Book review: Mad Hatters and March Hares

Mad Hatters and March Hares: All-New Stories from the World of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, edited by Ellen Datlow

Description: (from Macmillan)

From master anthologist Ellen Datlow comes an all-original of weird tales inspired by the strangeness of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

Between the hallucinogenic, weird, imaginative wordplay and the brilliant mathematical puzzles and social satire, Alice has been read, enjoyed, and savored by every generation since its publication. 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.

Featuring stories and poems from Seanan McGuire, Jane Yolen, Catherynne M. Valente, Delia Sherman, Genevieve Valentine, Priya Sharma, Stephen Graham Jones, Richard Bowes, Jeffrey Ford, Angela Slatter, Andy Duncan, C.S.E. Cooney, Matthew Kressel, Kris Dikeman, Jane Yolen, Kaaron Warren, Ysbeau Wilce, and Katherine Vaz.

Expected publication: December 12th 2017.
A review copy (eARC) of this book was provided by the publisher through Netgalley. Some things might change in the final copy.

I wrote the content warnings that I could think of for each stories, but here’s a recap if anybody want to know this upfront:
child endangerment, drug addiction, death or maybe suicide by overdose, murder, self-harm, implied rape or sexual assault, eating disorder, drowning, suicidal thoughts

I’m always excited about SFF anthologies coming out, and one focusing on the world of Alice in Wonderland really seemed like a truly interesting one to read for me.

While not the *biggest* fan of the original books, I really appreciate this nonsense world, how it plays with logic and how anything could happen, no matter how unbelievable or incredible. I think it would be more accurate to say this anthology draws from the many things Lewis Carroll has written and having only read Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass might not be enought to understand all the references. To speak for myself I also didn’t understood all the references mainly because I read the books in french long ago and most names are not the same, but it wasn’t a very big issue either.

This anthology definitely follows in the footsepts of the books and reimagined what could have been, tie up stories or even throw a whole new look on this world. I didn’t liked the stories that merely used the names of the characters and transposed them into a whole different setting, or tried to do too much, make the story feel more “adult”, if I’m making any sense.

Some stories felt written by people who genuinely loved and connected to Lewis Carroll’s stories but I felt like some others merely saw this opportunity as an exercice in style or imagination (which is valid) and those stories didn’t sat right with me most of the time. By trying to distance themselves from the source material and to address the lore around the man and the story, it went to some very dark and edgy places that weren’t what I was expecting to find in such profusion in this anthology. Still, it sometimes discussed some very important topics and in the end I liked what some of these stories had to say.

As usual, I loved some stories more than others and here are some thoughts for each of them :

My Own Invention” by Delia Sherman
I loved this story! Such a great start for this anthology. Where Alice isn’t a girl and the entire concept of Alices is reinvented.

Lily-White & The Thief of Lesser Night” by C.S.E. Cooney
A bit long, almost a novella. I didn’t love it really but it was still a good creepy one that is worth being there. Maybe tried to stuff too many stories in one? Loved the presence of Cheshire animals and the story focusing on two sisters going in an adventure.
content warning: child endangerment

Conjoined” by Jane Yolen
Told in the first person by an orangutan from a circus who goes to have his own adventure in Wonderland. Really liked that story of this creature very fond of logic going into such an illogical world and keeping his head straight.

Mercury” by Priya Sharma
This storys is set in a debtor’s prison where Alice’s father – a hatter – is emprisonned and mad from the mercury he uses to makes hats for a mysterious man. A sad story where Alice stuggles with sanity, but is still a quick-witted kind teenage girl.

“Not meaning any harm doesn’t mean you won’t cause me any.”

