Two of our most beloved young heroines hail from the Victorian Era – Alice of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865, Lewis Carroll) and Dorothy of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900, L. Frank Baum.) I grew up with their stories, but perhaps because they are such a part of our culture, I never thought about what makes them so special.
The stories both feature a young child being thrust into a strange world where the rules are not what she expects. Both heroines have cruel female antagonists – The Red Queen, The Wicked Witch – and lovable, bumbling male sidekicks. What makes the stories so timeless, I think, is their astute critique of Western society through the eyes of the innocent. Alice in particular encounters the absurdity of adult behavior, such as Humpty Dumpty’s assertion that “a word means what I want it to mean.” The Oz books, on the other hand, focus more on magic as a system with particular rules which dictate, for example, that the Scarecrow fears fire while the Tin Man must avoid water.
It’s interesting to speculate to what degree Baum might have drawn inspiration from Carroll. The books definitely differ in tone. Wonderland is a cozy, constricted world much like Carroll’s England. Oz is modeled on the wide open spaces and diverse surroundings of America. In terms of film and animation, Alice’s story gets a more faithful adaptation. The celebrated MGM adaptation of Oz makes significant changes (mostly improvements, in my view) to Baum’s very linear narrative. The movie also imitates Wonderland in that it explains Dorothy’s adventures as a dream, an element that is NOT in the books.
The unfortunate thing is that many of today’s kids don’t read the original books. I myself didn’t read them until I was an adult, due to my interest in classic literature. One thing for certain: Alice and Dorothy having adventures together would be one heck of a mashup. This being the Internet Age, it’s already been done, at least in fan art:
Of course, this being the Current Year, we have to make it a competition. Which of these girl adventurers is your favorite: Alice or Dorothy?