By Alyssa Nicole
“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”-King Of Hearts, “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”
A young girl wearing a dress the color of cloudless skies tumbles down a rabbit hole in pursuit of a frantic waistcoat-wearing critter. Sound familiar? Alice in Wonderland, the whimsical children’s tale born from the brilliant mind of author Lewis Carroll, has been a beloved tale since 1865. This story holds a special key to my heart, for I was lucky enough to be cast as the eponymous character when I was sixteen years old. I coalesced myself with Alice’s character that summer, and to this day she and her story are imprinted upon my heart.
I read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass immediately after I was cast as Alice in my community theater’s summer production. I wanted to fully immerse myself in the character and the story so I could better understand my role and the cast of chaotic characters I would be interacting with. I quickly fell in love with both books, and wanted to do justice to the sprightly, inquisitive young girl I would be playing.
It was intimidating to say the least, being handed a one hundred fifty paged script, and then realizing I had lines on every page. I was diligent as I studied, with the help of my proud mother quizzing me every night. I so enjoyed working with the colorful cast of characters, who were just as zany outside of their roles as they were in them. I met a forever friend amongst them who would one day have an incredibly significant impact on my future. The summer of 2005 was as fantastical and dreamlike as Wonderland itself. I still vividly remember the excitement of donning my big blue dress, the bright spotlights of the stage as I sat daintily at the Mad Tea Party. It took many rehearsals not to laugh during that scene! I cradled the Duchess’s pig baby, recited ridiculous rhymes to the Blue Caterpillar, played croquet with the Queen of Hearts, enjoyed silly banter with the Cheshire Cat, and was nearly decapitated by the executioner in a chaotic court case! And no, I did NOT steal the Queen’s cherry tarts! After two weeks’ worth of performances, I took my final bow as Alice, a bittersweet moment that has become preserved as a forever memory in my mind. Photographs, pamphlets, and a wooden key remain pressed between the pages of my precious scrapbook.
It was not until I turned thirty that Alice in Wonderland would become significant to me again. It was the year that everything changed, much like my sixteenth year, taking a tumble down a rabbit hole once again. That day my mom and I challenged ourselves to a Wonderland-themed escape room, a clever recreation of the Carrollian classic. Months later, I reconnected with my old theater friend who needed actors for one of the plays that she had written. I acted in a few plays after Alice but had not done anything theatrical since I was a teenager. In my usual say yes to anything mentality I agreed to take a small role to help her out. It was in this skit that I met a fellow Alice aficionado, who (spoilers!) would one day become my husband. Our first date was spent comparing our Alice collections that led to over five hours of chatting and a magical summer of falling in love. That fall, I dressed up as Alice for a Halloween Murder Mystery Dinner with my boyfriend as Lewis Carroll. It was fun reprising my role as Alice again, even if it was for only one night. Two and a half years later, we got engaged. The summer before the wedding was one of the best I can remember. That July, my mom threw me an incredible Alice in Wonderland bridal shower at a lovely Victorian tea shop. Tiny tea pot boxes filled with favors sat at every place setting, and my mom created lovely candlesticks with teacups stacked on top of them. There was an amazing assortment of wonderful finger sandwiches, salads, fruit, and dainty delights. It was a magical day, wearing my ruffled cottagecore dress, sipping tea with my bridesmaids, doing an Alice oracle reading, and enjoying games and gifts. The final game was also Alice-themed, where people received points based on Alice-related related regalia (watches, hearts, top hats etc…). Now of course, no one in attendance was wearing a top hat, so when my mom called it out everyone glanced around the room at each other as if to confirm this fact. Suddenly from the stairwell, a man’s voice called out “I am!” and there was my husband- to-be, fully dressed in a Mad Hatter’s costume! My mom hatched this plan months prior, plotting with her future son-in-law and somehow successfully keeping it a secret from me. I screamed and leapt out of my seat, hugging him as though I had not seen him in 10 years, when in fact I had just seen him that morning. My mom joyfully cried, “Let’s get these two married already” and everyone cheered! And so, we were at our fairytale fall wedding.
Alice in Wonderland has made an impact on my life, the heart of many significant moments throughout the years. On the cusp of 34 years of age, I often find myself feeling like my own life is very much a Wonderland; confusing, chaotic, sometimes downright bizarre and a little bit scary. But all the same, it is whimsical, magical, wondrous, and a wild adventure full of twists and turns. Alice remains steadfast throughout all the chaos, yet flexible enough to acclimate to the ever-changing world she stumbled into. While this story in its essence is merely a fantastical dream of a young girl, it is also an inspiration to me in my own life’s journey. Carroll described Alice as “wildly curious,” “loving and gentle,” “trustful” and “courteous to all.” Though she was polite and respectful she had no trouble using her assertiveness when indignant over what she perceived as immoral or illogical, not unlike myself. She is inquisitive, clever and very brave. And yet it seems that Alice recognizes that oneself cannot be so easily defined. “Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle!” Ambiguity is the key that can unlock the door to self-discovery.
Another element I love about Wonderland is the openness to absurdity. I am quirky by nature and find that silliness brings levity and fun to routine. Why not believe in six impossible things before breakfast, as the Duchess does? Why not make up your own words to songs like The Mad Hatter? Why not make up your own rules to games like the Queen of Hearts? Nonconformity is often the mother of innovation and creativity. By thinking outside of the box, a Wonderland of possibility is at our fingertips.
Now I sit with a porcelain cup filled with chamomile brew, finishing off the last crumbs of homemade lavender teacake as I thumb through the well-worn pages of one of my most favorite stories. It is amazing how certain books can have such an enormous impact on your life, how the universe that an author creates from the depths of their own mind can still have an impact centuries later. Stories can be carried in our hearts, leave lasting imprints on our minds and interwoven with our psyches. Which books have shaped your life?