Dana Plato; Gary Coleman; more recently, Jodie Sweetin. All former child stars; all tragic tales of the price of fame and the loss of innocence. It's not a new story, not at all, although it is one we tend to associate only with Hollywood.
Yet the road to literary immortality is equally paved with tragedy and a loss of innocence. The Llewelyn-Davies boys, famous wards of J.M. Barrie and the inspirations for "Peter Pan," had tragic adult lives; at least one -- Peter himself -- committed suicide. The death of his brother Michael has long been considered a possible suicide, as well.
Christopher Milne, son of A.A. Milne and forever immortalized as Christopher Robin, suffered greatly for his literary fame; teased mercilessly at school, he grew up to resent his father for what he saw as the exploitation of his childhood. The two became estranged, and Christopher spent the rest of his life distancing himself from his literary namesake.
But before them all, there was a little girl named Alice.
We all know "Alice in Wonderland"; she's a darling little girl with long blond hair, eternally wearing a starched white pinafore. Her creator was a man named Lewis Carroll. She lives forever as a child of seven, trapped in an enchanting world of tea parties, smiling cats and talking flowers.
Yet there was a real little girl named Alice; it is her life I reveal in my novel, "Alice I Have Been." And it's a life full of so much tragedy, yet ultimately, so much triumph, that it would put any "True Hollywood Story" to shame.
Alice Liddell was the daughter of the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, where a story-telling neighbor taught mathematics. The little girl had short brown hair, not blond; the story-telling neighbor's name was the Rev. Charles Dodgson, not Lewis Carroll. (Lewis Carroll was a pen name he adopted later.)
Charles Dodgson had a fondness for photographing Alice and her sisters, taking them on outings, and telling them stories. Alice begged him to write one of those stories down; this single act brought them both literary immortality.
It brought them both personal tragedy, as well. For the closeness of their relationship was bound, even in Victorian times, to raise eyebrows; something happened between them when she was eleven and he thirty-one that resulted in an estrangement, one that was whispered about all over Oxford. Her mother burned all letters he had written to her; his relations later deleted parts of his diary dealing with this mysterious "something."
Dodgson spent the rest of his life trying to replace her; Alice spent the rest of hers trying to escape him. She had a doomed relationship with a prince who first knew her as the little girl in the story -- "her adventures" were a favorite of his mother, Queen Victoria; she finally married a man whom she perhaps did not love, but who possibly had never read a book in his life. He took her far away from Oxford, where the whispers still echoed; far away from Dodgson, who still lived across the street from her family home. After finding some measure of peace as a stately country wife, Alice then had to see all three of her sons go off to fight in World War I, with tragic results.
Near the end of her life, faced with losing the country home that had given her such peace, she was finally forced to claim the literary heritage she had tried to escape. At the age of eighty, she revealed herself to the world as "Alice" when she sold her original version of "Alice's Adventures In Wonderland"; the version Charles Dodgson had written down, just as she had asked him to, so long ago.
Even children of literature have to grow up, just as children of Hollywood do. They will live forever as innocents on the screen, and on the page. Some are unwitting muses. Others, like Alice Liddell, boldly asked for immortality.
All, however, have to pay a price. It was true one hundred and fifty years ago, and it remains true today. Alice Liddell was just the first of many childhood muses to understand that.
The first, but by no means, the last.