By Amber Appel
It’s too late for me. I didn’t meet a rabbit running late, I didn’t get swept away by the green wind, and I never found Duotine pills to take. I never went down that rabbit hole, and now that I’m 21, I must accept that I never will. The cutoff date for young girls to be whisked away to Wonderland, Fairyland, or the second reality seems to be anchored at 11—I’m 10 years too late.
But it’s okay, because I lived these adventures through the three fictional young girls who did get to traverse the border between reality and absurdity. Fantasy, as a genre, has amazing potential to bend what we know into something unknown, and its writers, especially these three, are chemists who can stir the mundane into a new and wonderful whole. But, I am taking a closer look at one particular niche within these three stories, and I shall name it “Down the Rabbit Hole.”
Though these three bright and brilliant stories may seem incomparable at first, they have some interesting commonalities, All begin with a young girl, whose thoughts are not yet on romance and adulthood, whose mind is mature enough to act and think, yet who is also open to adventure, adversity, and amazement. Without this girl, the story could not commence. Alice would notice the rabbit but dismiss it to turn back to her book. September would not choose to climb out the kitchen window; she would shirk away from the leopard and man floating outside the sill. And Fran, oh Fran, would likely never be curious enough to explore, escape the asylum, and instead resign herself to depression and ignorance. Instead, these girls can face anything because they are curious. And it’s a good thing too, because there is plenty to explore.
Fran Bow is a point-and-click, independently made computer game that follows the adventures of Fran Bow. The game starts with a haunting face and the words, “everything’s fine”—but trust me, it is not. The story begins with Fran Bow, an innocent, playful, ten- year-old girl whose now finds herself in the Oswald Asylum after witnessing her parents’ horrific murder by dismemberment. She is in shock, but she believes that the best use of her time is to leave the asylum to find her best friend, cat, and guide, Mr. Midnight, and work to solve her parent’s murder. But in order to do that, she must escape the house of madness.
That’s where you come in. In each room, Fran (you) must find the items and tools you need to progress. You collect, use, combine, and examine the objects. Combine a bobby pin with a hook and create a key to leave your room, for example. What you need to do to progress is not always straightforward; it takes creativity— something that this game never lacks. But you’ll find that combining items isn’t enough to escape; you also need to enter the ultrareality. Just like with the DC multiverse, this game uses multiple realities to make the levels and story more intricate. In each room, after exploring every opportunity possible, it’s time to trigger the
ultrareality. At the start of the game, Fran is given special pills to help with her diagnosed mental disorder: little red pills called Duotine that have some serious side effects. Along with the purse you use to collect and combine items, you are also armed with Duotine pills that, once taken, distort whatever room you’re standing in to the extreme. Think of the “upside-down” in Stranger Things; it’s like the real world, but scarier. To progress in the game and travel further into an increasingly insane world, you (Fran) must bravely switch between realities and explore the huge gothic world of Fran Bow.
Fran Bow is an incredibly clever game with a compelling story that who is really the insane one as Fran goes deeper into the ultra reality and deals with the losses in her life. The House of Madness is only chapter one of five. Each chapter holds a different theme and difficulty with a barrage of quirky characters, like Palontras of Ithersta; Itward of the flying machine; Remor, the prince of Darkness; and Mother Mabuka of the fifth reality. If none of those words made sense to you, I’m glad, because you can still discover their meaning by playing Fran Bow. Also—I would advise you not play this before bed unless you want to have some trippy dreams.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
The most well known and widely loved story of its kind, no one knows how to fall down a rabbit hole like Alice. Such grace! Such precession! My first descent into Wonderland was through Disney’s rendition of Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Many children loved this colorful tale, but I found it terrifying. Ten- plus years later, I decided to grab my spelunking gear and travel once more down the rabbit hole to see what I might find, and so I brought the original book home, read the first line, and fell.
Alice is a girl just seven years old who is bored with reading a book without pictures or conversation when she first spies a rabbit famously running late. It’s no wonder that she abandoned her book to follow such a peculiar creature; I imagine most would do the same. She follows this rabbit, without hesitation, down a rabbit hole. Her fall isn’t fatal, but it does transport her to a new and curious world.
In this newfound world, Alice does not react how we would expect her to—none of these young heroines ever do—for Alice asks questions, worries, and explores like a young girl filled with curiosity and a mind unburdened with expectations. When she is confronted at the bottom of her fall with a small bottle with the message “Drink me” on it, she is suspicious, but only enough to check to see if it reads “poison” as well before drinking it. She is not surprised by the drink’s presence and she is not surprised by its shrinking effects, even when she stands only 10 inches high. She carries this adaptability and accepting nature with her as she traverses Wonderland.
I respect this book and its ability to display amazing feats of bedlam while instilling in me a feeling of acceptance that superseded my instinct to blurt out, “What the hell?” as mock turtles sang, roses were painted red, and dodos raced for thimbles. The key to understanding Wonderland is Alice herself. Without her gumption and endless curiosity, Lewis Carroll’s novel would not have lasted more than a century. It’s an incredible gift to turn the ordinary into extraordinary, but even more amazing to turn the extraordinary into the ordinary and accept the fact that, “We’re all mad here.”
The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
September was a girl who was tired of washing pink-and-yellow teacups and of her home in Nebraska, and that is the perfect time to be swept away. Just like Dorothy and Toto were swept away from Kansas, one state below, September is taken by the winds too. More specifically by the Green Wind, who shows up at her kitchen window with the Leopard of Little Breezes and offers to take her away. She accepts, and away they go.
Fairyland has more wonder than madness and more imagination than wonder. Everything about this book is beautiful. The story is written in first person, but September, while the heroine, is not the narrator. Rather, the narrator is unnamed, and speaks with a kindness that delivers the words to you like a mother reading a bedtime story. The language used feels magical, and there is sweetness and wisdom in its characters. In Fairyland, September quickly finds herself abandoned by her guide, but it does not take long for her to make friends or enemies.
Fairyland is a marvelous place, but when September enters it she finds it ruled by the Marquees, whose jurisdiction is viciously controlling Fairyland. Before September can enjoy her stay, she finds that she is pitted against and threatened by the Marquees, who send her off on a dangerous and spectacular adventure around Fairyland.
September’s first friend is named A-through-L (Ell for short); he is a wyvern and believes his wyvern mother’s story when she claims that Ell’s father is in fact a library. A-through-L, the “wyvernary”, is named thus because he knows anything that starts with A-through-L (his brother and sister know the rest). Ell is likely the gentlest, cleverest, and most adorable dragon-like character to ever exist, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Together, Ell, September, and a marid named Saturday must find a way to overcome the Marquees and restore Fairyland to a land of freedom.
This book must be read slowly so as to not miss anything, not a word, because the author, Catherynne M. Valente, has created a world that can grab you tight and whisk you away. Every word adds to the magic. So if you dare, put down your pink-and-yellow teacups and climb out the window. Fairyland awaits.