The Many Faces of Alice

Contrary to what Grace Slick would have us believe, Alice in Wonderland isn’t about drugs.

Although Lewis Carroll’s 1865 novella stars a hookah-smoking Caterpillar, a variety of perception-altering substances, and a cast of nightmarish characters you would only expect to meet on the third day of a very high fever, most scholars agree that there’s no evidence that Lewis Carroll wrote under the influence of opium or laudanum or anything other than his own outlandish imagination -- and a possible neurological condition.  

Carroll’s journals and medical history suggest he may have suffered from Todd’s Syndrome (dubbed Alice in Wonderland Syndrome in the 1950s), a condition which causes a slew of disorienting symptoms, including hallucinations that leave the victim feeling smaller or larger than they are, distorted time perception, and a general feeling of detachment.

One anonymous sufferer wrote:

I would have these "episodes" when the world around me would instantly become a mirror image of what I was used to. It happened once when we were returning home and we were riding down the one-way street we lived on. All of a sudden, it felt as if we were now going east instead of west, all of the traffic was going in the wrong direction, and our house was now on the opposite side of the street, and at the other end of the block. Once in the house it was difficult to find my way around. Then all of a sudden things were back to normal.

The Lewis Carroll Society of North America has a third theory for how the author came up with the fantastical images in his writing:

Our explanation for how the Alice books... and all Carroll’s other writings came to be is simple: the man was extremely talented.

The Real Alice and the Real Lewis Carroll, whose close relationship is a story for a whole other blog post, entitled “Don’t Let Your Young Daughter Befriend An Aging Male Artist.” 

The Real Alice and the Real Lewis Carroll, whose close relationship is a story for a whole other blog post, entitled “Don’t Let Your Young Daughter Befriend An Aging Male Artist.” 

Regardless of how Carroll conceived of Alice and her bizarre acquaintances in Wonderland, the images in his writing have left a lasting impression on our collective imagination, inspiring everything from Jefferson Airplane’s 1967 “White Rabbit” to Tim Burton’s exceedingly Burtonesque 2010 film adaptation to the mushroom-heavy blacklight posters that exist in every 19-year-old stoner’s dorm room to the fresh interpretations our own talented singer/songwriters will perform at May 14th’s Alice-themed Wild Bob’s Musical Book Club (be there!).

Here are some depictions of Alice through the years to get you in that Wonderland State of Mind:

Gertrude Kay

Gertrude Kay

A.A. Nash

A.A. Nash

Margaret Tarrant

Margaret Tarrant

Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali

From W.W. Young's 1915 silent film

From W.W. Young's 1915 silent film

A.E. Jackson

A.E. Jackson

Arthur Rackham

Arthur Rackham

Mabel Lucie Atwood

Mabel Lucie Atwood

Gwynedd M. Hudson

Gwynedd M. Hudson

From the 1951 Disney film

From the 1951 Disney film

From Norman McLeod's 1933 film

From Norman McLeod's 1933 film


-Ingrid

True Grit: A Western for People Who Don’t Much Care for Westerns

Before True Grit, I'd only read one western novel. It was during the summer I worked as a cashier at a hospital cafeteria, located in a sunless basement room a couple hundred feet (as the roach crawls) from the morgue. I had to wear an XXL blue shirt with a demoralizing logo and a baseball cap that did demoralizing things to my hair.

An old man who was a cafeteria regular for a while (all of our regulars were temporary…eventually they died or got better and we never saw them again) said he thought I’d enjoy this western paperback he had, and the next day when I showed up for my shift it was waiting for me by my register. 

Based on the cover, it was about boobs and native stereotypes. Not my favorite topics, but I persevered through 180 pages of blazing guns and cattle drives because I was bored and all my regulars were dead and I wanted to be able to tell the nice old man that I had. 

It was as if a nine-year-old boy from 1957 had projected his most ardent shoot ‘em up/you’re not the boss of me/sexually naïve fantasies onto a musty yellow page. Cartoonishly villainous Indians, maidens so unresourceful they couldn’t find their way out of a burning saloon, gratuitous tumbleweeds—the works.

I finished the novel but swore off westerns after that. Life’s too short to read about helpless female characters with chronically heaving bosoms and unrealistically good hygiene for 1800s Wyoming. We have the internet for that now! 

[Library Fact: certain readers – I don’t want to typecast, but usually readers in the 75+ set – will write their initials on the end papers or title page of a series book – usually westerns or romances, genres in which it’s not uncommon to have 40 titles in a single series – so when they’re browsing the shelf in the future and pick that one up, they know they’ve already been there, done that.

The only time librarians don't mind if you write in the books

The only time librarians don't mind if you write in the books

Yes, it’s adorable. The only hitch is, libraries generally have multiple copies of a title, or throw an old copy out to replace it with a fresh one, and all those others copies have escaped the reader’s branding, so there’s NO WAY TO KNOW if they’ve read it or not!! It stresses me out on behalf of these dear readers and, therefore, I do not recommend this method of remembering.]

So when my library system announced Charles Portis’ True Grit as the Big Read title, I had flashbacks to the summer I worked at that cafeteria, and instantly wanted some tater tots. Then I remembered how much I hated westerns. Since Wild Bob’s likes to partner with the Library and participate in the Big Read, and since I am not only a Wild Bob’s committee member but also a librarian, I knew I couldn’t get out of reading it.

