The Looking Glass : New Perspectives on Children's Literature, Vol 10, No 3 (2006)

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Children &
Their Culture


The Chick-fil-A Alice

August A. Imholtz, Jr. and Clare Imholtz


August and Clare Imholtz are both members of the U.S., British, Canadian, and Japanese Lewis Carroll Societies. They have published, individually and together, numerous articles on Lewis Carroll. Clare is currently completing a bibliography of Carroll's Sylvie and Bruno novels. August is a former President of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America. His most recent article, "Through the Ivory Door with Sylvie and Bruno," appeared in English and Japanese in the Japanese Carroll journal Mischmasch, No. 8 (2006).

The U.S. fast food restaurant chain, Chick-fil-A, Inc., whose motto is "Growing Kids Inside and Out," in 2004 published a series of "Classic Stories & Essential Values" books, consisting of Alice in Wonderland, The Secret Garden, The Jungle Book, Treasure Island, Gulliver's Travels, and Robinson Crusoe. Chick-fil-A, Inc., which derives its name from its menu specialty, chicken fillet sandwiches, has published several books as "kid's prizes," all of which in one way or another promote "values."

Alice in Wonderland is described on the cover as "a story about the value of orderliness." One can only praise the intention of the Chick-fil-A Corporation in sending children off with something more than 2,000 useless fat calories or the tawdry toys offered by some American fast food organizations. Dan T. Cathy, president and chief operating officer of Chick-fil A, Inc., says in a letter to Chick-fil-A customers printed on the inside rear cover of the Alice booklet:

As part of the Kid's Meal Program, the Classic Stories & Essential Values series introduces our youngest patrons to fine literary works. The entire family can enjoy these adventures while reflecting on the real world values found in these make-believe worlds.

This little 24-page paperback booklet measuring six by eight inches is attractively printed in a large typeface with pasteurized colorized illustrations after Tenniel by Isidre Mones. John Tenniel was the illustrator of the original Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, which was published in England in 1865, and it is his illustrations that most of us first bring to mind when we think of Alice. Alas, of Mones' illustrations, only the White Rabbit on its glossy cover is worth a second glance, and that because of his comic buck teeth.

The inside front cover, with masterful brevity, conveys some accurate information about who Lewis Carroll and Alice Liddell, the real-life inspiration for Alice in Wonderland, really were in a half-dozen brief paragraphs superimposed on a faint view of Christ Church (Carroll's Oxford College where he spent most of his life). Also presented on this page are good reproductions of famous photographs of Carroll's Christ Church study and Alice Liddell wearing a crown of flowers, as well as a Carroll self-portrait.

Mary Weber is credited with retelling the story[1] "Retelling" here means both artfully abridging the text from Carroll's original 192 pages to 23, and editing Carroll's language, presumably to be both simpler and more suitable to what passes for values in contemporary American society.

Carroll's compound, complex sentences are often recast into simple sentences.

Carroll has:

Suddenly she came upon a little three-legged table, all made of solid glass; there was nothing on it but a tiny golden key, and Alice's first idea was that this might belong to one of the doors of the hall; but alas! either the locks were too large, or the key was too small, but at any rate it would not open any of them.
(p. 7-8)

Weber breaks up that sentence in this way:

Suddenly she came upon a little glass table. There was nothing on it but a tiny golden key. Alice's first ideas was that this might belong to one of the doors of the hall; but alas! Either the locks were too large, or the key was too small. At any rate it would not open any of them.
Carroll's fine flowing period has been diced into bits losing all of its wonderful rhythm.

A few British expressions or usages which might confuse a young American reader are translated into more familiar trans-Atlantic expressions. For example, the "Knave of Hearts" becomes of course the "Jack of Hearts" or, as in the final trial scene, simply "the Jack." The brass plate with the name "W. Rabbit" engraved on it has given way to simply the name "W. Rabbit" engraved on the door. Conversely, however, Alice finds scones rather than cakes on the little table with the golden key.

And all of that is really beyond reproach. Some editorial revisions, however, seem to signal a deliberate tampering with the text to soften the shocking impact of what Alice sees and hears in Wonderland.

A few examples:

In the Chick-fil-A version, as Alice falls down the rabbit hole, she neither observes any objects along the way, nor speculates about her fall, in fact she almost falls asleep--thus there is no danger of her killing an innocent life with a marmalade jar, as she feared might happen in Chapter 1 of the original book; nor are there any of Carroll's other death jokes in this sanitized version.

The "DRINK ME" episode has disappeared, no doubt to protect young readers from associations with imbibing alcohol or codeine-laced cough syrups, and is replaced by an additional (though first chronologically) "EAT ME" scene in which Alice eats the scone, encouraged by a note which "invited her to kindly eat [emphasis Chick-fil-A's]."

The little cake, Alice next finds, after the scone has made her too small to reach the tiny golden key, is no longer imprinted with currants spelling out "EAT ME" but instead clearly marked with the words "Help Yourself!" "My hosts are certainly looking after me," thinks Alice, while readers familiar with the original are left to ponder what was so objectionable about "EAT ME."

In order to effect further changes in the size of our little heroine (changes which long have been subject to speculation, ranging from drug-induced alterations of perspective to even viral-produced perceptual aberrations), the Chick-fil-A Alice eats cheese rather than morsels of a possibly psychedelic mushroom. The imperious hookah-smoking Caterpillar who sat on that mushroom has of course has been whited out, replaced by another handy note, which informs Alice, in a sentence simplified from Carroll's and robbed of its original Caterpillean gravitas and orotundity, "One side will make you taller, and the other will make you shorter."

