Book review: Tim Manley: Alice in Tumblr-land

Written by emmalj

As a fan of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and avid user of the popular blogging platform Tumblr, it’s no surprise that Tim Manley’s Alice in Tumblr

As a fan of Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and avid user of the popular blogging platform Tumblr, it’s no surprise that Tim Manley’s Alice in Tumblr-Land, published November last year, caught my eye…and it didn’t disappoint.

Manley has put together a collection of short pieces of prose (ideal for any student who feels as though they barely have time to read books other than those on their course booklist!) which take traditional fairytale characters from their fantastical settings and bring them right into today’s society.

This is more frightening than any amount of wolves, dragons or witches…in these stories, the characters have to get off the internet, find jobs, and *deep breath* repay student loans.

Manley defines his target audience as ‘twenty somethings’ and, in keeping with this, the fairytale characters in his versions are no longer children, but young adults on the brink of ‘entering the real world’…whatever that phrase means exactly.

Consequently, the fairytales are made relatable to a new audience, as the characters face problems which seem familiar to today’s ‘twenty somethings.’ They worry about who they really are, what they’re doing and where their life is heading, all whilst dealing relationships, money worries and a competitive job market.

From viral blog to successful novel

This, however, is seamlessly interspersed with amusing presentations of ‘first world problems.’ Will Sleeping Beauty ever get off the internet, and how will Alice get out of tumblr-land if she can’t remember the password or answer to her security question?

Interestingly, Manley’s ideas were originally published on his own blog. Within a couple of months, it had gone viral and Manley was being approached by numerous agents telling him that this blog had the potential to become a printed work. Not only does this give us hope that social networking induced procrastination is not always completely useless (result!), but it also means that Manley has a stylistic flair—he has sharply perceived and reproduced in his own work the subtleties of the tone and language found on online communication platforms used by young people.

More than just a novel

Like ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ Manley’s work is satirical, and although it is, undeniably, full of clichés, they are likely to be so familiar to his target audience that this makes for a humorous read. The book is also aesthetically pleasing. His illustrations echo the style of children’s literature whilst keeping with his own contemporary approach, The Wolf’s online dating profile, and Peter Pan’s version of the famous ‘meme,’ for example.

However, for all its wit and entertainment, ‘Alice in Tumblr-Land’ is an equally thought provoking text.  Manley utilises the more adult context to explicitly address the social and political issues raised, but often glossed over, in children’s stories. He uses his reimagining of Mulan to explore gender identity and expression in today’s society, whilst Robin Hood considers the effectiveness of charity and social welfare.

Ultimately, the ingenuity of the book lies in the way that the core themes of the original fairytales have been retained whilst the context and setting have been made entirely more realistic, highlighting the relevance of fairytales to an audience who may see them as simplistic, whimsical tales for children.

On the other hand, although the book can be seen to give fairytales a new relevance, it equally raises questions about the future of such stories. Reading Alice in Tumblr-Land, it is clear that these new versions of fairytales are written for a much more adult audience than the originals. You only need to consider some of the themes and issued raised: sex, drugs, and a pressure to conform in appearance, to name a few.

But is this content really so ‘adult’ anymore?

Questions ahead

It seems that the general consensus today is that young children are growing up too fast, because media gives them access to much the same content as adults. Indeed, Alice in Tumblr-Land highlights the huge influence that social media in particular has on society today, and this is not something that can be confined to an adult demographic. At the beginning of this year it was estimated that just over a third of children aged 9-12 had a Facebook profile.

The nature of fairy tales is distinctly childlike—the simple plot, magical settings, anthropomorphised characters and happily ever after ending…but if the boundaries between childhood and adulthood are indeed becoming increasingly blurred, then it is perhaps debatable as to whether such stories will retain their appeal indefinitely.

It is intriguing that, in providing readers with contemporary versions of fairytales, Manley has reintroduced their relevance whilst simultaneously raising questions about whether they will eventually become outdated, or can inevitably stand the test of time.

What do you think? Have you read this book? Have your say in the comments section below.