Is Alice in Wonderland a Fairy Tale? Tanager Haemmerle’s Writing & Illustration (Oh yeah, and answers to the Blog Hop, too)–A Blog Post Mishmash

      A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to take part in a blog hop by the wonderful Tanager Haemmerle. Since she is such a talented illustrator, as well as author, I thought I might share some of her art with you, as well as ponder whether Alice in Wonderland is a legitimate fairy tale.

      First, is Alice in Wonderland an actual fairy tale? According to Dr. Wheeler from Carson-Newman College in Tennessee, fairy tales are stories about “fantastic magical beings set vaguely in the distant past.” Fairy tales often include “magic, charms . . . talking animals, and a . . . heroine who overcomes obstacles” and they “grew out of the oral tradition of folk tales.”

Gryphon Asleep illustration by Sir John Tenniel
Gryphon Asleep illustration by Sir John Tenniel

      Is Alice in Wonderland a tale about “fantastic magical beings set vaguely in the distant past?” Well, perhaps both yes and no. Lewis Carroll (a.k.a. Charles Dodgson) published Alice in Wonderland in 1865 and the tale starts out with Alice firmly in the Victorian Period before she has her tumble down the rabbit hole. So no, Alice in Wonderland is not set in the distant past; there is no “once upon a time” in Alice’s fairy tale. But wait! Before dismissing Alice as a fairy tale completely, let’s consider the fact that there are indeed fantastic magical beings all throughout Alice in Wonderland. I mean, it is only after Alice sees and chases a white rabbit carrying a pocket watch that she encounters the rabbit hole in the first place. Then there are other odd beings, such as the living playing cards and the Gryphon. Looking through the character list of Alice in Wonderland, I would be inclined to categorize it as a fairy tale based upon these fantastic magical beings . . . .

Rabbit Looking at Pocket Watch illustration by Sir John Tenniel
Rabbit Looking at Pocket Watch illustration by Sir John Tenniel

      As noted above, fairy tales also often include magic and talking animals. Magic? Talking animals? Yes, on both counts when scrutinizing Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. As an example, we see the Cheshire Cat (talking animal) vanish, leaving behind his grin floating in the air (magic). And a heroine who overcomes obstacles? I would submit a yes here, for Alice is our heroine, and she definitely overcomes some pretty bizarre obstacles as she makes her way through Wonderland.

      Finally, fairy tales “grew out of the oral tradition of folk tales.” Alice in Wonderland was most doubtlessly a tale borne from the imagination of Lewis Carroll. So, no, it clearly is not based on any folk tale. But let’s stop and consider another popular fairy tale author—Hans Christian Andersen—for a moment. There is some debate as to how closely Andersen may have followed oral sources. In “Orality—Reinvented or Invented,Johan de Mylius states “Not a fairy tale for children and certainly not simply a retelling of a story out of oral tradition. . . . Andersen has told his story in an ironic and highly literary style.” Let’s go back to Alice, which does not fit the criterion of coming from an oral folk tale; I would argue that just as Hans Christian Andersen morphed orality in his fairy tales, so Carroll has modified the fairy tale genre even further, for although it is not based on any oral tradition, Alice in Wonderland absolutely has other fairy tale characteristics.

Down the Rabbit Hole by Tanager Haemmerle
Down the Rabbit Hole by Tanager Haemmerle

      Very vivid imagery is also found throughout Alice in Wonderland, which leads me to the second topic of today’s blog post. Because of this colorful imagery, Alice lends itself spectacularly to illustration. As mentioned, Tanager Haemmerle is an incredible artist, as well as author. Above is an example of one of her illustrations based on Alice in Wonderland titled “Down the Rabbit Hole” and if you click the picture link, it will take you to Tanager’sArt” page on her blog, where you will find other examples of her artwork, along with some illustrations that have been featured in “What is the Use of a Book Without Pictures”—a project sponsored by the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, retelling Alice completely through illustration.

      As acknowledged, Tanager invited me to take part in a Blog Hop, consisting of a set of questions. You can read Tanager’s answers on her blog, and if you’re curious as to what I’m doing at the moment, my answers are below.

*Question—What am I working on?

*Answer—Currently, a couple of Middle Grade books. The first, I am trying to revise, but it follows two friends as they attempt to prevent a known cheater from winning a local video game competition. The other, envisioned during the 2013 NaNoWriMo, follows the same kids as they discover a secret code hidden in the design of a set of samurai swords. Also, critiquing others’ work in a local group, and trying to find time to read as much Middle Grade as I can, because these things are really helping me to become a better writer.

*Question—How does my work differ from others of its genre?

*Answer—Because it’s my own voice and my own take on the subject matter. When I first heard of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, I sort of freaked because I thought it sounded exactly like the book I had just finished. Then I read it. And I found that it was similar, yet totally different from my book. Ready Player One is a Young Adult book—mine is Middle Grade. Ready Player One is set in the future, but uses video games from the eighties—mine is set in contemporary times and involves a modern-day game competition. So although a story can sound the same on the surface, I think each individual author can’t help but shape it in their own way.

*Question—Why do I write what I do?

*Answer—Because it’s fun! Both fairy tales and middle grade are just fun. There’s no other word I can think of to describe writing these genres, and the more I learn and read and write, I can honestly say, I don’t think there’s anything else I would rather write.

*Question—How does your writing process work?

*Answer—Try to figure out where I am and what I’m trying to do. Seriously. In Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing, Neal Stephenson states “Writing novels is hard, and requires vast, unbroken slabs of time. Four quiet hours is a resource that I can put to good use. Two slabs of time, each two hours long, might add up to the same four hours, but are not nearly as productive as an unbroken four. If I know that I am going to be interrupted, I can’t concentrate, and if I suspect that I might be interrupted, I can’t do anything at all. Likewise, several consecutive days with four-hour time-slabs in them give me a stretch of time in which I can write a decent book chapter, but the same number of hours spread across a few weeks, with interruptions in between them, are nearly useless.” Ha! (I am sooo jealous!) I wish I could be so lucky as to get even one chunk of 2 hours of uninterrupted time per week. As it is, I work full time, have a husband, and a few other commitments. I have found that by waking up an hour earlier than I need to before work, I can sometimes (if not interrupted) get some writing/critiquing/reading done. Other than that, I try to wrench what minutes I can here and there throughout the day.

      And, if you’re still out there reading, Thank You! I hope my answers weren’t too boring!