The Looking Glass Wars is a revisionist fairy tale. You know the sort of thing: “What if ‘insert name of story here’ was based on something that really happened?” In this case, the idea is that the Alice Liddell who inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass was really Alyss Heart, heir to the throne of Wonderland, who ended up in Victorian England through a series of bizarre events that I will not spoil by explaining here, and was adopted by the Liddell family. She eventually met Carroll and told him her story, which he butchered in his novels.
At first it’s hard to tell who the target audience of The Looking Glass Wars is. It opens on Princess Alyss’ seventh birthday. An axiom of children’s literature is that children want to read about children a little older than they are, so books about seven-year-olds usually target five-year-olds. This is not a book for five-year-olds. That’s not because of the violence, which isn’t unreasonably graphic, or the themes (destiny, going home, being yourself no matter what other people want you to be, good versus evil — the usual), or the sex (there isn’t any). It’s just that it isn’t written at a five-year-old’s level of language, and it takes a while for Alyss to age enough that language and subject matter hit matching levels. Actually, the book is advertised as being for ages 10 and up, and that’s probably about right, although some readers that age may find it hard to get past the first few chapters. Perhaps one should say that Beddor takes a while to find his voice.
Lewis Carroll was a master of wordplay, and Frank Beddor certainly tries to keep up. For example, bodyguard Hatter Madigan is a member of the Millinery. The card soldiers are organized into decks of 52. One of the enemy’s many nefarious weapons is called a Glass Eye. General Doppelgänger splits into General Doppel and General Gänger when events call for him to. Beddor’s nowhere as good as Lewis Carroll, but you probably have to have a certain peculiar combination of a classical education and opiates to catch him.
Beddor manages to tie up most of the loose ends in The Looking Glass Wars, except for a couple of very raggedy ones designed to lead into Seeing Redd, the second volume of what is projected to be a trilogy.
The Looking Glass Wars was first published in the UK in 2004. Its publication in North America is accompanied by a comic mini-series Hatter M, a card game and a very splashy Web site. A movie is planned, at least by Beddor, a Hollywood producer. He is a former actor and stuntman who also trained for the US Ski Team and was twice World Champion freestyle skier in the early 1980s.
If you enjoy this kind of speculation but on a more intellectual level, you may be interested in Ronald Reichertz’s The Making of the Alice Books: Lewis Carroll’s Uses of Earlier Children’s Literature.
(Dial Books, 2006)