True Confessions from Wonderland Book Review

Writer Lynn Murphy gives a completely different perspective on the classic Alice in Wonderland. Instead of Alice’s point of view, this story gives the point of view of all the other characters in Wonderland. Young reader Maddy falls into the story of Alice in Wonderland and then interviews all of the chief characters in turn. They all pretty much deny the Lewis Carroll version of the story.

As an Alice fan, I had mixed feelings about this one. I’m not entirely sure this is the version I prefer, if I have to choose only one. Even so, there were many things I enjoyed about this book, and many places that made me smile or laugh. This version of Wonderland has much of the “madness” taken out of it as well as the dangers while still holding on to some wonder and charm. I actually think it would be a preferable Wonderland to visit without worrying about having your head chopped off or more nonsense than you can handle.

I also appreciated that the writer was very familiar with the original, its classic illustrations and several of its more famous movie versions, making different references to these.

And though this is still a fantasy, there are also a few interesting true background facts thrown in such as how it is that hat makers were thought to be mad or in danger of becoming mad or how John Tenniel was inspired to draw the Mad Hatter.

Mad Hatter drawing by John Tenniel

All of the Wonderland characters that Maddy meets have long aristocratic names and have hidden talents and interests that are completely absent from the original version. The Mad Hatter’s name is Aldus Broderick Crookshanks McGillicutty-Smythe, and the White Rabbit enjoys oil painting. All of the characters are described in a unique way as to their appearance and manner of dress which doesn’t agree with either the Tenniel illustrations or Disney portrayals of the characters. They also express themselves in a way that seems appropriate to 1800s characters, although they are, apparently, aware of some modern trends and technology.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

“And, of course, I never miss the Zumba class the Mock Turtle teaches on Thursdays.” — the White Rabbit

When Maddy questions this, he says, “How else do you think we all stay fit enough for quadrilles and caucus racing?”

“I had argued with my mother that morning and then stubbed four of my toes on the front door” — The Caterpillar.

“Poor Carl, he is portrayed as a surly, unpleasant and unattractive sort of servant, when in reality, for a fish footman, he is rather handsome and keeps his scales clean. He never smells fishy either, which I assure you is a fine thing when your servants are of the fish variety.” — the Duchess

“Should you be surprised, having spoken to so many others, that there was no singing at the table of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat?’ Oh, it’s a song we all know, of course, but no one was singing it on that particular day.” — The Dormouse.

I’m so glad “Twinkle Twinkle Little Bat” is part of the Wonderland culture even in this version. The Dormouse interview might be my favorite part of this book.

Maddy tells the March Hare that kids today are not generally very interested in classic literature and, instead, enjoy Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Captain Underpants.

Finally, the Hare said, “What kind of writer names his character after unmentionables?”

I appreciate a lot of the nonsense in the original Alice as a kind of clever nonsense, but there is one scene in the original book which perplexes and bothers me, because it doesn’t seem to serve a purpose. That is the scene where a baby the Duchess is holding transforms into a pig. In this version of the story, what happens here is much more rational.

The croquet game in this book is still whimsical but without any abuse to animals, although I like to believe that the animals in Wonderland don’t mind participating in this silly version of the game. Also, all of the playing card characters get to keep their heads in Murphy’s version of the story.

At the conclusion, Maddy leaves it up to you which version you think is the true one.

In her afterword, Murphy explains that she is an art teacher at a K-12 school and that she was inspired to write the book after the school held an exhibition with an Alice the Wonderland theme. She discovered that many of the teachers and students did not like the book or Alice. Although she had always enjoyed the book, her mind began to imagine a different version of things.

The Nearly Indestructible Scarecrow of Oz


For the Kiddos (2)

Photo by ActionVance on Unsplash

In this fall season, as people put out their pumpkins and scarecrows, it seems fitting that I should read L. Frank Baum’s Scarecrow of Oz, book #9 in the Oz series.

As a child, I made several attempts to read the classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

By William Wallace Denslow [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
One of my older brothers was and still remains a big fan of the movie, and he had a copy of the book. This same brother gave me a record of the movie soundtrack one Christmas. As a child, I discovered a stash of my then college-age brother’s childhood books in a storage crawl space. That crawl space became my “fort” and my secret reading nook. (One of my friends became fascinated with how the crawl space led directly into said brother’s closet, much to my brother’s annoyance, but that is another story.)