In Carroll's original, when Alice sits down at the Mad Tea Party with the Hatter, March Hare, and Dormouse, the March Hare says to Alice "Have some wine," an offer which in the Chick-fil-A version becomes "Have some lemonade."

And a few lines (representing a few pages in Carroll's text) later, we find: "Well, I'd hardly finished the first verse," said the Hatter, "when the Queen bawled out 'he's murdering time! Put him behind bars!"--the Queen of Hearts choosing life imprisonment over the capital punishment ("Off with his head!") she so often espouses in Carroll's text. As the real Alice leaves the tea party, she says "It's the stupidest tea-party I was ever at in all my life!" which sounds so much more authentic than the saccharine Chick-fil-A Alice's "It's the silliest tea-party I was ever at in all my life!" Chick-fil-Alice walks off "in disgust," no doubt at the disorderliness of the tea party (in this version, the dormouse never gets stuffed into the teapot--too violent, most likely).

To continue with Weber's "improvements" of the text, we find Gardener Number Two no longer saying to Alice "this here ought to have been a red rose-tree and we put a white one in by mistake; and if the Queen was to find out, we would all have our heads cut off, you know." That passage becomes in Chick-fil-A-ese two sentences with capital punishment rejected again: "this here ought to have been a red rose-tree and we put a white one in by mistake. If the Queen was to find out, we should all end up in jail, you know." The modal verb "should" is far less conclusive than Carroll's "would" thereby further softening the consequences of being found out by the Queen. And when the Queen finally arrives at the croquet ground and, as she looks at Alice, asks the hapless (and Americanized) Jack of Hearts "Who is this?," Jack merely bows and smiles, whereupon Carroll's Queen calls him an "Idiot"--a proscribed term of abuse too socially incorrect for young Americans' ears so "Idiot" is changed to "Simpleton," which alters Carroll's text, even though it may be a better word for vocabulary building. During the croquet game, the Queen routinely threatens the other players with the puny "Put him behind bars" or "Put her behind bars," instead of roaring "Off with his head." In Carroll's Alice, the joke is on the Queen, because no one actually loses their head, an important bit of humor that is lost in this retelling.

In 1994, the New York Times Book Review published a series of spoof rejection letters for famous literary works, the funniest perhaps being Anna Quindlen (writing as Leonora Whistlethorp, Executive Editor of Lilliputian Publications, a Division of General Foods) rejecting Alice's Adventures in Wonderland due to Carroll's obstinacy in refusing to make certain requested changes to the text, among them: that the caterpillar not smoke a hookah; that Alice not eat of the mushroom; and that the Red Queen not threaten anyone with decapitation.

Quindlen's purported rejection turns out to have been not only humorous but prescient. Nonetheless, we can say in Chick-fil-A's defense that it if weren't for the bowdlerizing, Chick-fil-A's would be one of the best short abridgements of Alice we have encountered. Although she must occasionally rush through the story a bit, Weber manages to squeeze in seven of the book's twelve chapters and most of the important characters. She cuts judiciously, maintaining much of Carroll's original language and best nonsense. Even such fine details as Bill the Lizard being supported by two Guinea Pigs after Alice has kicked him up the chimney, or Alice's Flamingo croquet mallet making her laugh when it twists in her arms, are preserved. Although Weber includes only one poem, it is the hilarious and rarely anthologized, "They told me you had been to her," and it is reprinted in full.

The booklet concludes with three good questions preceded by the following admirable exhortation:

Classic stories like this one are fun to read, but also teach us about the world and ourselves. Wouldn't it be fun to share what you've learned with a brother, sister, friend, or parent? Find a quiet spot to talk, then use the following questions to discuss Alice in Wonderland and the valuable lessons it teaches.

1) Orderly people use logic to solve their problems. They think before they act or speak. In what ways does Alice try to bring order into Wonderland?

2) Sometimes we don't like rules, but they are needed to keep order. Without rules, you couldn't play croquet or other games. Where in the story does Alice expect there to be rules? How do rules help us?

3) Have you ever heard the phrase, "Order in the court"? In what ways is the Wonderland court NOT orderly?"

Now if we could only restore the Queen of Hearts' favorite phrase "Off with your head" we would have something that Chick-fil-A kids could really sink their teeth in, orderly or not.

Notes

1. A serious search for Weber turned up no information about her or her "retelling".

2. This edition preserves the page layout of the original book.

Works Cited

Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. (Books of Wonder Series). New York: William Morrow and Co., 1992.[2]

Carroll, Lewis. Alice in Wonderland [retold by Mary Weber]. (Classic Stories & Essential Values Series). Naples, FL: Frederic Thomas, Inc. (for Chick-fil-A), 1994.

Quindlen, Anna. "Drop Dead, Lewis Carroll: History's Rejection Slips." New York Times Book Review, May 1, 1994, pp. 3, 33-34.

 

August A. Imholtz, Jr. and Clare Imholtz


Volume 10, Issue 3, The Looking Glass, 2 September, 2006

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"The Chick-fil-A Alice"
© August A. Imholtz, Jr. and Clare Imholtz, 2006.
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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

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