A curiouser ‘Alice’
The rabbit hole is getting crowded again.
It’s been 144 years since Lewis Carroll introduced the world to an inquisitive girl named Alice, but her surreal adventures still resonate -- Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” arrives in theaters in March, and next month on Syfy it’s “Alice,” a modern-day reworking with a cast led by Kathy Bates and Tim Curry.
And then there’s “The Looking Glass Wars,” the series of bestselling novels by Frank Beddor that takes the classic 19th century children’s tale off into truly unexpected literary territory: the battlefields of epic fantasy. “ArchEnemy,” the third novel in the series that began in 2006, recently hit store shelves, as did a tie-in graphic novel called “Hatter M: Mad With Wonder.”
“It’s amazing how many directions it’s been taken in,” Beddor said of Carroll’s enduring creation. “There’s something so rich and magical and whimsical about the original story and the characters, and then there’s all those dark under-themes. Artists get inspired, and they keep redefining it for a contemporary audience.”
Indeed, creative minds as diverse as Walt Disney, the Jefferson Airplane, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Tom Petty, the Wachowski brothers, Tom Waits and American McGee have adapted Carroll’s tale or borrowed memorably from its imagery.
Few, though, have been as audacious in their reworking as Beddor, whose massive re-imagining of Wonderland has prompted some purists to call for his head. It hasn’t helped that he has admitted publicly he was no fan of the original works as a youngster, when his grandmother essentially force-fed him “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.”
“I didn’t like them, it’s true,” Beddor said, “but his imagery became an amazing inspiration for me and this world creation. The idea was to create a bigger world so more characters and environments and quests and conflict and obstacles can confront the lead character.”
Beddor’s basic premise: Carroll’s books weren’t fantasy, they were a betrayal of a refugee in need -- the author created a misleading cartoon that distracted everyone from the “true” story about a real girl (an exiled princess named Alyss, not Alice) and a real place (a Wonderland that exists in a different dimension but is linked to our world). After a bloody coup, the “real” Alyss fled Wonderland with her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, but they were separated before arrival on Earth. And so begins their adventure. . . .
Beddor is not alone in his bid to create new architecture on Carroll’s landscape. Burton’s film of “Alice,” for example, will have a more puckish and dangerous Mad Hatter (played by Johnny Depp) and a Linda Woolverton script that ages the title character and aspires to a more unified story arc. The Syfy production also looks to add character development to Carroll’s meandering parade, which Burton says usually comes off as “just a series of weird events” in screen adaptations.
As for Beddor’s Wonderland, the fantasy-based intrigue and dimension-hopping have helped the books become bestsellers. And the tie-in “Hatter M” comics (with artist Ben Templesmith collaborating on the early releases) have earned better reviews than the prose books. Beddor has immersed himself in the universe he’s created and invited fans to jump in; there’s an online game; a soundtrack (or “aural novel”) with songs inspired by the books; a collection of videos including trailers; a new tie-in strategy card game; and a lavish coffee-table book, “Princess Alyss of Wonderland.”
In this age of niche media, Beddor has found a dozen ways to repurpose his epic, and each one is an exercise in cross-promotion. It’s no surprise that his foremost aspiration is a film franchise. The rights have been snatched up by Charles Roven, a producer of “The Dark Knight” and the upcoming Sam Raimi film “Warcraft.”
All of it has added up to a surprising odyssey for Beddor, who has one of the stranger resumes in L.A.
A former world-class skiing champ, the Minnesota native came west to pursue an on-camera career and made it (sort of) as John Cusack’s skiing double in “Better Off Dead” and by trading lines with Carrie Fisher in “Amazon Women on the Moon.” Despite the acting studies with Stella Adler, Beddor decided writing better suited him.
In a Shakespearean lit class at UCLA, he met two screenwriters with an unwanted idea for a raunchy comedy; he liked it, bought it, championed it and then struck gold in 1998. “There’s Something About Mary” grossed (in every sense of the word) close to $370 million in worldwide box office.
For all that success, Beddor still felt “Mary” belonged to the writers and filmmakers, and he wanted a creation that he could call his own. When he went to the London premiere of “Mary,” Beddor visited the British Museum and found his future in the past: He was mesmerized by a set of Napoleonic playing cards, whose images were studies in palace culture and its mix of the stately and the sinister.
Beddor melded those images with his tortured memory of listening to Carroll’s book read to him by his grandmother (whose name, by the way, was Alice) and was on his way. Research led to a complex plan and, he hoped, a movie and/or book deal.
Beddor created characters that boys would find appealing -- among them an action-hero version of the Mad Hatter in master swordsman Hatter Madigan, and a shape-shifting assassin called the Cat, based on the Cheshire Cat. Even so, the author said he was careful to emphasize the matriarchal foundations of Wonderland and the savvy courage of his young female protagonist. An intriguing layer to the story is the idea that Wonderland is a fount for a special sort of energy.
“The concept behind my book is the power of imagination and the idea that it comes from this place called Wonderland that inspires our world,” he said. “So it’s this parallel world and this imagination -- which is something tangible, something you can conjure -- is gifted to us here and is communicated to artists, inventors and even children, who have the most powerful imagination.”