Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one of the first and most frequently referenced books in Lost. That shouldn’t surprise anybody: Wonderland is probably the most famous fantasy land in both literary and cinematic history. Although we spent six seasons (and then some) trying to figure out what the Island is, the simplest explanation is that it’s a fantasy land where rules of the real world don’t apply – just like Wonderland.
The book is first referenced in the season one episode White Rabbit. The title of the episode refers to Jack’s search for Christian’s body on the Island. Christian disappears and reappears as Jack chases him. Locke compares Christian to the white rabbit in Alice, hence the title of the episode. Eventually Jack chases Christian to the caves, where he discovers water.
Ideas from Alice appear elsewhere throughout the series. In the season three episode The Man Behind the Curtain, we see young Ben going to see the Others for the first time. When he reaches the sonic fence, he drops a white rabbit next to the line to assure the fence is off. The rabbit runs across the barrier unharmed and Ben literally follows the white rabbit into the Others’ Wonderland.
Later we see both of Jack’s “sons” reading the book. In season four’s There’s No Place Like Home, Jack reads the book to Aaron before bedtime (Aaron also has a white rabbit poster on his door). In season six’s Lighthouse, David is reading the book when Jack walks in; Jack reminds him that he used to read it to David when he was younger.
Finally, the white rabbit and his stopwatch is the logo of DHARMA’s Looking Glass station. The Looking Glass station guides submarines to the Island; it is figuratively the “white rabbit” in bringing newcomers to the fantasy world that is the Island.
The book begins with young Alice sitting on a riverbank. A white rabbit runs by and checks his pocket watch before running into a rabbit hole. Alice thinks this is a bit strange because white rabbits typically don’t carry pocket watches. Curious, she makes her way over to the rabbit hole and falls…and falls…and falls until she finally reaches the ground and the maze that is Wonderland.
Alice embarks on a series of bizarre fantasies, all while chasing the elusive White Rabbit. She drinks something from a bottle and shrinks. She eats some cake and grows exponentially. She cries so much that she almost drowns in her own tears. She meets dodo birds, lizards, caterpillars smoking hookahs, and, of course, a Cheshire cat with a disappearing body.
Eventually Alice joins a tea party with a Hatter, the March Hare, and a mouse. Alice grows frustrated by the tea party’s nonsensical riddles and leaves to attend the Queen of Hearts’ croquet game. At the croquet game, Alice is charged with stealing the Queen’s tarts. The White Rabbit turns out to be the court’s trumpeter and he calls the court together to try Alice for theft. Suddenly, Alice starts growing…and growing…and growing. By the time she is called to the witness stand, she is knocking over everything in her path. The Queen immediately proclaims Alice guilty of violating Rule 42: “All persons more than a mile high to leave the court.”
The Queen screams “Off with her head” to Alice. But the now large Alice sees the queen and her minions for what they are: a deck of cards. She begins to wreck havoc by throwing the cards before suddenly waking up on the riverbank. She was asleep the whole time.
In Lost, Alice tends to appear whenever one of the characters is facing a different reality than he or she is used to. In season one’s White Rabbit, both the episode title and Locke refer to the book. The book’s inclusion in season one serves to highlight the fact that the normal rules don’t necessarily apply to the Island. The Island is a Wonderland (and, of course, we can’t rule out the possibility that one or more of the characters is dreaming, just like Alice). For Jack, the white rabbit is an apt comparison: as a man of science, he doesn’t believe that he’s chasing Christian any more than he would believe it if he was chasing a white rabbit with a pocket watch.
In season three, Ben Linus again enters his own Wonderland when he follows the white rabbit across the sonic fence to join the Others. The area beyond the fence is Ben’s Wonderland. His reality is changing, just like Alice’s reality changes in Wonderland.
In season four, Jack has the opposite problem that he had in season one. Now back in the real world, he lives with Kate and the two raise Aaron together. But none of this is real…or at least the way it should be. The three are living the lie that they made up when they left the Island. The passage that Jack reads to Aaron is particularly relevant: “Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I’ve been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning?” Jack, Kate, and Aaron’s lives have all changed after they left the Island. In an ironic twist, however, it is the off-Island life that they are not completely comfortable with. Jack eventually has a nervous breakdown and recruits the Oceanic Six to come back to the “real” Island. Kate doesn’t agree until she grows paranoid that Claire is after Aaron because Kate took him from his mother.
Finally, in season six, Jack’s son David reads a version of the book. We should have known then that the flash-sideways was a self-created reality. Just as Alice created Wonderland from her own imagination, the Losties created the flash-sideways world from their own imaginations/thoughts/unfinished business.
Alice was a fun and quick read. Like The Wonderful Wizard of Oz later, it was fun to read the book behind a classic children’s movie. Carroll’s writing isn’t particularly profound, but the imagination behind the book is off-the-charts incredible. More than once, I thought “how in the world does someone come up with something like this?”* – yet another similarity between Alice and Lost.
* A Google search rebuts the LSD rumor. Apparently Carroll was never under the influence of drugs, but LSD proponents spread the rumor when touting LSD’s benefits in the 1960s.