Saturday, 18 November 2006

The Looking Glass Wars, Frank Beddor, 2004

THE LOOKING GLASS WARS Frank Beddor, Egmont, 2004, 376 pages, paperback, NZ$19.99 ISBN 1-4052-1647-6 [NZ agents: Reed]

Revenge over Alice

This has to be the worst children’s book of the century, since the idea of a book even worse is unbearable. Forced to read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in his youth, Frank Beddor hated it, regarding it as a girl’s story. Now he has taken revenge by turning it into what he clearly believes is a boy’s story, one that, in his words, “involves bloodshed, murder, revenge and war”.

What Beddor has really created is a film script, with plenty of chases, and lots of opportunities for computer-generated images and special effects. All it lacks is plot, characters and setting.

The premise is that Alyss (Alice) is a princess who has escaped to Victorian England from Wonderland. Lewis Carroll (Rev. Charles Dodgson) promises to write down her story but instead turns it into “makebelieve, the foolish stuff of children.” Alyss then returns to fight her usurping aunt, Queen Redd for the throne of Wonderland.

In what his publishers call “a dazzling new spin,” Beddoe has transformed all the characters into fighters. Alyss is defended by The Mad Hatter, who is now Hatter Madigan, a skilled fighter. Dodge Anders is a skilled fighter. Tweedle-Dum and Tweedle-Dee are now combined in General Doppelganger, a skilled fighter. Other helpers include the Rook and Homburg Molly, both skilled fighters.

They are pitted against Redd, a skilled fighter, along with the Cat, a skilled fighting machine with nine lives and an army of cards, all skilled fighting machines. For chapter after chapter, they all fight.

The writing is as banal as the plot. Consider “He came here every once in a while, stood on the cliff overlooking the pool, thinking about the life that had happened to him.” There are lots of graceless sentences like that; in fact there are no graceful ones. Dean Liddell, introducing his daughters to Queen Victoria’s youngest son, says, “Girls, say hello to Prince Leopold.”

Beddor’s style is clunky and pompous. He has Dean Liddell hoping that by marrying Leopold, Alice will “teach him more about acting as a force for good in the world than I, merely as dean of his college, could have ever hoped to accomplish.” Leopold’s proposal to Alice is equally implausible, “Of course you realise that you will not have the title of Princess, nor be entitled to the ownership of the royal estates.”
Americanisms intrude everywhere, including the motto “In Alyss We Trust”, the old TV joke about things being the size of a breadbox and such classics as “Dover, England” and “Paris, France”. A man who can write about soldiers coming forward with “drawn rifles and bayonets” is at war with the English language. Computer-game geeks will be enraptured that the Wonderland equivalent of an AK-47 is an AD-52; anyone else will see it as evidence of a mind barren of imagination.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland may well be a frightening and disturbing book but The Looking Glass Wars is a thoroughly shoddy one. As Lewis Carroll wrote, “You couldn't deny that, even if you tried with both hands.”

Trevor Agnew

First published in The Press, Christchurch, New Zealand, on January 15th 2005.

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