Alice: a Visit to Wanderland

Okay, it’s October and I am already well behind my horror blog writing. This month, as with every October, I will be reading exclusively horror – either books that are in the horror genre or have many horrific elements. This year I have chosen to kick things off with Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles by J.M. Sullivan. As some of my more astute readers may have already noticed, Wanderland Chronicles is another book from Dreamcatchers publisher, Pen Name Publishing. Rest assured, I shall endeavor to remain objective.

So, first thing’s first: I don’t care for Alice in Wonderland. It’s not that I hate it, I have just never invested in Lewis Carroll’s universe the way that some others have. While I’m a big fan of fantasy, I’m also a big fan of logic… something that vanishes rather quickly as we journey down the rabbit hole. It is impossible to deny the impact that Carroll has made on writing and on imagination. Nevertheless, it’s never been my tea party.

Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles
I actually liked Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, which I felt brought a more sensible plot to Carroll’s world. That said, I think we can all agree that the film would have benefited from less Mad Hatter.

Yes, but what if there’s zombies?

This the question author J.M. Sullivan asked when she re-imagined Carroll’s world as post-apocalyptic fantasy. Gone are the over-sized rabbits and the disappearing cats. In their place are the Momerath, virus-infected human beings with a bad temper and an appetite for human flesh.

And it’s not Wonderland anymore, it’s Wanderland – or what’s left of Phoenix. No rabbit hole required for entry. All that Alice Carroll (see what she did there?) needs to do to get in is simply walk… and not die. That’s the rules for Wanderland: keep walking, try not to die, and stay on the good side of the Red Queen.

Wonderland vs. Wanderland

While Wanderland Chronicles abandons much of Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical scenery, its characters nearly all have counterparts. Apart from Alice, Wanderland inhabitants include Chess – a boy with unnaturally quick reflexes, Bug – a surveillance expert with a passion for smoking, and Dr. Matt Hatta – I’ll let you figure that one out on your own. And, of course, the kill-happy Red Queen.

For the most part, Sullivan does an admirable job fitting these characters into their new roles in the zombie-filled wasteland. The only unfortunate side effect is that it does make the plot fairly predictable, something that takes all the air out of any tension she is trying to build. We know before she leaves what Alice will find in the Wanderland. Luckily, the book’s climax does add some twists away from the source material.

The idea of mixing zombies into Alice in Wonderland is not new. Wanderland Chronicles, however, does a better job of it than the fanart of the internet.

Writing in Wanderland

J.M. Sullivan crafts strong characters with believable (love triangle excluded) emotions and reactions in Wanderland. Her Alice is a fun protagonist, if one who goes from introvert to extrovert very quickly. Chess, Nate, and the Red Queen round out a compelling support cast. The plot hops along at a brisk pace, never dallying in any location too long.

If I were to compare Alice to another protagonist in the world of zombie fiction, it would be Clementine.

If I have any complaint about the writing, it is that it violates the “less is more” rule. This is author J.M. Sullivan’s first book and I could tell that she didn’t trust her language, often repeating or going too simple. I’m from the school that taught me to avoid repetitive words on a page. Never give two sentences of explanation when one will do. Lewis Carroll owned the lingo of his fantasy, but this is the area of all others where J.M. Sullivan feels like a tentative tenant.

I hope that, in the sequel, she finds a stronger voice to suit her strong protagonist.

Alice: The Wanderland Chronicles won’t make you a believer in the zombie genre – it’s not World War Z. For those who don’t care for either Lewis Carroll’s world or horrific undead cannibals, I would advise giving this one a pass. That said, any out there who enjoy a fun zombie-filled romp should sink their teeth in. Wanderland Chronicles is the perfect popcorn to open up a fun-filled October.


Hey Disney, why were your Female Villains so much more Emotive than your Heroines?

Let me say this right up front: I am not accusing Walt Disney Animation of being sexist in the present day, not with this article at least. Instead, let us look to that happy period of between 1937-1959. Here it was possible to do a story like Cinderella, a tale of a woman being abused and denied any real right to exist until she marries a man, and people’s only reaction was “that’s outrageous! Mice can’t talk!”

