Is “Alice in Wonderland” fantasy?

I see many people classifying Alice in Wonderland as fantasy but my question is whether this is correct? Before we can answer this question we need to have a workable definition of what fantasy is.

The word “fantasy” itself is too broad is to be useful as a definition as it could be understood as placing all works of fiction within the realm of fantasy. After all, most fiction originates in the imagination of some author and without fantasy no work of fiction would exist. We need to narrow down our definition of fantasy.

According to Wikipedia, fantasy is a genre that employs magic or the supernatural as a principal plot element, theme or setting. Well do we see any of these in Alice? Magic not really, the supernatural? Perhaps, depending on how you define “the supernatural”.

High fantasy has the following elements:

  • set in a secondary world
  • features the maturation of the young hero
  • the presence of a teacher or mentor figure
  • the hero faces a Dark Lord
  • a battle between good and evil

The setting of Alice in Wonderland is clearly a secondary world, quite different from our “primary” world. However, the story’s heroine, Alice, remains seven throughout her adventures with little maturation of her part. Further is no teacher or mentor figure who guides Alice (though she could make use of such character).

The closest to a Dark Lord is the Queen who threatens to behead any one for the slightest infraction. But she is hardly comparable to, say, a Tom Marvolo Riddle. The Queen is rather incompetent and bad tempered than really evil.

Finally there is no battle between “good and evil” in the story. Alice is mainly struggling to comprehend to weird world she suddenly find herself. All characters have their own, strange and somehow illogical motives, but no one seems to be really bothered with Alice as such. They are an annoyance at worse, not evil.

Our conclusion has to be that Alice in Wonderland is definitely no high fantasy and personally it also disqualifies as low fantasy. At the end it is revealed that Alice’s adventures were just a dream. In my opinion this somewhat deus ex machina explanation removes the idea of fantasy.

Nevertheless, we should keep in mind that Alice in Wonderland was written in the 1860s, long before the fantasy genre really emerged as such. And one should wonder whether Lewis Carroll actually wanted to write a fantasy story. And above all it is still a fun book to read.

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8 responses

  1. I and perhaps many others are familiar with Alice in Wonderful through the eyes of Disney and look no further. I recently read an article about the story’s religious tones/symbolism.
    I don’t have any more comment about it except that your entry came soon after I read about it. 🙂

    1. That’s fine. I usually seek to avoid the Disney adaptions of stories (read: deranged editions) in favour of the original ones.

  2. I have not read the book. The closest I have cone close could be a movie but even this I am not sure

    1. I’m shocked! It’s my favourite book of all time. You must meet Alice, my friend. You must know her.

      1. Someday I will meet her. I hope it is soon

      2. I agree with John. It’s a good read, and if he enjoys it, I am sure you will.

  3. My favourite work, definately not fantasy, rather genius 🙂

    1. It’s genius, absolutely.

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