But what started as a chore quickly turned into a stay-up-too-late, forget-to-clean-the-litter-box sort of reading experience. 

Twist…True Grit is really good! 

There’s just one thing you need to know about this novel: Mattie Ross, our 14-year-old Arkansan protagonist, is unstoppable. 

After her father is murdered by the royal son-of-a-gun Tom Chaney, Mattie seeks out the meanest, “grittiest” marshal to help her track down this unrepentant varmint in the wilds of Oklahoma and administer justice. That marshal is one Reuben “Rooster” Cogburn – one-eyed, cranky, possessing of a dubious past. A smarmy Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf (pronounced “La-Beef”) also wants Chaney and insinuates himself into the mission, though his ultimate plans for justice do not match Mattie’s. Rooster’s vision of justice aligns with whoever pays the most money...or is he more loyal than he appears? The weird, squabbling trio sets off into the wintry countryside with lots of ammo, lots of booze, and lots of cornbread. 

Of course capturing Chaney isn’t an easy, cut-and-dry job, and that’s lucky for us, because Mattie, Rooster, LaBoeuf, and the other assorted outlaws and drunkards they meet are among the best characters in American literature. I could’ve listened to them talk for 400 more pages. 

Has Portis made me a bonafide western convert?!

Songs I Would Write About True Grit If I Could Write Songs:

1) Shootin’ Cornbread (With You) – a tender, lilting waltz inspired by the passage where Rooster, LaBoeuf, and Finch drunkenly try to out-shoot one another using cornbread as targets and none of them are very good. (“It was entertaining for a while but there was nothing educational about it,” says Mattie with typical Mattie frankness.)

2) I Prayed for a Man But Got This Billy Goat Instead – a mournful blues piece about how “men will live like billy goats if they are let alone” (Mattie again). Will draw heavily from my own dating life experiences.

3) The Ballad of Lucky Ned Pepper – Lyrics: “I may be considerably unattractive with a slightly damaged jaw as well as obvious facial scarring / but you are a one-eyed fat man.”

4) Nothing I Like To Do Pays Well – this quote by Rooster really resonates with me as a songwriter. A spoken word piece in which I get up on stage and bemoan the various choices that led to me to the humanities instead of web development. 

I can’t wait to see what the real songwriters of Wild Bob’s come up with for this one! Thanks for reading, and see you at the show on Friday, April 8 at 6 p.m. at Lindberg’s Tavern.

-Ingrid

Show Announcement: 1984 by George Orwell

What better way to ring in the new year than George Orwell's startling vision of the future in 1984? Seriously though, we look forward to the songs inspired by this powerful classic.

Join us at Lindbergs on Friday, January 8 at 6:30 p.m. for local music inspired by the book, intermission trivia hosted by the fine book purveyors at Bookmarx and a book-themed cocktail crafted by Lindbergs. $5 cover at the door goes to contributing musicians. RSVP for the show here

Poster design by Mark Leicht

Poster design by Mark Leicht

The Compilation Album is Here! Volume One: So It Goes

This past weekend we celebrated the release of our first compilation album Volume One: So It Goes with an album release show at Lindbergs. Thanks to everyone who made it out to the show!

You can pick up copies of Volume One: So It Goes at Bookmarx and Arts & Letters in downtown Springfield. Digital downloads are also available. All album proceeds benefit Ozarks Literacy Council, a local nonprofit promoting literacy through free services to adults and children throughout Southwest Missouri. 

Photo by Steve Kastner

Photo by Steve Kastner

A special thank you to Andy Karr who wrote this review of the album:

So It Goes, the first compiled volume of songs written for Wild Bob’s Musical Book Club, is an excellent representation of what makes the monthly showcase one of Springfield’s most unique and special events. The selections cover a wide swath of artists, styles, and narrative approaches inspired by the equally diverse lineup of books chosen during Wild Bobs’ first year. Despite the variety, the songs feel of surprisingly of a piece; this is an album. Warm, intimate production unites an array of compositions ranging in affect from hilarious to heartbreaking. It’s revelatory. While the wonderful evenings at Lindberg’s are bookish parties, So It Goes is a cozy, reverent gathering around the hearth. The craft present in these songs shines on record in ways impossible onstage, and shows exactly how great a gift Wild Bob’s Musical Book Club is to our city.

We also want to extend a huge thank you to the contributing artists for donating their time and talents to this project and to Jim Rea Studios for helping us bring the album to life.

Track List
1. Nothing Hurts by Brett Miller
inspired by Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
2. Slaughterhouse-Five by Inge Chiles
inspired by Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
3. River Bend by Kevin Cott
inspired by Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
4. Mr. Bixby by Emily Higgins
inspired by Life on the Mississippi by Mark Twain
5. Phantom Bound by Jason Loftin
inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. Back to You by Jin J. X
inspired by One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
7. Love Alone Will Save by Patrick Mureithi
inspired by Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
8. Nothing But the Road Behind by Barak Hill
inspired by A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
9. Hell Opens Up Underneath by Rob Hunt
inspired by A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
10. 50 Shades of Insane by Brooke Austen
inspired by 50 Shades of Grey by E.L. James
11. Dollys Don't Run by Ryan Spilken
inspired by Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
12. The Snitch by Steve Ames
inspired by Winter's Bone by Daniel Woodrell
13. Waiting for a Change by Todd Mincks
inspired by The Giver by Lois Lowry
14. A Song for Mrs Bennet by Will Chiles
inspired by Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen