In 1865 an English author, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, produced a book called Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll. The book told the fantastic tale of a young girl, Alice, who stumbles into a mystical, magical world. The story follows Alice’s journey through the often nonsensical world and the bizarre, humorous characters that she meets along her way.
Disney’s Alice in Wonderland Tattoo Designs
In 1951, the world famous animation studio of Walt Disney produced a film based on Lewis Carroll’s book. Disney simplified the title of the book for the film, summing it up to “Alice in Wonderland”, a title that has stuck with the story into modern times. Walt Disney didn’t stick strictly to the story portrayed by the books, instead he used Lewis Carroll’s characters and the Wonderland environment as a base for his highly imaginative and often psychedelic animations. Disney’s cartoon characters are among the most popular chosen for Alice in Wonderland tattoos.
Color animation was still fairly new in the 1950s, so Alice in Wonderland was a thrilling experience for movie goers. The characters were unlike anything people (especially children) had seen before. The effect was a film that burned itself indelibly into the hearts of the public, just as the characters have etched themselves into the skins of die-hard Alice in Wonderland fans.
Although fairy tales and fantasy stories had been around for centuries, the characters in Alice in Wonderland were new and unusual. Even though they bore a resemblance to human beings, the personified creatures in Lewis Carroll’s story often had a mystical or magical air about them. Film goers are left with the impression that the characters could only exist as ideas within one’s imagination or as images in books and films. Tattoos of the Alice in Wonderland characters lift these creatures out of their media existence, giving them new life as body art works.
Popular Alice in Wonderland Characters for Tattoos
Although there were hundreds of characters in Alice in Wonderland, there are a few who have become the favorites, especially for tattoo designs. Even though these characters may seem to be full of nonsense rhymes and silly humor, they each have a deeper meaning. Their personalities can be compared to Freud’s archetypes and many of these characters have vivid symbolism that is linked to historical and cultural beliefs.
The Meaning of a Cheshire Cat Tattoo
The Cheshire Cat is an unusual character, especially as far as symbolism goes, because cats are traditionally a symbol of femininity. Cats are thought to be able to travel to other realms of existence, such as the underworld and afterlife. They act as guides through these worlds, protecting people from the dangers that they encounter in these places, similar to how mothers guide their children through life. The Cheshire Cat has a masculine nature that stands in opposition to the feminine symbolism of cats. He disappears and reappears, often transforming physically in the process, meaning that he is unreliable and unpredictable. Designs of the Cheshire Cat in various physical states are popular as tattoos, representing a link between the real and imaginative worlds and a belief in magic and surrealism.
Because the Cheshire Cat is male, the symbolism of the cat is inverted. Lewis Carroll cleverly expressed this by having the Cheshire Cat try to lead Alice astray, pointing her in every direction instead of guiding her along the true path. The Cheshire Cat’s tricky nature forces Alice to choose her own way, instead of simply allowing herself to be led by her “guide”. The lesson is clear – find your own way in life rather than walk the beaten track.
Cats are a symbol of the moon and the night. In Walt Disney’s version of Alice in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat’s smile is a crescent, morphing into the moon and vice versa. The Cheshire Cat is as dark and mysterious as the night sky and filled with just as many wonders and potential dangers.
Tattoos of the Mad Hatter and the Hare
The Mad Hatter and the March Hare are two highly unlikely characters who appear together in Alice’s adventures. The Mad Hatter, as the character has come to be known, was simply called the Hatter by Lewis Carroll. The seventh chapter of Carroll’s book was called “A Mad Tea Party”, so perhaps it was from this title that the Hatter earned his “mad” adjective. The saying, “as mad as a hatter” was around before Lewis Carroll was born, and could have contributed to the Hatter’s name change. The Hatter wears many hats, a saying that describes someone who tries to be many things but has no real grasp on who they are.
The March Hare is the Mad Hatter’s companion, and is therefore depicted beside his friend in most illustrations and tattoo designs. The phrase “mad as a March hare” is common in Britain, referring to the mating season of the hare, in which these animals become very active and behave in a foolish manner, often to their own detriment.
The Mad Hatter and the Hare are eternally involved in throwing a tea party. The Hatter explains to Alice that he and the March Hare are constantly drinking tea because the Queen of Hearts sentenced him to death for “murdering the time”. After escaping decapitation, the two friends began the crazy ritual of the Mad Tea Party.
In Walt Disney’s version of the film, Alice is invited to join the tea party. She is offered one cup of tea after another, yet just as she is about to drink, the cup is whisked away, only to be replaced with another cup of tea. In this way, Alice’s desires are constantly before her, but always just out of reach. The tea party is a representation of the chaos of life, and the two main characters represent the foolhardy nature of man. At first, the party seems fun, but as the March Hare and the Mad Hatter begin to reveal their true natures, the event becomes tiresome and uncomfortable. In order for Alice to leave, she must stand her ground and not allow herself to be drawn into the cyclic madness of the tea party. Again, Alice is given the opportunity to be true to herself and to find her own way, instead of being misled by the foolishness of others.
Symbolic Alice in Wonderland Tattoos
Many of the characters and items in Lewis Carroll’s book are highly symbolic, which means that they make great tattoo designs. In the story, there is a bottle with the words “DRINK ME” on the label. Alice drinks from the bottle, and it shrinks her down to a tiny size. A cake that has the words “EAT ME” written into its icing causes her to grow to such an enormous size that she hits her head on the ceiling. Todd’s syndrome is a neurological condition that distorts a person’s perception of the world, causing them to experience a distortion of size. In other words, they feel that like Alice, they have grown or shrunk, making the world appear to be a smaller or larger place by comparison. Images of the “Eat me” and “Drink me” foods are symbols of disorientation, and a misconception of a person’s own importance or status in life.
The Queen of Hearts is the queen of Wonderland whose king and court are made up of playing cards. The queen is a selfish ruler who sentences to death anything that disagrees with her. She yells, “Off with their heads!” at every opportunity, displaying a penchant for violence that is not often associated with female characters. One of Freud’s archetypes is the “queen”, who rules a person’s inner psychological world, alongside the “king” archetype. When these two archetypes are in harmony, the person’s psyche functions well. When one or the other archetype is stronger than the other, the kingdom of the psyche falls into disarray. In Alice in Wonderland, the Queen of Hearts is a very dominant character, so much so that Disney saw fit to depict her King as a tiny little man, less than half the queen’s size.
The Queen of Hearts presents Alice with yet another challenge to overcome; when the queen sentences her to death unjustly, Alice protests the injustice of sentencing a person before the verdict. In other words, Alice learns to stand up for herself, claiming that blame without cause is not just. The Queen of Hearts responds in her typical manner, yelling “off with her head!” The character of the Queen of Hearts is a symbol of the irrational behavior of children. When a child realizes that blaming others and dismissing them as unimportant is unjust, they have taken a step towards adulthood. This is why Alice’s largest obstacle in the book, the Queen of Hearts, is the most difficult to overcome – because it is in fact a character trait that she struggles with in herself as she matures.