Alice in Wonderland and Campbell’s Hero Monomyth
Joseph Campbell wrote about the hero monomyth after he discovered that most hero stories have a common pattern and storyline. Joseph Campbell’s hero monomyth is a theory he proposed that heroes follow in a narrative, especially in an adventure novel. His theory states that almost all heroes follow the steps of this patterned journey. Alice in Wonderland in its many media forms has been a very popular children’s story ever since it was published in 1865. The story written by Lewis Carroll for a girl he taught named Alice follows many of the steps in the hero monomyth. The story has been rewritten and produced in to multiple movies, plays, tv shows, musicals and even comic books. Carrolls version of Alice is the first and oldest but still follows Campbell’s theory of the hero monomyth.
Carrolls version starts with Alice sitting in a tree listening to a boring lesson from her older sister. She plays with her cat and imagines how happy she would be in a world of her own, of which she called Wonderland. She then sees a rabbit wearing a waistcoat and holding a pocket watch saying over and over “I’m late, I’m late.” This call to adventure is where Alice’s hero’s journey begins. According to the story written by Lewis Carroll, “she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole. In another moment down went Alice after it..”(3) Alice falls into a room with many doors along the walls. She catches a glimpse of the rabbit going through a tiny door and tries to follow him but the door is too small for her to go through. In order to go through the door or “cross the threshold,” as campbell would call it, she must undergo a series of ordeals (80). She drinks from a bottle labelled “drink me” which causes her to shrink to the size of the locked door. In order to get to the key for the door which she left on the table when she shrunk, Alice takes a bite from a cake which states “eat me”. After doing so she grows way past the height of the table nearly surpassing the size of the room. She shrinks yet again while crying and crosses the threshold into wonderland. Alice meets many people while following the rabbit. The people she met along the way are part of her tests as she has to figure out how to get away and continue her adventure but many tend to also be helpers. First she meets the Dodo bird who is conducting a race she joins in to dry off with the other animals even though she finds the race with no winner to be pointless. Continuing on her adventure Alice finds a friend in the Hatter along with a hare and a mouse. They do not really help her as much as they do in the movie depictions, but they host Alice’s Unbirthday tea party and wish her luck on her travels. Alice then meets a caterpillar who smokes from a hookah and asks, “who are you”. The caterpillar helps Alice by telling her to break off bits of the mushroom she is sitting on in order to return to her original size and she takes some with her. The Cheshire Cat is more of a helper according to Campbell’s definition or a supernatural helper in the world of adventure who fulfills this function”(ORIAS). The Cheshire Cat shows Alice all of the many ways to go and shows up to help her when she is in need but eventually leads her to the queen. Alice soon finds out that the queen is a tyrant. She is invited to a croquet match that is rigged for only the queen to win but Alice wins by mistake. This game of croquet is where the climax of the story begins. The queen is Alice’s enemy in the story, she beheads everyone and anyone. The queen beheads three gardeners who are painting the white roses red and wants Alice punished for embarrassing her. The Cheshire cat enrages the queen with his tricks, embarrassing her once again and she blames Alice for it. Alice faces an unfair and rigged trial and is convicted in her final battle. According to the story “she had grown so large in the last few minutes that she wasn’t a bit afraid.”(Carroll 58) She consumes her mushrooms and grows as she interrupts the king and tells the queen how much of a tyrant she really is. Alice yells at the pack of card sending them into the air, waking her up from her dream and into her sisters lap.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland almost conforms to Campbell’s hero monomyth but it lacks many steps and significant qualities of what makes a hero. Unlike Campbell’s Hero’s journey Alice doesn’t bring any reward out of the struggle nor an elixir and she does not have much of a climactic final battle although she disputes with the queen. According to Campbell’s hero monomyth “The object, knowledge, or blessing that the hero acquired during the adventure is put to use in the everyday world. Often it has a restorative or healing function.”(ORIAS) Unlike a more typical hero Alice does not transform, she believes everything she believed before the journey into Wonderland. She doesn’t share her wonder-ful story or her knowledge about nonsense but she does follow many steps in the pattern of a hero making her arguably a hero.
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