(2015) is a novel by American author Gregory Maguire. Drawing heavily on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
and Through the Looking Glass
, Maguire imagines that Alice’s friend Ada has followed her down the rabbit hole, where she follows in the wake of Carroll’s heroine, meeting many of the characters Alice encounters in the original novels. Meanwhile, back in Victorian Oxford, Alice’s sister, Lydia, searches for the missing girls. Maguire specializes in creating novels for adults by re-imagining novels written for children: he is best known for the Wicked
series of novels on which the hit musical of the same name is based.
In Oxford in “186–,” 10-year-old Ada Boyce is largely overlooked by her family. She is a plain girl who must wear an iron brace to correct her unladylike posture brought on by scoliosis of the spine. Her mother is an alcoholic who has recently given birth to another child, and both her parents have all but forgotten Ada, content to leave her in the care of her governess, Miss Armstrong.
Ada’s only friend is Alice Clowd, who lives a little further down the River Cherwell from Ada’s own home. One summer morning, Ada slips free of Miss Armstrong to look for Alice. She spots a white rabbit—and a moment later, she steps in a rabbit hole and tumbles into Wonderland.
As she falls, her brace falls away (later she will learn that in Wonderland a crooked spine counts as straight). She lands in deep water, but a walrus and a carpenter rescue her. Onshore, she comes across a trio of talking flowers, whose conversation is interrupted by the Queen of Hearts’s soldiers, who take one of the flowers away. Ada’s Wonderland is more melancholic than Alice’s. For example, the Cheshire Cat tells Ada, “They buried me under the Iffley yew…It’s true cats have nine lives, you know. But cats can’t count. So I don’t know where I am.”
Meanwhile, back in Oxford, Alice’s sister, Lydia, is looking for her dreamy younger sister, whom she is supposed to be watching. When she can’t find her, she doesn’t worry too much—Alice is always disappearing, and Lydia is needed at home. Their mother has recently died, and Lydia is the woman of the household. Today Alice’s father has a famous guest, and it is Lydia’s job to serve tea.
The guest is an aging scientist, Charles Darwin. Accompanying him is a young American abolitionist, Mr. Winter, who is trying to persuade the discoverer of evolution to lend his endorsement to the abolitionist cause. Accompanying Winter is his “ward,” Siam, a freed slave. While a slave, Siam was offered his freedom by his master—if he could scoop from a fire a hundred cents that had been heated to a white glow. His hands still bear the scars.
Winter is a handsome young man, full of noble ideals and unmarried. Fifteen-year-old Lydia takes the opportunity to practice her flirtation, embarrassing her father by talking out of turn and allowing her eyes to rest on Winter too much.
In Wonderland, Ada climbs a tree, which brings her to the scene of a party. The Hare and the Hatter of Carroll’s tale have been joined by a Dormouse. Ada trades her teaspoon for a key the Hare wears around his neck. Continuing her travels, Ada rescues a White Knight who has become trapped in some vines. The two walk on together, until they reach a locked door. Ada tries the key she won from the Hare: it opens the door, but when the White Knight goes through the door, it locks behind him. Wandering alone in a forest, Ada joins a group of performers on their way to the Queen of Hearts’s garden party.
Back in Oxford, Miss Armstrong arrives at the Clowds’ house looking for Ada. Lydia still hasn’t seen Alice, and with both girls missing, she begins to worry, so she enlists Miss Armstrong to help her look—and Mr. Winter, with whom Lydia is still trying to flirt. However, Lydia’s plan backfires when Miss Armstrong begins making eyes at Mr. Winter too. The women also learn about Mr. Darwin’s theory of evolution—it sounds preposterous to them, but when Mr. Winter assures them it is true, they begin to think through its frightening implications for their religious beliefs.
Siam takes a chess piece from the Clowds’ house, and Mr. Winter tells him off. While Mr. Winter tries to think of a suitable punishment, Lydia realizes that being his wife would entail being Siam’s stepmother, a prospect she doesn’t relish.
Meanwhile, Ada meets the White Queen and the Caterpillar, who informs her that her friend Alice has gone to the Queen of Hearts’s garden party.
As he waits to hear his fate, Siam falls through a mirror and finds himself in Wonderland, where he soon meets up with Ada. She takes him to the garden party. By the time they arrive, Siam has decided to stay in Wonderland rather than return to the racism and servitude of Victorian England.
They arrive at the party, where they part ways, in time for Alice’s trial. As the Jabberwock takes the stand to testify, Ada recognizes it has her own metal brace. She shows it how to fly, and she and Alice ride it to safety—and back to England. Ada promises herself that she will one day come back for Siam.