Everyone knows the story of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (“Alice in Wonderland”), an original narrative written by Lewis Carroll in 1865. It is about a young girl who is bored with the norm and wishes that every day in life held a new adventure. The story begins with her sitting outside by a river with her sister reading a book that has no pictures where Alice wonders, “what is the use of the book without pictures and dialogue?,” and she quickly loses interest. In that moment, she notices a white rabbit wearing a waistcoat, standing upright, and looking at a pocket watch saying aloud, “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late.” Alice may not take notice of the fact that the rabbit is wearing clothes, standing upright or talking but she does wonder “what could a white rabbit possibly be late for?” Her curiosity motivates her to chase after the white rabbit and follow him right down a rabbit hole into an alternate realm called, Wonderland.
The narrative elements presented by David Herman in Basic Elements of Narrative can be used to freely describe any narrative structure. In this blog, I will discuss what the narrative elements are and how they relate to Alice in Wonderland, as well as, explaining the value of transmedia narrative in a comparative analysis between The Matrix, 1999 film produced by Joel Silver and Alice in Wonderland.
The novel of Alice in Wonderland has 12 chapters, each of which serves a purpose to introduce a new setting, characters, and ideas or themes related to the scope of the narrative being told. These chapters all present a certain situatedness or setting.
Each chapter has an image that gives you an idea of what the setting of the scene is like within that part of the narrative. Chapter 1: Down the Rabbit Hole, is the introduction of the white rabbit and how he appears. Chapter 2: The Pool of Tears, is an illustration of Alice growing in size when she eats a cookie that has “eat me” spelled out in icing and cries because now she’s too big to get through the door to Wonderland. Chapter 3: A Caucus Race and a Long Tale, is where Alice’s pool of tears turns into an ocean that carries her away to a distant island; there she meets a dodo bird and other talking animals, trying to find the white rabbit. These are all popularly referenced scenes of the novel. If you removed these scenes from the story, you wouldn’t have an understanding of Alice, wonderland, who the white rabbit is or other context to build the story line.
World making & Disruption
World making & disruption are more than particular sequences unfolding within more or less richly detailed story worlds. These narrative elements are represented with situations and events that depart from the official order of things. For example, we get this sense of order as the chapters are put together chronologically and in every retelling of Alice in Wonderland the story is told in the same sequence. But what if in reality some of the events told were really out of order? (Well figuratively speaking at least). We get the feeling of corruption and disruption when Alice finally meets the Mad Hatter and March Hare, two characters who represent mental illness but also have big personalities and play well with words within the context of the world that is made surrounding the narrative, Wonderland.
What it’s like…
What is it really like? This narrative element is where the story represents and makes it possible to experience what it is like to undergo events within a story world. “What it’s like” is accomplished when the narrative roots itself in the lived, felt experience of human or human like agents interacting in an ongoing way with their allies and surrounding environment. The readers know what it’s like through the descriptive features presented in the story to describe each character, scene, and situation, which create an imagery in their minds.
Alice in Wonderland is a century old narrative that has been recreated in more than 10 ways. Even in narratives that we may not have noticed during our childhood have representations of symbols and motifs sampled from the original novel as a result of transmedia storytelling: a single story or story experience being told across multiple platforms and formats including, but not limited to, games, books, events, cinema and television.
A prime example of transmedia is shown in the movie, Matrix, where we find clear references to Alice in Wonderland.
- Neo is told to “follow the white rabbit” and in his first meeting with Morpheus references to Alice and the rabbit hole (which is the Matrix) are made.
- The author of Alice in Wonderland is Lewis Carroll. He is referenced in the movie as Johnny’s friend, Agent Lewis.
- Dujour has a tattoo of a white rabbit on her shoulder. Also, both Hope and Tiera from the Matrix comics had white rabbit stuffed animal toys.
- The Zion Archives feature an unlock-able level that have a hologram of a leprechaun as a reference to the Mad Hatter.
- One of the Merovingians’ (a group of red pills) named himself Madhattah.
- Red & Blue pills: “You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” Essentially the blue pill represents Alice’s memory and consciousness of Wonderland being real or not, whereas the red pill represents the key to Wonderland and the entire narrative of how deep the rabbit hole is and all the characters/people you’ll meet on the way.
The references made in the Matrix to the classic narrative of Alice in Wonderland demonstrate how transmedia really works: from one form of narrative to another. Transmedia is a valuable form of narrative to understand because we see it everyday when writers publish their work from novels into movies which turns into fan fiction and/or fan made art, podcast series, social media memes, and real life references.
At the end of the day, “We’re all mad here” and with various discourse platforms we have plenty of room for experimentation of the same narrative over and over.
If you want to check out more Alice in Wonderland references made in the Matrix, watch this 4-minute YouTube video. For more information on the examples that I used please check out the Matrix Wiki site page.