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ALICE - The Legacy

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Johan Persson
Johan Persson

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Judi Dench and Ruby Bentall in the World Premiere of Peter and Alice

"So long as men can breathe and eyes can see, So long lives this and this gives life to thee." - William Shakespeare

Alice Liddell Hargreaves died on November 16, 1934, but her legacy -- and its inextricable link to Lewis Carroll's classic Alice in Wonderland tales -- refuses to die. Who was the little girl that inspired Carroll to write what is possibly the greatest children's story of all time?

John Logan, the playwright (Red) and screenwriter (Skyfall, Hugo, Sweeney Todd, The Aviator, Gladiator), has written a new fictional play about Alice that is directed by Michael Grandage and is currently playing at the Noel Coward Theatre in London. Inspired by the fact that at the opening of the Lewis Carroll exhibition in London in 1932, Alice Liddell Hargreaves met Peter Llewelyn Davies at the Bumpus bookshop, Logan wondered what the two immortal inspirations (the girl who fell down the rabbit hole and Peter Pan, the boy who refused to grow up) might have said to each other. After all, as Alice points out in the play, "We're practically our own children's department." And yes, that's quite some legacy.

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Judi Dench (Alice) and Ben Whishaw (Peter) in Peter and Alice

In the production, Alice, played by Academy Award winning actress Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love), and Peter, played by Ben Whishaw, recall their pasts, the fantastical worlds they each inhabited, the joyful and sad memories of childhood, and the personal experiences that shaped them into the people they have become today.

It's not the first time a story about Alice Liddell Hargreaves has been inspired by the 1932 centenary of Lewis Caroll's birth. Dreamchild, the 1985 British drama film written by Dennis Potter and directed by Gavin Millar, begins with the elderly Alice's arrival in New York to receive an honorary degree from Columbia University and participate in America's centenary celebrations of the world famous author. Here too, the story depicts Alice as an 80-year-old woman reminiscing her past, although this is a somewhat darker reflection of a woman who finds herself somewhat haunted by the characters which once upon a time had entertained her.

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Judi Dench as Alice Liddell Hargreaves in Peter and Alice

Meanwhile, in just a few weeks time, on May 3, 2013, another "Wonderland in Wales" prepares to once again inspire visitors with the non-fictional story of Alice Liddell Hargreaves on Alice Day. Llandudno in Wales has a long connection to Alice Liddell Hargreaves. It was here that Alice's father, Henry Liddell (who inspired the White Rabbit), his wife Lorina, and the governess Miss Pricks (who inspired the Queen of Hearts), sisters Lorina and Edith (who inspired the Lory and the Eaglet respectively), and the rest of the Liddell family gathered each summer to holiday at the family 's large, gothic styled vacation home, which they called Penmorfa. Many famous celebrities of the day, including Prime Minister William Gladstone, came to visit them. As the Alice in Wonderland books became more famous, Alice Liddell also became an important celebrity in this town. Tourists visited the beautiful Llandudno resort, perfectly situated on the western shores of Wales, curious to learn more about the story behind one of the greatest children's stories of all time.

A.L.I.C.E., which stands for Alice Liddell's Innovative Community Enterprise, continues to keep Llandudno's connection to Alice Liddell alive and in the public domain. In addition, as Simon Burrows, one of the co-founders and organizers confirms, "It is a great excuse for a party and a jam tart." Not content with achieving a world record for eating the most jam tarts (1,716) in a single Alice In Wonderland party last year, the organizers are hoping for a bigger audience and even more fun this time round. They have been working closely with local schools on a number of new educational initiatives while continuing to update Alice exhibitions around the town and to develop their much anticipated digital Alice e-tour. Alice Day on May 3rd has also become the annual event to celebrate the end of each Miss Alice Llandudno's year long reign.

And so it makes me wonder... what might the original inspiration for the girl who fell down the rabbit hole 151 years ago have to say about all this?

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C. M. Rubin

Photos courtesy of Johan Persson

C. M. Rubin is the author of two widely read online series for which she received a 2011 Upton Sinclair award, "The Global Search for Education" and "How Will We Read?" She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice in Wonderland.