a lory and an eaglet

The Three Sisters (1864). Sir William Blake Richmond (English, 1842-1921). Oil on canvas. Courtesy Tate.

Alice Liddell (Lewis Carroll’s inspiration for Alice in Wonderland) and her two sisters, Lorina (who inspired the Lory) and Edith (who inspired the Eaglet). The painting is set against the background of the Great Orme, Llandudno’s famous mountain. Richmond said about Alice Liddell: “Little Alice, to whose pretty face and lovely coloring no reproduction can do justice, is seen on the right in profile, peering at the big volume on her sister’s lap.”

I really love American McGee’s two Alice games. True, they’re gory slashers, but they’re also really fun video games whose gameplay stimulates the determined struggle for agency of the protagonist, who is a snippy, traumatized mentally ill woman in Victorian England, with all the life experiences that entails.

It also blows me away how incredibly steeped the games are with references to Carroll’s text. There’s one bit where Alice walks by the posed corpses of the Lory, Eaglet, Mouse, and Duck, four characters from the Caucus-Race who no one ever remembers. The degree of love for the books is astounding.

This is a form of “hardcore” reinvention that I actually like, because despite all appearances it’s not actually grimdark. The storyline is actually pretty optimistic, because the goal is for Alice to work through her trauma using the Wonderland fantasy and emerge a healthier person. The games are not dismissive of Alice’s substantial issues and inability to actually deal with real life, they’re incredibly critical of the time period and culture in which the Alice books are situated. Carroll’s mockery of values in dictatorial children’s literature translates into Alice’s cynical sniping about her gin-addicted nurse and the toxic quality of fish in the Thames.

I think it’s really cool that we have a medium that can DO all these things at once: sequel beloved novels from a century and a half ago with an interactive, computer-animated game that stimulates the mental illness of the protagonist whose survival the player is motivated to work towards.