- Alice’s Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture
In his introduction to Alice's Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture, Will Brooker acknowledges the complexities of his announced subject: "'Carroll' and 'Alice' and what they mean to us" (xvii). Citing Virginia Woolf's argument that Lewis Carroll and his Alice books are impossible to pin down—ever changing as we try to make sense of them—Brooker suggests that analyzing the countless "texts" growing out of the "cultural myths" associated with "Carroll" and "Alice" would be a nearly impossible task. Consequently, Brooker addresses "a small sample" of Alice-related "texts" produced between 1990 and 2003, dividing them into nine categories—biographies of Carroll, newspaper and magazine articles, literary criticism, illustrations, fiction, film, videogames, fan clubs, and museums/theme parks (xv). Additionally, he focuses on "two contemporary traces of two specific discourses around Carroll and 'Alice'." In the first, "Carroll is a sainted innocent, his books are joyous nonsense and Alice is his muse," while in the second, "Carroll is a paedophile [sic], his books are dark allegories, and Alice is his obsession" (xv). Unfortunately, Brooker's narrow focus and thesis prevent him from saying much that is original or insightful about the meaning of either Carroll or Alice in popular culture.
I am not suggesting that this study has no redeeming qualities. Readers with little prior knowledge of Alice imitations and adaptations may enjoy some of Brooker's thick description of contemporary Alice texts. However, scholarly readers may conclude that Alice's Adventures: Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture is a little like the "Caucus-race" in Carroll's Wonderland—a circular journey leaving participants with the question, "But who has won?"
Most of Lewis Carroll in Popular Culture follows a formula established in the first two chapters. In "The Many Lives of Lewis Carroll," Brooker begins his quest to discover Carroll's place in popular culture by examining some of the many biographies about him. He begins by discussing three "early" biographies of Carroll (actually published in the 1940s and 1950s). According to Brooker, Florence Becker Lennon's Lewis Carroll (1947) and Alexander Taylor's The White Knight (1952) generate an image of Alice Liddell as "Carroll's lost love, his unattainable infatuation" (3), while Derek Hudson's Lewis Carroll (1954) tries to return "Carroll to his original status as an almost totally sexless innocent" (3). All three of these biographies, Brooker contends, contain factual errors that [End Page 304] have been perpetuated by later writers. Having set up two conflicting images of Carroll, Brooker then analyzes six biographical texts, discussing their treatment of four specific subjects: Carroll's first Alice stories, told during an outing with the Liddell sisters; his subsequent estrangement from the Liddell family; his diary entries pleading for "divine forgiveness"; and his photography of nude children.
Because Brooker explores each of these topics separately it is difficult to keep straight the perspectives of individual biographers, other than to agree with Brooker's simplistic conclusion that "they present an unwieldy bundle of ideas about who Carroll might have been: variations, contradictions, different tellings of the same story" (43). Apparently, some biographies, such as Christina Bjork and Inga-Karin Erickson's The Story of Alice in Her Oxford Wonderland (1994) and Michael Bakewell's Lewis Carroll: A Biography (1996), perpetuate romanticized and erroneous myths about the "Golden Afternoon" when the fictional Alice first journeyed to Wonderland, while others, such as Morton Cohen's Lewis Carroll: A Biography (1995), suggest "the possibility that Carroll's relationship with children involved unrealized sexual aspects as well as emotional and spiritual pleasures" (43).
Chapter 2, "The Man in the Paper Hat," looks at representations of Carroll in contemporary popular magazines and newspapers. Brooker examines seventy-seven articles, mostly British and all generated through the LexisNexis electronic database. In his subsequent analysis, Brooker argues that these articles mirror the "twin contemporary readings" of Carroll—either romanticizing him or perpetuating the notion that he was a pedophile (53). Here, Brooker concludes that the "idea that Alice had adult overtones and a dark heart...