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.