Return to Wonderland by Various Authors
|Return to Wonderland by Various Authors|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Even if you're not a fan of the Carroll original, this is still a wonderful delight.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 240||Date: June 2019|
|Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books|
In following a young girl called Alice down the rabbit hole a few years ago, when the first book she was in hit 150 years of age, I found that I didn't really find too much favour with it. The wacky-for-the-sake-of-it did not gel, and I don't remember loving it more as a child. But I would suggest I am the perfect audience for this book. I had every chance to enjoy these short stories that come at the core from a tangent, that show the benefits of the oblique glance. I've always preferred coming to an author's output through their least obvious, allegedly throw-away pieces, and it's the same with franchises – I'd more likely go for Bree Tanner's short novella than the whole Twilight saga (although that remains just a hunch, for obvious reasons). For another thing, there was every reason to expect some kind of greatness here – with Carroll much loved by millions, surely pieces written with that love in mind could only provide for success after success?
In order of appearance, we have Peter Bunzl kicking proceedings off. He lets us see what the first thing a pig does when it turns overnight into a human boy. That's right, he picks his nose – but who is he, and why is he the hero of this story, and who is he going to find stuck down a treacle well? The story blatantly avoids writing in the Carroll style, it seemed to me, beyond a direct quote or two, but was still fine fun. Next is Pamela Butchart – and speak of fun. Here we're in a world where Wonderland has got so completely popular with the humans from the world above based on Alice's testimony that it's been turned into some kind of adventure theme park, with added hipster elements. We learn what the first thing the King of Hearts does when he marries his new laptop with his new favourite pop-up coffee shop's WI-FI. That's right, he watches online cat videos.
Maz Evans, one of three Eggheads contestants present (the world's most obscure allusion to Humpty Dumpty, even if he was Through the Looking Glass) provides a perfect corrective for one element of the world for those, like me, who find it all a little over-bearing. Her story has the Mad Hatter trying to host a sensible tea party, for a change. And we learn what the Caterpillar is doing in this new, modernised Wonderland – that's right, spelling out messages in text-speak and the smoke from his e-cig. Swapna Haddow provides for a mind-boggling and mind-bogglingly meta drama, where a book arrives on the Wonderland library's Missing Books shelf. You, like the Mock Turtle, know that nothing is worse than a missing book – but lo and behold, one has turned up. We also learn where everyone else apart from Haddow has fallen down, and what you need for a story. It is, of course, a pigeon.
Patrice Lawrence gives us the diary entry of one of the hedgehogs – yes, the croquet 'balls' get a voice. We do learn what they write their diaries with – a quill, for obvious reasons – but I didn't find quite as much love for this piece as those before it. Chris Smith gives a jolly story regarding The Tweedles, as he calls them, dabbles in real-sounding wordplay, and brings that poetry to the page for the first time in this book. We also learn what it is that all the nice girls love. Nobody can be specifically 'as dead as a dodo' when one is alive and kicking in your story, but we instead find what the Wonderland comparative for deafness is. It comes courtesy of Lauren St John, whose tale is perhaps an unfortunately overdone environmental message. It's not dreadful, but it did stick out as being About Something, when so little else in this world is. She was also the only author in my proof copy not to have a brief paragraph of introduction to her piece; here's hoping the real deal carries her personal comments.
The introduction from second Egghead, Robin Stevens, was key, as it detailed her knowledge of the real world of Oxford that was overlain with Carroll's fantasies. However here it's Alice's older sister regretting her sibling's visits down the rabbit hole. It's clearly to be reported that we learn what many in the audience for this would not have realised, which is nothing to do with life in Wonderland as such, but more our plane of surface existence. Her quiz colleague Lisa Thompson resurrects the Knave of Hearts for a sequel to his own story, which might have come to a sticky end – but of course didn't. Here we certainly learn something, but I'm so afraid of all the talk about people losing their heads that I am taking the Knave's advice and keeping quiet.
Piers Torday gives us an origin story, one of the many surely possible given the inspiration, concerning the Cheshire Cat's grin. Not his disappearance, mind – that's something we don't learn. We don't get to understand how the scientist did not think of swinging, either, which I know means nothing to those yet to join in with this frivolous and suitably witty piece. And we close with Amy Wilson, which is the perfect ending, in that it's the most poetic entrant to this selection, and provides the biggest change to the Wonderland we know.
All in all, then, I was certainly right to pick this marvellous book. Sure, I found a small drop-off in quality beyond the initial few wonders, but none rankled in any real way, several great calling cards are here pointing to happy reading in the future, and this was as inventive and fun as I thought to expect. I didn't learn if my enjoyment is because these were small doses of what remains something I'm not the world's biggest fan of, or if it was just because these authors are, dare I say it, more in tune with me than the original. You'll like as not be aware I've said we learn something from nearly all of these stories. Well, one of the quirks of Wonderland is that so few characters to visit or live in it ever really learn much of use. I don't see why this volume should prove any different, and it didn't. What it did prove is that you don't have to jump on any particular bandwagon, such as the first book's 150th birthday, to prove a success. This, then, jumps on an unbandwagon, if you like, and is all the better for it.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
This is a summary of the many 150th birthday volumes.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Return to Wonderland by Various Authors at Amazon.com.
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