Alice in Wonderland: the Bridge Between Reality and Fantasy
It’s a Fine Line
I discovered Lewis Carol and “Alice in Wonderland” later than most children. While many of my friends tell me they read it with parents as a childhood bedtime story, I didn’t read the classic tale until high school. Admittedly, by the time it was assigned to me, I was resentful. Why was an Honors English class reading a kids book?
Thankfully, I was a goody-two-shoes and wanted to impress my teacher. I dug into the story, assuming it would be a quick read, an easy paper and take me that much closer to kicking off my Spring Break. Like so many things in my teenage life, I was wrong. Alice in Wonderland consumed me. It resembled many aspects of my real life and the people in it. Epiphany hit me somewhere in the wee hours of the drive from Michigan to Florida as I sat reading in the car on a family Spring Break trip in April of 1988. I was suffering the microcosm of my dysfunctional family crammed in the confines of a compact Ford Escort for eighteen hours when it hit me. Lewis Carol took the extreme personalities of people he must have met somewhere in his life and turned them into the most fantastic creatures/characters to help tell a story.
I knew people like the caterpillar. I had parents of friends who smoked hash and made it look enlightening. Caterpillar people loved parties, where jazz played softly in the background and martinis, were served in the library or study where guests could check out all of the books they had read. These same people rarely spoke to their kids (my friends), drove expensive cars and paid for things with large wads of cash from their wallet. All the while, they seemed to sit in a lofty leather chair and do nothing. How they made their money was a mystery to me. Caterpillars seemed addicted to the excitement of impending metamorphosis and bragged about their state of great change, telling their children they should aspire to it. In reality, caterpillar people never turned into anything beautiful; much to the disappointment of their children. I, on the other hand, thought they were entertaining.
The rest of that sophomore year and through my first summer job, I decided to find fantasy characters in my own reality. There was no option out with a glass that said, “Drink me”, to avoid driving in a hatchback with my parents, younger sister and two German shepherds to go places. Heading to summer family events certainly felt like I was falling down a rabbit hole at sixteen. I had the same tumbling feeling when I got my first summer job testing water samples and writing mind-numbing reports for the State of Michigan.
Mad Tea Party
The summer of 1988, I met my own personal Cheshire at a beach party. While drinks were flowing under the cover of darkness, I was drunk on a boy. One part bad boy, one part overwhelmingly charming and kind, stunningly handsome one minute, gone the next, not to be seen for weeks; leaving me with the memory of his smile. He was well read but only shared his love of books quietly, unlike the caterpillars. As I waited for him to materialize, I read books in his absence, hoping it would give us a chance to have something to talk about.
With all of the reading of classics and sci-fi, something inside me stirred, I was afraid to leave the safety of summer and high school. Wonderland, Orwell’s versions of earth, the worlds of Omni magazine short stories had become a refuge. Every college application, scholarship essay and step towards graduation, college and looming adulthood threatened to take my fantasy characters and imaginary places away. My parents were pushing hard that I change my major from special education to law. Secretly, I longed to be a writer.
One simply didn’t spring changing my parents well thought plans for my future. They had their hearts set on a family lawyer. I couldn’t just change and be a writer. Suggesting such a thing took cunning and skill. I took an assessment test and had it sent to my mother at home so she would open it. I waited until the weekend when I knew the cocktails would be flowing and pressed her about my results. In reality, the school librarian had already informed me of the results, but I wanted to present my case with hard evidence.
As she stirred her drink, prepping dinner, she told me that she nor my father believed in such tests. It said I should become a writer or a journalist. Everyone knew girls couldn’t make any kind of living doing either of those things. All the big work went to men. I sighed.
Return to the Realm of the Queen of Hearts
It’s fair to say that I didn’t understand the Queen of Hearts and the notion of yelling, “Off with their heads!” until I heard my inner motherhood scream, “if I see that kind of behavior again, young lady, heads will roll.” Fast forward to 2009, I was a mother of young teenagers and unknowingly, I had returned to Wonderland.
As an act of preparation for life, I read Alice in Wonderland to my kids. We had moved into an old farmhouse in the country. It was easy to see the characters that real people could be. Raising teenagers required escape. I began to write, using everything I had learned from my trips down the rabbit hole. Parenthood was the white rabbit, always in a hurry but never the less, magical and maddening and a beautiful chaos. Lines between reality and fantasy were blurred from exhaustion but it made life all the more like Alice’s; adventurous and full of discovery. Three novels and one children’s book later, I am thankful for Lewis Caroll. I would have made a lousy lawyer anyways.
Michele Roger is the author of the Sci-Fi novel, “Dark Matter” (2009), “The Conservatory” (2013) and “Eternal Kingdom: A Vampire Story” (2015). She is also the author of the “Mr. Kiwi” Children’s book series under her pen name, Michele Beresford. When she isn’t writing, she is a harpist; performing and teaching in Detroit.