Alice: Madness Returns is a video game and the sequel to American McGee’s Alice. It features a darker plot from the children’s book it is based off of, changing several aspects of the original story to do this.
Alice Liddell, the protagonist of the story, is nineteen years old instead of being a little girl as she was in the original story. The plot vaguely follows Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey (click here to see where I’ve mapped it all out for you!).
What interesting about this is what Alice’s journey does not include. The monomyth is written primarily based of stories of heroic men who save an unknown world from danger, thereby conquering it. Putting this in the perspective of a nineteen-year-old insane girl, it takes a bit of a different perspective.
While the link above will analyze Alice’s journey in full, what I really wanted to take a closer look at was the lack of Woman as a Temptress and Atonement with the Father Figure, yet the surprising inclusion of the Meeting with the Goddess. In this rendition of Alice’s classic tale, Wonderland is established as a world within Alice’s own mind. Nearly all of Alice’s conflicts are internal. Woman as a Temptress and Atonement with the Father Figure both revolve around and rely on an external character for conflict or resolution. Alice, however, has no one on the outside to tempt her or be a father figure to her. In fact, on the outside, Alice is very much alone.
What interesting, though, is that Madness Returns still manages to include a Meeting with the Goddess which, in the definition of it in the monomyth, is the point where the hero meets with a superior being to gain knowledge or power that they did not have before. The point is to overcome the Goddess and overpower her. In Alice’s story, the Queen of Hearts has always seemed like a deity-like figure.
Alice’s reunion with the queen solidifies this moment where she meets with a goddess as we soon find that the queen is not the antagonist she was in the prequel, but rather Alice’s younger self. In this moment, Alice has a conversation with her younger, sane and rational self. The queen’s power that Alice needs is simply the realization that Alice is not at fault for her madness and that she needs to look at the real world in order to save herself. While the queen does present herself as a villain, she represents that part of Alice that knows and understands what’s going on. Once Alice meets with her, she is eventually able to understand what needs to be done and reclaim a part of her sanity.
What the game has done is taken the hero’s journey and not modified it for a YA heroine as opposed to a mythic hero, but turned the journey and conflict inward. Instead of travelling to an unknown world, Alice travels to a very familiar world in order to understand her own mind. In the end, however, where the hero is supposed to master two worlds (the known world and the unknown world), Madness Returns has to take a bit of a different take on this.
Both London (the real world) and Wonderland (the imaginary world) are known and unknown to Alice by the end. Alice seems to know and understand the rules of Wonderland and has an easy time accepting what happens there, but it is a world that she is unable to predict or fully understand what is happening to it. However, London is the world in which she lives and knows is reality. This is the world she starts in and is called away from, but it is also a world that she has a difficult time controlling and navigating through. She has no power in London and no way of being empowered. It is the Victorian Era, and for an insane young woman, it is a dangerous place to be. Mastering either of these worlds seems impossible.
What Madness Returns does is take the two worlds part of this literally and, when Alice crosses the return threshold, she finds that London and Wonderland have merged into the new world of Londerland. Alice realizes that she can never go back to either of these worlds, however, her mind is safe and she can live in the real world. While this may be seen as a moment of failure for Alice, it is actually a moment of great empowerment, as it aligns with Master of Two Worlds in the monomyth. Instead of the hero conquering the unknown world, the entire story has been about Alice empowering herself. She was only taking parts of herself and owning them. When it comes to this part of the monomyth, Alice remains empowered, but not trapped by her own insanity. She has finally made London her own world and uses her insanity to become a strong woman within it.