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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Mad Hatters and March Hares

Ellen Datlow professes a love for Lewis Carroll's Alice books (as most interesting and intelligent people do). She has compiled a collection of short stories, most of them with a sinister air, that touch on some aspect of Carroll's work, called it Mad Hatters and March Hares, and except for a few stories that confused me I found it very gratifying, as a fan of Alice.

Given Datlow's place in the world of horror literature, many of these stories are not for the weak of heart. Many different characters are touched on, including Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum in Jane Yolen's "Conjoined," and Humpty-Dumpty in "All the King's Men," by Jeffrey Ford. In that story, Humpty Dumpty gets revenge on the king, who is the one who topples him from the wall.

One of the strongest stories of the collection deals with the Mad Hatter, or rather why hatters were called mad--they dealt with mercury and it poisoned them. "Mercury," by Priya Sharma, has an Alice stand-in living with her father, a hatter who has gone balmy, in debtor's prison. In a story that bristles with viciousness, "Run, Rabbit" has Alice gaining revenge on the White Rabbit. "How many other children over the years have you led astray, you shitty little bunny?" she asks him.

One story is about a character who didn't make it into the book. The story goes that Carroll wrote a chapter about a wasp in a wig, and his illustrator, John Tenniel, said that such a thing was impossible to draw. "He would draw many things in his career, Tenniel vowed as he worked his pen free from its Arthurian depth, but never would he draw a wasp in a wig!" So Andy Duncan has written "Worrity, Worrity," which as Tenniel seeing wasps everywhere. "The Flame After the Candle," by Seanan McGuire, deals with the elderly Alice, who has lunch with Peter Davies, who was the basis for Peter Pan. I found this story to be half good, as it is parallel to a story about a faux Alice called Olive, and I couldn't get how they connected.

Perhaps the best story in the bunch is only tangentially connected to Alice. "Moon, Memory, Muchness," by Katherine Vaz, is about a woman who owns and operates a tea room with an Alice theme. She meets a celebrated novelist and her daughter, and the girl reminds her of her own child, who was murdered. The story surprised me with a twist that made me reread what I had just read.

For those who fancy Alice, and all of you should, this is a must-read. It will probably also make you want to reread the Alice books, which should be done on a regular basis.

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