Thankfully times have changed.

This article is going to examine an interesting discrepancy I noticed when re-watching these films (namely Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Sleeping Beauty). All of these films feature female characters in multiple roles. Specifically, in each film there is a positive woman character and a negative one. I’m stretching a bit for Tinkerbell but there you go. Let’s look at the levels of animation involved bringing their expressions to life, shall we?

Snow White and the Seven Dwarves

The first, the very first animated film done by Walt Disney and company: way back in 1937. For this film, there was no precedent, no manner to be like “just animate it like we did the one before.” So, they experimented, using a technique called rotoscoping for some of the animation. For those out there who don’t know, rotoscoping is essentially tracing the animation over preexisting live action footage. Specifically animator Grim Natwick used this technique for certain scenes involving Snow White. That helps explain how images like this exist:

Rotoscoping was called painting on film. It certainly leaves that effect.
Rotoscoping was called painting on film. It certainly leaves that effect.

It is worth noting that Natwick made his claim to fame by animating Betty Boop. So really, anyone who looks back at Snow White being like, “hmmm she seems kinda doe-eyed”

You don't say?
You don’t say?

Anyway, it is worth noting that his style of animation was not used for every character. Art Babbit was the man placed in charge of animating the Evil Queen. (also known as Grimhilde). Let’s see how successful his animation was at bringing a character to life:

A simple animation but it proves a point. Grimhilde (in both her forms) offers much more in the way of emotion than does Snow White. This could be chalked up to the restrictive use of rotoscoping (a process that is only restrictive in price) but… let’s look elsewhere.


Fast-forward to 1950 and times have changed. Walt Disney Animation was no longer a brand new company new to the art of animation. No doubt the characters benefited greatly from this increased knowledge and experience. Let’s look at the titular character:

Okay this must be happy.
Okay this must be happy.

Cool, one emotion down, what else she got?

Good, surpise! What else?
Good, surpise! What else?

Surely there are many other forms of emotion she includes. After all, she is the main character of the movie. Surely those aren’t the two primary… oh they are?

The weird combo of the two.
The weird combo of the two.

Cinderella does not do much besides smile and look pretty in her film. It took two people (Marc Davis and Eric Larson) to animate and… yeah, she smiles or cries – really only crying in one scene. It is worth pointing out that Davis also was involved in animating Snow White, another character who… smiled and cried a lot. Well, okay Frank Thomas had Lady Tremaine (the evil stepmother), let’s see what he did:

Incredible smugness.
Incredible smugness.

Starting to see what I’m driving at? Disney had their villains showing off a lot wider range of emotions. Cinderella is the good guy, so she never looks mischievous. Why is it that Lady Tremaine gets to showcase more emotion? Let’s look at one more. I know I mentioned five movies in the beginning but the repetitiveness of this is getting to me. Plus it’s my blog so I can do what I want.

Sleeping Beauty

Nine years after Cinderella, and of course I have to mention this one. SPOILERS! Here is the face that Princess Aurora makes throughout most of the movie:

You thought I was going to show her sleeping, didn't you?
You thought I was going to show her sleeping, didn’t you?

Yes, when she isn’t in a magically induced coma, Aurora is wearing a smile across her lips. Literally, it is the first and only emotion she forms after waking up. Someone needed to tell Marc Davis (who else) that “good” women did occasionally make different expressions. They enjoy the same freedom as their “evil” counterparts.

Case in point.

Of course, what I’m ultimately trying to say is nothing new. I don’t think any of the animators I just mentioned were outright openly sexist, but this was the norm of the day. Again, thankfully times have changed. It is very interesting to note that Ariel was the first (grown) female protagonist in a Disney animated film to really break this mold. That is kinda sad for two reasons. One: that film was released in 1989. Two: have you really examined the plot and lessons that movie is teaching? Oh well, at least it was better from an animation standpoint. Since then, Disney hasn’t been doing many films that feature both a female protagonist and villain, so it is tough to say.

The most recent attempt at this was Frozen, and script changes stopped Elsa from being the bad guy. Instead audiences were treated to this.

Yay progress!