I think, at the time, I was disappointed with the differences I noticed between the familiar movie and the less familiar book. For instance, it is fairly well known that the ruby slippers are actually silver slippers in the book.

Image from William Wallace Denslow for The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

As an adult, I gave it another try and bought the full set of Oz books on my Kindle for $.99.

Even if you’ve only seen The Wizard of Oz movie and have not read any of the books, you will remember that the one thing that the scarecrow fears is fire. In this book, Baum seems to emphasize that nothing short of fire could really destroy the Scarecrow.

In this story, the Scarecrow stands up to King Krewl, a wicked king who rules over Jinxland. Jinxland is part of the Quadling country in Oz, but the land is divided from Oz by a Great Gulf and mountains. For this reason, King Krewl feels he can rule, although Jinxland is technically part of Oz and under the rule of Queen Ozma.

Scarecrowcover (1)
Public Domain, image via

It seems that all that is needed to keep the Scarecrow a living being is for his head to remain intact. He stands up against King Krewl and is stabbed with spears. These only make holes in his clothing. Later, as he escapes Jinxland in the company of some characters new to this book, he is nearly drowned in a waterfall. The other characters discuss whether it’s actually possible for the Scarecrow to drown, and most think he can’t.

He can be weighed down with water. He can have all his straw tossed out because it’s “full of polliwogs and fish eggs” and get new straw, but, even in this condition, without any of his stuffing, he is still able to talk. His intact head is put on the shoulder of another character in order that the Scarecrow might be able to see and lead the way.

Although the Scarecrow is the hero and namesake of the story, he really doesn’t come into it until Chapter 13. At first, we are introduced to new characters from the outside world, a girl named Trot …

Trot, Public Domain, via

and her friend Cap’n Bill …

Public Domain, via

They enter magical lands through a whirlpool and, at first, have adventures in magical lands outside of Oz, including the land of Mo, where it rains lemonade and snows popcorn, already buttered and salted. It sounds a bit like Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, doesn’t it?

Baum also introduces a new unusual creature called an Ork. I found this interesting because it sounds similar to Tolkien’s Orcs, although spelled differently. Then, I remembered I first heard this word as the name of a planet in the old Mork and Mindy TV show … Mork from Ork. It’s interesting to me that there are three fantasy uses of this word that are unrelated to each other.

The Ork is a strange bird-like creature with four legs like a stork’s legs, wings “like an inverted chopping bowl” that are covered in tough skin instead of feathers and a plume of red feathers on top of its head. It also has a strange tail like a propeller. Perhaps, because I’m not familiar with a chopping bowl, my mental picture did not match W.W. Denslow’s illustration.

Ork, Public Domain, via

The Ork brings Cap’n Bill and Trot into the Jinxland part of Oz, but first they eat some berries that cause them to shrink in order that they might be carried in Trot’s sunbonnet and not weigh down the Ork. They carry with them the antidote berries to make them grow back to their regular size once they reach their destination.

The Ork then finds his way back or Orkland but returns with a flock of Orks to save the Scarecrow from getting burned at the stake by King Krewl.

There is also a love story in this Oz book.

Pon and Princess Gloria, Public Domain, via

The gardener’s boy, Pon, is hopelessly in love with King Krewl’s daughter Princess Gloria. Gloria has another suitor, an old man named Googly Goo, who pays a witch to cast a spell on Gloria to freeze her heart so that she can not love Pon.

There is an interesting description of this spell, how Gloria turned transparent except for her heart which was frozen in icicles. It made me wonder how modern movie makers would depict or animate the scene. Under the spell, she is cold towards everyone, including Googly Goo.

Later, the Scarecrow forces the witch to undo the spell and does some magic which shrinks her size and turns her into an ordinary old woman without any special power. I wish there had been a different way of overcoming the evil, for instance, Pon himself being able to melt her heart.

Queen Gloria, Public Domain, via

There are places in the story where Baum seems to be simplifying the complications in favor of the good characters being successful and, even by a modern standard of writing, seeming to make the mistake of telling rather than showing what could be an exciting conflict, summarizing bits of action that could make the story more exciting. Even so, I enjoyed it.