The rabbit hole is getting crowded again.
It has been 144 years since Lewis Carroll introduced the world to an inquisitive girl named Alice, but her surreal adventures still resonate. Wonderland: Alice's New Musical Adventure, a musical with songs by Frank Wildhorn, opens at Tampa's David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts (formerly the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center) on Saturday, Pages 4-5). Cable TV's SyFy presents Alice, a miniseries that is a modern reworking with a cast led by Kathy Bates and Tim Curry, on Dec. 6 and 7; and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, with Johnny Depp and Anne Hathaway, arrives in theaters in March.
And then there's the Looking Glass Wars series of bestselling novels by Frank Beddor that takes the classic 19th century children's tale off into a truly unexpected literary territory: the battlefields of epic fantasy. The series began in 2006, and Beddor's third Looking Glass Wars novel, ArchEnemy, just hit stores in October, as did a tie-in graphic novel called Hatter M: Mad With Wonder.
Beddor said it's intriguing to see other creators at play in the same literary playground.
"It's amazing how many directions it's been taken in," Beddor said of Carroll's enduring creations. "There's something so rich and magical and whimsical about the original story and the characters, and then there's all those dark under themes. Artists get inspired, and they keep redefining it for a contemporary audience."
Indeed, creative minds as diverse as Walt Disney, Jefferson Airplane, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Tom Petty, the Wachowski Brothers, Tom Waits and game designer American McGee have adapted Carroll's tale or borrowed memorably from its imagery. Few, though, have been as audacious in their reworking as Beddor, whose reimagining of Wonderland has prompted some Carroll-admiring purists to call for his head. It hasn't helped that he has acknowledged that he was no fan of the original works as a youngster.
"I didn't like them, it's true," Beddor said, "but his imagery became an amazing inspiration for me and this world creation. The idea was to create a bigger world so more characters and environments and quests and conflict and obstacles can confront the lead character."
Beddor's basic premise: Carroll's books weren't fantasy but were a betrayal of a refugee in need — the author created a misleading cartoon that distracted everyone from the "true" story about a real girl (an exiled princess named Alyss, not Alice) and a real place (a Wonderland that exists in a different dimension but is linked to our world). After a bloody coup, the "real" Alyss fled Wonderland with her bodyguard, Hatter Madigan, but they were separated before arrival on Earth.
The books have been bestsellers, and the tie-in Hatter M comics (with fan-favorite artist Ben Templesmith collaborating on the early releases) have garnered good reviews. Beddor has immersed himself in the universe he has created and invited fans to jump in with him: There's a massive multiplayer online role-playing game; a soundtrack (or "aural novel") with songs inspired by the books; a collection of videos including trailers; and a new tie-in strategy card game. For fans who prefer a tactile experience, there's a lavish coffeetable book, Princess Alyss of Wonderland. Film rights have been snatched up by Charles Roven, producer of The Dark Knight and the upcoming Sam Raimi film Warcraft.
Beddor, who may be the model for the contemporary, middle-tier commercial novelist, was a former world-class skier from Minnesota who came to Hollywood to pursue an on-camera career, and he made it (sort of) as John Cusack's skiing double in Better Off Dead and traded lines with Carrie Fisher in Amazon Women on the Moon. Despite acting studies with Stella Adler, Beddor decided it was writing that suited him.
In a Shakespearean lit class at the University of California in Los Angeles he met two screenwriters with an unwanted idea for a raunchy comedy; he liked it, bought it, championed the idea and then struck gold with it in 1998. There's Something About Mary grossed close to $370 million in worldwide box office, and Beddor was in the Hollywood game in a big way.
For all that success, Beddor still felt that Mary belonged to the writers and filmmakers, and he wanted a creation that he could call his own. It was during a visit to England for the London premiere of Mary that Beddor visited the British Museum and found his future in the past: He was mesmerized by a set of Napoleonic playing cards and their images, which were studies in palace culture and its mix of the stately and the sinister.
Beddor melded those images with his tortured memory of listening to Carroll's book read to him by his grandmother (whose name, by the way, was Alice) and was on his way. Research led to a complex plan and, he hoped, a movie and/or book deal.
"The concept behind my book is the power of imagination and the idea that it comes from this place called Wonderland that inspires our world," Beddor said. "So it's this parallel world and this imagination — which is something tangible, something you can conjure — is gifted to us here and is communicated to artists, inventors and even children, who have the most powerful imagination."