"Alice's Adventures under Ground" [Original Title]

Alice's Adventures under Ground [Original Title]

Alice’s Adventures under Ground is the original title of Lewis Carroll’s first “Alice book,” a children's book for adults published in 1865 about the "mental derangement" among "the afflicted" in English society. Carroll's opus is a stinging satire on characters in British society, set in a "demented" underworld as seen through the lens of London's Lunacy Commission. The book's title morphed from its original, earthy "under Ground" into its euphemistic replacement "Wonderland," as in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. In 1951, Disney's animated film Alice In Wonderland shortened the title to three words and whitewashed Lewis Carroll's underground asylum by casting Carroll's crazy characters, as if they had starring roles in Disney's fairytales Cinderella and Snow White.

 Original cover and title Alice's Adventures under Ground

Carroll's first choice,“under Ground,” is the best title. It is earthy, scary, dark, even dirty. Deep in the underground, Alice encounters a cast of dysfunctional characters––Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, a pipe-smoking caterpillar, Red Queen, Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledum, and Tweedledee––all surviving in a dystopian world of conundrums and contradictions. Hardly a “wonderland!” 

The word “wonderland” is defined in the dictionary as an imaginary place "of delicate beauty" or "magical charm," a place that excites "admiration or wonder," "a scenic place." Alice's trip into the underground can hardly be described with those definitions. Alice stumbled into some "Otherland," which is 180 degrees opposite to the dictionary's flowery definition of the word "Wonderland." Alice’s dream is a nightmare, not a lullaby. Alice’s adventure is a trip into an asylum, not into a “place of delicate beauty.”

Lewis Carroll dreams up a cast of wacky characters, each suffering from one or more mental disorders. The author paints Alice into an imaginary, upside-down world, where time runs backward and insanity is accepted as normal.

"Lewis Carroll" is the pen name of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who, educated at Oxford, was a professor of mathematics and logic in mid-nineteenth century England. The famous author held a “fascination with mental derangement" and studied the "afflicted" with his uncle, who was secretary of the Lunacy Commission and was killed by an asylum patient.

The author’s stories, Alice's Adventures under Ground and Through the Looking Glass, are more than simple children's books. Carroll explores mental illness, time, space, and logic. The conservative professor elevates mid-nineteenth century children's literature into new realms. He satirizes English culture, twists the meaning of words, and sprinkles contradictions into a world of nonsense. Truly Looney!

For more than one hundred and fifty years, book reviewers and psychologists have been attempting to diagnose the psychological disorders of Carroll's fictional characters.

"We're all mad here," is the most recognized quote from Carroll's underground. The famous or infamous phrase is the affirmation of Cheshire Cat, who also said, "I'm not crazy. My reality is just different from yours." The Cat indicted Alice, telling her, "You are also mad." Current psychology pundits diagnose Alice with schizophrenia for talking to a disappearing cat and a hookah-smoking caterpillar.

Mad Hatter [Notice: name is "Mad") suffers a borderline personality disorder (BPD). He asks Alice, "Why is it you're always too small or too tall?" He also laments, "I can't go no lower. I'm on the floor, as it is."

Tweedledum and Tweedledee are pegged with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). "Contrariwise," affirms Tweedledee, "if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic." 

Red Queen? She rules from the throne of her narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). "Off with her head." Her subjects are objects. "Off with their heads."

And, White Rabbit? He's not in the underground when Alice meets him. He starts in her world, then leads her on their adventure through Carroll's under Ground." Jangling his oversized, pocket watch, White Rabbit speeds around, announcing, "I'm late. I'm late. For a very important date." It is easy to diagnose his general anxiety disorder (GAD)?

What about the dope-smoking Caterpillar? His obvious substance use disorder (SUD) devolves into delusions of grandeur (DOG). The three-inch tall, blue caterpillar, rearing itself upright proclaimed, "Three inches is a very good height indeed." He is the one who advises Alice to eat one side of the mushroom. One side? The little worm tells her, "One side will make you grow larger and one side will make you grow small."

How did Lewis Carroll's macabre funny-farm evolve (or, devolve?) into a beloved cast of nursery rhyme characters? Walt Disney can be lauded or blamed for sugar-coating Carroll’s madhouse in the 1951 Disney animation––Alice in Wonderland. Hollywood's Technicolor film recasts Carroll’s mentally "deranged" psychos into cuddly characters for kids to take to bed at night to ward off nightmares. What the Hollywood studio fails to expose to Alice's fans is that Disney's cuddly characters are reincarnations of Lewis Carroll's crazy cast.

The themes of the Alice story are identity, discovery, and growth, even when surrounded by chaos. Alice asks, "Who in the world am I?" Alice not only grows ten feet tall, she manages to mature as a result of her adventures in the under Ground. She exits the underground more grown up than when she first stumbled into the hare hole. It was all a dream. Alice's dream. Lewis Carroll's dream, Disney's dream. The underground's dream. Now, if you wish, it can be your dream.