What's so wonderful about Alice?

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1. 150 years of Alice

Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s story Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of our most popular novels. First published in 1865, it has never been out of print.

Since then generations of children and adults have enjoyed its famous characters and fantastical tales. Even if you haven't read the book you will be familiar with the figure of Alice dressed in blue and white, the White Rabbit and the world of Wonderland.

So why have Alice and the inhabitants of her Wonderland captivated us for so long? And why have they inspired music, film, fashion and even theme park rides?

2. Alice's adventures

The story was written by Oxford mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.

Carroll created it following a request from 10-year-old Alice Liddell, the daughter of a family friend, and based his heroine on the young girl.

In the Victorian era, children's stories often contained moral lessons but Carroll's novel was different as it had no moral message. Readers loved it and it was an immediate success.

The book is about a curious but headstrong young girl who tumbles down a rabbit hole and finds herself in a peculiar land full of eccentric characters in strange situations.

It is quite dark at times and Alice is often fearful when thrust into many daunting situations with larger than life characters. There's the flustered White Rabbit with a watch who is always exclaiming, 'I'm late, I'm late' and the odious Queen who shouts at everyone 'Off with their heads!'.

It's ultimately a story about a child learning to negotiate the rude inhabitants and baffling rules of adult society. Alice in Wonderland is a universal, simple tale that anyone can connect with, but the way it's told is incredibly layered and rich, and full of puzzles.

Because of this richness in style and character the book inspired many artists of all kinds in succeeding generations.

3. Alice on screen

Filmmakers in particular have been fascinated by the story since the birth of cinema.

There have been over 30 film and TV interpretations of Alice’s adventures. The earliest adaptation dates from 1903 but the 1951 Disney animation is one of the best known and brought the illustrations from the book to the big screen

More recently director Tim Burton took elements of the story and its sequel Through the Looking Glass to create his own nightmarish vision of Wonderland. He used special effects to exaggerate Carroll's grotesque characters. The Queen became even more freakish and tyrannical with an oversized head. Garish colours and exaggerated mannerisms were used to illustrate the madness of Johnny Depp's Hatter.

The Alice books have also influenced other films, notably the 1999’s blockbuster film The Matrix. The hero Neo is told to “follow the White Rabbit” and that by taking a pill he will “stay in Wonderland”.

This reference to Wonderland as a surreal place also inspired other artists particularly musicians.

4. Alice in music

The world of Wonderland itself is a dream-like place with an array of extraordinary characters.

Alice changes shape and size when she eats and drinks, which, to some readers, implied drug use. The hookah-smoking caterpillar reinforced the drug allusions in some people’s minds.

It was these apparent references to illegal substances within the book which provided musicians with inspiration for their lyrics during the 1960s when drug-taking became an important part of youth culture.

The best-known band to use Alice as a muse was the Beatles. Two Beatles songs, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and I Am the Walrus have connections to Wonderland.

John Lennon is said to have been inspired by imagery from the Alice stories for the lyrics to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds as well as to create his own literary nonsense as Carroll did. Both Beatles songs were produced at the height of the band’s experimentation with LSD and suggest the hallucinogenic effects of the drug.

Jefferson Airplane’s song White Rabbit is openly about drug use and begins with the lines ‘One pill makes you larger/And one pill makes you small’, before referencing Alice and the caterpillar, among other characters.

The book still influences artists today including Taylor Swift with her song Wonderland.

5. Alice around us

Architects and designers have also been influenced by the distortions and warped sizes in Wonderland.

The changes Alice experiences as she alters shape and size have been reflected in areas as diverse as the oversized tea-cup rides in theme parks and perspective-altering room dimensions used by interior designers.

The image of Alice is all around us. For example, fashion-conscious teens from the Harajuku area of Tokyo have appropriated Alice’s costume, while the children of New York can clamber over statues of the characters in Central Park.

The novel has adapted with the times and still appeals to 21st Century audiences. With yet another film due out in 2016, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland looks set to entertain and inspire for a long time to come.

One book with its intriguing characters and often dark themes has acted as a muse to other artists for well over a century.

6. Alice's legacy

Why do we still care about Alice?

The characters

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The characters

The richness and eccentricity of the characters have inspired audiences and artists alike.

New interpretations

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New interpretations

We view the book in a new light. Since the 1960s some see the story as full of references to drug taking.

Alice herself

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Strong principal character

The strong female character of Alice continues to appeal to 21st Century audiences.

Great storytelling

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Great storytelling

With its magic portal plot and playfulness with language, it's is a timeless piece of children’s literature.