
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, a.k.a. Lewis Carroll.