Mad Hatters & March Hares (2017) Ed. by Ellen Datlow

From the book’s Synopsis:

‘Ellen Datlow asked eighteen of the most brilliant and acclaimed writers working today to dream up stories inspired by all the strange events and surreal characters found in Wonderland.’

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Art by Dave McKean

In her introduction, Datlow writes of her love of ‘the Alice books’, especially the many ‘illustrated versions’. A few years ago, she was asked by someone at a convention if there was an ‘anthology idea’ she had always wanted to do. This question led to the creation of this new collection of Alice-inspired short stories: Mad Hatters and March Hares.

Whether you have read the original books or watched one of the numerous film adaptations, you will be very familiar with Alice and the weird and wonderful characters she meets on her journey down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland. How many can you name off the top of your head? Go on, try it!

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I have read the books and seen some of the film versions. I am a big fan of Walt Disney’s 1951 animated Alice in Wonderland. I also enjoyed author Jeff Noon’s 1996 novel Automated Alice, in which he attempts to emulate the style of Lewis Carrol’s original books while setting it in a steampunkesque universe. He writes Alice as an 8-year-old girl, so it may feel like a children’s book, but the witty wordplay is worth the entry alone.

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As with most short story collections, I enjoyed some tales more than others in Mad Hatters and March Hares. I have included brief spoiler-free summaries of the stories that impressed me the most.

 

All the King’s Men” by Jeffrey Ford
‘All the King’s horses and all the King’s men couldn’t put Humpty together again.’ I loved this darkly-funny tale of a lascivious Humpty Dumpty who knows too much than may be healthy for him. A surprising transformation halfway through the story leads to an imaginative pay off. This has led me to seek out Jeffrey Ford’s 2016 collection of short stories, ‘A Natural History of Hell’.

 

Conjoined” by Jane Yolen
An orangutan from Barnum’s circus narrates the story of his encounter with the mighty Jabberwocky. Tweedledee and Tweedledum also feature. I enjoyed the orangutan’s narration with his penchant for logic.

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John Tenniel’s original illustration of the twins

“In Memory of a Summer’s Day” by Matthew Kressel

‘If Wonderland wants you, it takes you, and there’s nothing you nor I nor anyone can do.’

In this rather seedy tale, Wonderland is a theme park filled with strangeness and danger. One of the guides narrates this story of long working hours and foolhardy guests who are prepared to risk everything for a new experience.

 

“Sentence Like a Saturday” by Seanan McGuire
The Cheshire Cat comes through a doorway into the real world and is transformed into a young girl. This beautiful and touching tale tells the story of her life from finding a home to getting married and having children of her own. The author has fun contrasting the riddles and chaos of Wonderland with the order and rules of Earth. This was my favourite story in the collection.

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“Some Kind of Wonderland” by Richard Bowes
A reminiscence by the actor who played the Cheshire Cat in a 1960s New York-set film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. The film is about to have a revival for its 50th anniversary. I enjoyed the confessional style of the narration as we gradually learn more about the different characters who starred in the film. Also the brief descriptions of some of the film’s scenes and locations help create an intriguing picture of this fictional movie.

 

“The Flame After the Candle” by Catherynne M. Valente

‘If it was all real, why don’t you go back? When the lights have gone out […] why stay here in this dreadful world?’

Intertwines two stories: one about a girl called Olive holidaying in Wales who discovers an old looking glass; the other features the “real” Alice grown old and meeting up with the Peter who inspired the story ‘Peter Pan’. This was another of my favourites. The author explores themes of childhood, imagination, and disappointment. The two narratives complement each other, and I enjoyed searching for similarities between them. The Alice and Peter story is tinged with sadness yet also offers hope and ends with a mystery.

 

If you have an interest in the original books and would like to see where modern authors might take you in the weird world of Wonderland, give this anthology a try. It should be noted that some of these stories are dark and contain adult content and themes. If you are fans of any of these authors I think you will enjoy their interpretations of Carrol’s bizarre universe.

 

Table of Contents

“My Own Invention” by Delia Sherman
“Lily-White & The Thief of Lesser Night” by C.S.E. Cooney
“Conjoined” by Jane Yolen
“Mercury” by Priya Sharma
“Some Kind of Wonderland” by Richard Bowes
“Alis” by Stephen Graham Jones
“All the King’s Men” by Jeffrey Ford
“Run, Rabbit” by Angela Slatter
“In Memory of a Summer’s Day” by Matthew Kressel
“Sentence Like a Saturday” by Seanan McGuire
“Worrity, Worrity” by Andy Duncan
“Eating the Alice Cake” by Kaaron Warren
“The Queen of Hats” by Ysabeau Wilce
“A Comfort, One Way” by Genevieve Valentine
“The Flame After the Candle” by Catherynne M. Valente
“Moon, and Memory, and Muchness” by Katherine Vaz
“Run, Rabbit, Run” by Jane Yolen

(Thanks to Tor Publishing and NetGalley for the digital ARC. All opinions are my own.)

 

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