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*The Looking Glass Wars* by Frank Beddor - young adult fantasy book review


The Looking Glass Wars
by Frank Beddor
Grades 7-9 384 pages Dial September 2006 Hardcover    

Frank Beddor’s fantastic The Looking Glass Wars lives up to the hype. It’s not so much a retelling of Lewis Carroll’s (a.k.a. Reverend Charles Dodgson’s) Alice’s Adventures Underground as it is homage. Lewis Carroll’s writing ranks highly in the pantheon of great children’s authors; I initially thought it was nearly blasphemous to take the characters Carroll wrote about and create a new work of fiction using them as an inspiration. However, the adventures Alice has in Wonderland can be thought of as occurring in an alternate reality. If one can be accepted, then multiple ones can as well-- including that of dark-haired Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland throne.

In the prologue to The Looking Glass Wars, a very different version of how Alice’s Adventures Underground originated is related. The Reverend Charles Dodgson has a picnic “on the banks of the river Cherwell” with Alice Liddell and her sisters, Edith and Lorina, and presents Alice with a book he’s written about her adventures in Wonderland. Rather than being composed completely from his own imagination, the story is Alice’s life history to the age of seven, when she was known as Alyss Heart and was the daughter of Queen Genevieve and King Nolan. Charles Dodgson, believing that her story is made up, has drastically altered much of what she’s told him. He thinks she’ll be pleased with the result, not knowing that since what Alice told him is the truth, any variation on her words would be taken as an insult by her, and a sign of the Reverend’s disbelief:
“No one is ever going to believe me now!” she screamed. “You’ve ruined everything! You’re the cruelest man I’ve ever met, Mr. Dodgson, and if you had believed a single word I told you, you’d know how very cruel that is! I never want to see you again! Never, never, never!”
How’d Alyss wind up in London, England, so far away from her true home in Wonderland? The first fifteen chapters of The Looking Glass Wars tells of her life in Wonderland, a seemingly idyllic country where people gifted with White Imagination compete for power with those who excel in Black Imagination, and of how she was forced to leave by her wicked aunt, Queen Redd (Lewis’s Red Queen). The young princess Alyss Heart, even in the childish tricks and pranks she pulls on characters such as her tutor, Bibwit Harte (the inspiration in this tale for Dodgson’s creation of the White Rabbit), gives some indication of her remarkable abilities. When her aunt plans a decidedly hostile takeover of power and kills Alyss’s father and mother, the loyal Hatter Madigan (Carroll’s the mad Hatter) helps her to escape via Crystal Transport, or looking glass transport:
Most looking glasses served as portals to the Crystal Continuum, a network of byways that enabled any and every Wonderlander to enter through one looking glass and exit from another.
As Queen Redd shouts “Off with her head!” and decapitates Alyss’s mother, after already having killed her father, Hatter Madigan grabs Alyss by the hand and jumps into a looking glass in the palace. Unfortunately for both of them (and for all of Wonderland), they get separated while in the Continuum. Alyss Heart emerges from a dirty puddle in London, and Hatter Madigan finds himself “standing in the middle of a wide thoroughfare known as the Champs-Elysees” in 1859 Paris.

I mentioned earlier in that there is a lot of hype surrounding The Looking Glass Wars. Frank Beddor, who is also the producer of the hit comedy There’s Something About Mary, has an interesting website devoted to this novel, the first in a planned trilogy. It’s slow-loading, but if you would like to learn more about the book, the address is, you can play an online card game, read about the four-issue comic book miniseries called Hatter M based on Hatter Madigan’s adventures, and about a movie that’s already in the works. The characters Lewis Carroll immortalized live once again, but in skewed forms with somewhat different names. For instance, the Cheshire Cat is an innocent-looking kitten that can morph into a deadly part-human, part-feline assassin known as The Cat. The Looking Glass Wars may not appeal to all Alice purists and is violent in parts, but it is a highly entertaining and page-turning book recommended for anyone who likes fantasy literature.

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  Douglas R. Cobb/2006 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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