Some Kind of Wonderland” by Richard Bowes
This is the story of actors who starred on an Alice In Wonderland adaptation back in the day, the ugly side of the actors’ life and what became of them. It focuses on the young gay actor who played the Cheshire cat and his involvement with the director, now dead. Not very an enjoyable one for me, even if I understand it didn’t aimed to be enjoyable.
content warning: drug addiction, death or maybe suicide by overdose

Alis” by Stephen Graham Jones
Mixed mathematics, drugs, sex and horror. Interesting premise and idea but didn’t work for me really. I’m not loving when the stories are trying to make grown up themes out of this, especially with an unlikeable protagonist and grad students who think highly of themselves. I liked it a bit better when it turned in a horror story though, but the over abundance of self harm was… hard to read about.
content warning: drug use, self-harm (very graphic)

All the King’s Men” by Jeffrey Ford
About Cinder, the Queen of Hearts’s sister, who’s asked to reassembled Humpty Dumpty after the king killed him. That was a weird story but didn’t really make me entertained, I was relieved when it was over even if it managed to stick to the nonsense world and add a bit of the magical.

Run, Rabbit” by Angela Slatter
Rabbit faces the consequences of bringing Alice in Wonderland. Another shady story, interesting. (Felt a bit disturbing to me that while he’s turned into the bad guy he’s also shown as bisexual.)

In Memory of a Summer’s Day” by Matthew Kressel
When Wonderland becomes a tourist attraction that everyone everywhere wants to visit at least once. The tour guide is uncomfortable with the way the tourists security is handled. I quite liked this one, even if it keeps on being very dark.

Sentence Like a Saturday” by Seanan McGuire
Here a Cheshire cat becomes a little girl after falling down a hole. I loved it and I think it would be the case for anyone who already love this author’s writing and themes of predilection. This story was really reminiscent of her Wayward Children series.

Worrity, Worrity” by Andy Duncan
This story was lost on me, coudn’t concentrate nor understand who and when and where all of this was set. It draws from the The Wasp In A Wig “suppressed” episode.

Eating the Alice Cake” by Kaaron Warren
This was the first to address child abuse and implied rape. From how very dark and disturbing most of the stories had been until now I was beginning to wonder why this matter hadn’t been addressed yet. The story used the mock turtle and and I don’t quite know what I think of it.
content warning: child abuse, implied rape or sexual assault

The Queen of Hats” by Ysabeau Wilce
A tamale girl gets her own adventure by falling down a trunk and a weird world of theatre. When Alice in Wonderland is reinvented through the lense of a girl from a non-western country: loved the idea!

A Comfort, One Way” by Genevieve Valentine
A bit confusing, but intriguing and different. Also plays with the idea of several Alices, and Mary Anns.

I have to note that there was a nice transition between the two stories here.

The Flame After the Candle” by Catherynne M. Valente
This story links two stories in one. One where a little girl is vacationing in Wales and falls through the looking glass, and one where Peter (from peter pan) and an old Alice meet and discuss their situations. I really liked this one, very clever.

“Oh, how very dare those precious old men prattle on and on to us about childhood! The only folk who obsess over the golden glow of youth are ones who’ve forgotten how perfectly dreadful it is to be a child.”

Moon, Memory, Muchness” by Katherine Vaz
This is about a woman whose young daughter was murdered and she has to keep on living by taking care of her little cafe called Wonderland. This took darker and darker turns and while it was very moving, it also made me feel very miserable.
content warning: eating disorder, drowning, suicidal thoughts

Run, Rabbit, Run” by Jane Yolen
This one was a poem. To be honest it was too short for me to have an opinion. Still a nice idea to close an anthology.

In the end this was a surprising anthology. I was not expecting it to be so dark and I don’t think all people who love the original books will like this. If people are going into this looking for similar stories and want to imerge themselves again in a nonsense world and be surprised anew this is not really the anthology for it. Some stories are of course strongly derivative of the original work ; but most of them are taking a closer look at all the darker things surrounding the book and writer.

My favourites were “My Own Invention” by Delia Sherman, “Conjoined” by Jane Yolen, “In Memory of a Summer’s Day” by Matthew Kressel, “Sentence Like a Saturday” by Seanan McGuire, “The Flame After the Candle” by Catherynne M. Valente, and lastly “The Queen of Hats” by Ysabeau Wilce.

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