8/4/18

"Alice's Adventures under Ground" Original Title


Alice's Adventures under Ground - Original Cover
[Notice: "under" starts with a small "u"]

Alice’s Adventures under Ground is the original title of Lewis Carroll’s first “Alice book,” whose title was to become Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Under Ground” is a better title. It is earthy, musty, dark, even dirty. In the underground, Alice encounters a cast of dysfunctional characters––an anxious White Rabbit, a disappearing Cheshire cat, a pipe-smoking caterpillar, and their friends––surviving in a dystopian world of contradictions, conundrums, and chaos. 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." Contrary to the flowery definition of the word "wonderland" in the dictionary, 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 fills Alice's dream with a cast full of sick and wacky characters, each suffering from one or more mental disorders. The author drops Alice into his 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.

Twenty-first-century psychologists diagnose Carroll's characters with a wide range of mental disorders. "We're all mad here" is the famous phrase of the disappearing Cheshire cat. The Mad Hatter suffers from a borderline personality disorder (BPD). Tweedledee and Tweedledum, from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), and the Red Queen, from a narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). The White Rabbit manifests a general anxiety disorder (GAD). The caterpillar’s obvious substance use disorder (SUD) devolves into delusions of grandeur (DOG). The Cheshire Cat tells Alice, "You are also mad." She is diagnosed as a schizophrenic for talking to a disappearing cat and a hookah-smoking caterpillar.

How did Lewis Carroll's macabre funny-farm evolve into a beloved cast of nursery rhyme characters? Walt Disney can be blamed or lauded for sugar-coating Carroll’s madhouse into his 1951 Disney film––Alice in Wonderland. The Technicolor film recasts Carroll’s dark, mentally ill characters into cute, adorable, and cuddly dolls and toys for children to take to bed to ward off the boogies.

Lewis Carroll’s first Alice book is more than a children’s story. Carroll explores mental illness, space, time, 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.

The themes of the story are identity and growth. Alice asks, "Who in the world am I?" Alice not only grows ten feet tall, she matures from her adventures and exits the rabbit hole more grown up than when she first tumbled into the rabbit hole. It was all a dream. Alice's dream. Lewis Carroll's dream.