Why is imagination important? How difficult it is to recover if lost? Why should we even care? All these questions ran through my mind as I fell under the spell of Frank Beddor’s fractured Looking Glass Wars.
Based on reviews, I almost didn’t read this book. Critics were condemning Bendor for how he had turned our beloved Alice in Wonderland into a story frothing with battles and so I feared his book might prove too adult to me. After all, I had quit reading the popular Wicked only a few chapters in, because the maturity level of its content robbed me of any joy in reading a book about my beloved Oz series. In contrast, Beddor’s trilogy is now on my list of series to read. No, Looking Glass Wars is not the original Alice in Wonderland, but it is a clever fractured tale about imagination–and the crazy world on the other side of the looking glass.
During the first pages of Looking Glass Wars, my preconceptions were running high. Instead of ushering readers down a rabbit hole or through a looking glass, Beddor sends our betrayed heroine fleeing from an author and then delves into a rather lengthy description of the civic war plaguing Wonderland. Neither enticed me. I almost quit reading, but then Alyss bubbles onto the pages. This six-year-old used her imagination to cover court instruments with fur, fill her birthday cake with gwormmies, and transfer her mother’s crown to her head so Alyss can play Queen for a day. I smiled: Beddor has a sense of fun.
Nowadays conventional wisdom to writers is to entice readers with an opening action scene. Beddor includes two, neither of which worked for me. Rather, he hoked me with a whimsical style and then reeled me in with his characters.They are as preposterous as the originals, but Beddor somehow makes them not only believable but also causes me to care about them.
In the original book Alice follows a rabbit into Wonderland. In Looking Glass Wars, the female lead’s name is Alyss and is heir to the Wonderland throne. According to him, we only know about her in our world because she met Lewis Carroll (author of the original book) after fleeing her world to escape death and thereby accidentally splashing into our world. Then there’s Tutor Bibwit. The rabbit that Alice followed into Wonderland shows up in Beddor’s book as her tutor who, despite his smugness in considering himself the most learned, wins our admiration because of his intense loyalty to the Wonderland princess. On the opposing side is Redd, familiar to us as the red queen (and mind you really is a chess piece), along with some other surprising characters from Carroll’s book. Some are good, others are evil, but all would no doubt satisfy Carroll’s sense of the eccentric. Even the caterpillar makes a few appearances! What astounded me the most is how how real Beddor made his most preposterous characters: rabbits, cards, chess pieces, caterpillars, jabberwocky. They always felt as real as the human characters.
The one glaring flaw in Looking Glass Wars is how especially in the first half of the book, Beddor often defaults to non-descript depictions of clothes and buildings. For example, the fabric of the queenly clothes and the royal curtains are “more voluptuous than anything ever imagined”. Are they made of satin, silk, or another fabric? Are they a royal color such as purple or silver? He never tells us. Beddor also relies on logical and unimaginative names for places: Boarderland, Volcanic Plains, and Wondertropolis. Surely, wonderland deserved more care the depiction of its landscape! In the latter half of the book, Beddor does provide some vivid portrayals of a decripit world, telling us that a corner was crowded with “smoky grills and crystal smugglers” or that “long-stemmed, flesh-eating roses slithered”. Apparently, ugliness is easier to describe than beauty.
Since closing its pages, the book stuck in my mind. Not for its style, whimsical as it is. Not for its unique characters, captivating as they are. Not even for Beddor’s ability to gracefully intertwine the original story with his fractured tale, astonishing as this is. What still runs through my mind months after my original read is the theme: Do we outgrow imagination? How can we recover it? And does imagination even matter?
My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.
How would you rate this book?
- We’re All Mad Here … (mohighlibrary.wordpress.com)