By Gregory Maguire
“What would Eurydice tell us if Orpheus had been able to bring her back?” (273).
First, I think I might like stories about children being lost in weird and insensible places. Full of talking animals and odd characters and unknown dangers. That sort of thing.
Second, I’ve never been fond of Maguire’s writing. But I did enjoy After Alice. Some of this is probably because of my observation above and the fact that I was able to actually understand what was happening and the build up didn’t turn out to be a commonality (such as a daydream or an illusion).
It also presents a perspective on the underworld that I had not considered (though considering a certain story, a character, and other plot points, it’s surprising I hadn’t considered it). Namely, the underworld is associated with death. It is, after all, where some people bury the deceased. It’s the tomb of the unknown. Who knows what’s down there?
That link between death, decay, and renewal is a fascinating subject. I’m thinking particularly of plants here, but it could just as well work for humans too. Not in a “brought back to life” way, but a underground journey, or a journey into the unknown, the Otherworld, type of thing.
Also, simply, the link between death, decay, roots, renewal, et. al, calls up a lot of ideas that aren’t brought up often: that organic bodies decompose and afford fuel to other organisms; that there’s density underground (or not); that there used to be Mysteries all about navigating and propagating this underworld realm where death and new growth linger.
It’s full of riches — minerals, gems, and such things — as much as its full of lost stories. These can be anything from dinosaur fossils (which is fitting since Darwin makes an appearance in After Alice) to buried bones to layers of the earth’s bedrock. The story of long dead creatures, the story of forgotten or (hopefully) remembered deceased, and the story of our own planet.
So while the underground may have the taint of death and the power of transformation (I’m thinking particularly of After Alice‘s climax with the Jabberwock), it also often operates on its own logic: don’t eat the food, give blood to the shades, don’t look back. But it’s a world we don’t really understand.
And I suppose, going off what happened in After Alice and in Over the Garden Wall, which influenced my first observation in conjecture with the Alice books, both Carroll and Maguire’s, the underworld is just as good under water as under ground. As there is water and rivers underground, too. Which brings up caverns and underworlds from myth or geology. There are often rivers that go underground.
So, water and soil. Earth and decay. Change and renewal. Madness and dreams. Lost stories and nonsense.
And a bit of that is part of what I liked about After Alice: it’s gentle weaving of themes of death and change with dreams and imagination. That place of oddity and otherness where revolving doors and shifting landscapes and white rabbits wearing waistcoats and carrying pocket watches are just a matter of fact. Not because they are factual or necessarily true in the sense of provable veracity, but in the way dreams move in a lucid logic, spun from a place that isn’t quite real but isn’t quite false. I think I like that sensibility. This book reminded me of that.
(Also, After Alice touched on the nexus of childhood, recovering childhood, and recollecting childhood, which made me think of Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass.)
(Also-also, I thought the title was quite clever; Ada goes underground after Alice does and she is going after Alice to find her.)
(Also-also-also, Maguire leans toward non-abled characters or physically non-conventional characters. I never noticed that until I read After Alice, which makes me wonder if that contributed to some of my frustration/discomfort with the stories of his I’ve read. Though…Wicked confused me. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister annoyed me at its conclusion. And the Snow White one was…okay. So maybe not? Still, my own fear of being noticeably different physically — I am in actual physicality different, though you wouldn’t notice; that’s the whole point — probably contributes something. What that is, I haven’t deciphered yet.)
Maguire, Gregory. After Alice. New York: HaperCollins William Morrow imprint, 2015. Print.