Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Behind the Looking Glass: Alice Across Media

In an attempt to captivate younger audiences, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has been reworked across digital platforms. But is Lewis Carroll's classic getting lost in translation? ♦

I’ll admit: I’m biased. Given the choice—a glorious, leather-bound book with gilded edges that weighs more than my dog versus a cold e-reader thinner than my phone—well, I’ll surprise you and say I’m totally gonna pick the book.
        I’m of the belief that the blue glare of a screen hurts way more than a paper cut. I’ll read articles and browse websites on my phone, but for the novel, I want that thing in print. Aside from the usual nostalgia of holding a book in your hands, there’s something about the mapping of it, seeing where you’ve been and how much further you have left to go. I’m old enough now to feel sentimental about it. I’m sure five year-old me wasn’t sitting in bed demanding my bedtime story be read from a hardcover instead of Mom’s iPad. Those didn’t even exist yet.
       But what about kids today? What do they think about their experiences with a book, if anything at all? Do they, too, care about the scent of a page, the weight of it in their hands, the look of it on a shelf? Or maybe, more fittingly, the ability to scribble their names backwards on its pages? Does the format even matter, so long as they’ve got the guts of the story in front of them?
      In this increasingly digital time, storytelling has had to consider countless new definitions. The dear old book has things like film, video games, and alarmingly addictive apps to contend with. Classics like Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland have to adapt accordingly, translating themselves into these new forms of media, to be able to reach newer generations.
      Or do they? Regardless of where you stand on the issue of print vs. digital, these variations in narrative are important to examine, as their form alone can enhance (or detract from) a reader’s experience of a text.
       Let’s take a closer look. Your typical print (or digital, depending on which version you buy) copy of Alice is pretty standard: it’s divided up into chapters, including some antiquated, inky-looking sketches at the start of each one along with a few scattered throughout. As a reader, you’re given some images to work with, but the majority of the aesthetics are created using your imagination (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Compare that interaction to THIS:

        This clip looks, to me, to be the visual equivalent of Red Bull. Which might be exactly the point. What makes me a nervous wreck probably seems like a hell of a lot of fun to young kids who are growing up conditioned to sensory overload and instant gratification. In the Alice for the iPad app, you get the same style of illustration as in the book, only these are interactive and in full, backlit color. Users (again: users, not readers) are able to manipulate certain images via touchscreen, swiping from side to side to zoom and turn pages, as well as tilting (even shaking) the entire device to literally turn the story on its head. It’s a beautiful, compelling way to enjoy the story.
       But that’s just it: where is the story? One disgruntled user on Apple’s App Store notes that “it’s simply too abridged,” meaning that the full text is not included, only parts. The focus here seems to be on aesthetics as opposed to actual content.
       What does that mean for the text?
      The story in its entirety is not present, and what’s left of it is bogged down with heavily saturated images that disappear the second that battery dies. Sure, it’s cinematic, but if I wanted a cinematic experience I’d be looking at a movie on my iPad, not a reading app.
      This definitely has a place in the world of Alice, but I wouldn’t look to it as a starting point. Aside from missing out on some fantastic prose, young users (who have potentially never been exposed to the story before) are denied the opportunity to imagine anything for themselves. Instead, they’re presented with a fully realized interpretation of the (incomplete) work to which they can make no real contribution, like buying a coloring book pre-filled and all they can do is flip through it. It’s pretty passive for something so seemingly interactive and would be better served as supplementary to the actual text.
       Did I mention that I’m biased?
     But electronic isn’t always negative. Let me show you what else is out there. Check out Project Gutenberg's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Though described as an e-book on the site, Project Gutenberg has essentially created an online scroll, containing Carroll’s complete work, which is accessible to virtually anyone, anywhere, for free.
     Look around and you’ll see each chapter is ruled out into its own column, which, when clicked, will rush you to that exact point in the story. Zoom out again and you can see the text as a whole, from start to finish.
      As far as e-books go, this one takes the cake for Best Mapping Abilities. Usually, a primary issue readers have with digital work is the inability to see their place in the thing. With this site, you can jump from chapter to chapter and back out again to a bird’s eye view of everything you’ve read. If I had to pick a way to read a novel electronically, this would be it.
      Another thing to note is the pictures, most importantly that there are none. Does this take away from the charm and whimsy of Alice as we traditionally know her? Maybe. But what about online scrolls with moving chapters reads as traditional? Again, as much as we like or (blatantly) dislike a certain media, it’s still worth considering as a means, rather than a complete end.
     I think it’s crucial to understand the importance of keeping a story alive at all, in any format, so we can continue passing down such amazing works to future generations. I want this book to be a part of my future kids’ lives, be it through paper copy, eBook, or hologram.
       Though I’m sure you know which one I’d prefer.

Update: A new version of the Alice for the iPad app has been released, which includes the full text. This comes at a cost, though . . . $8.99 to be exact (the abridged version is still available for free). Whether this is reasonable or not, I suppose, depends on the individual. And how much she likes paying close to ten dollars for a mess of pixels (my last bash of electronic media, I promise). Alas, you get the beauty of choice. Pick whichever road you want to take. Any one will get you there.
  • About the Author
    Lexi Turin currently majors in Creative Writing at Miami University of Ohio. Her hobbies include writing short bios, using profanity, and taking pictures of her food.

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