emily's Reviews > The Looking Glass Wars

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
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Sep 12, 2009

did not like it
Recommended to emily by: the "discard" bin at my old library
Recommended for: no one. I had to give it one star so it would be clear I'd reviewed it.
Read in September, 2009

So, I'd heard of this book before, and when I saw it in the bin marked "free" at my old library, I kind of thought I might put it in my middle school classroom for students to read. Then I realized: what might I be giving my students? So I read it.

I cannot think of enough negative things to say about this book.

First, I have to admit something: I've never even read any of Lewis Carroll's books. Not a one. So I'm no Alice purist. But Mr. Beddor is just straight-up mean-spirited. If you're going to write a metafiction (which is perhaps putting lipstick on the Looking Glass Wars pig), you certainly owe a certain reverence, or even just a bit of politeness, to the source material. Casting Lewis Carroll himself in the book as a bumbling, nervous idiot is just poor form.

Dayenu, that would have been enough.

Let's get to the meat. Character naming. King Nolan? This is only slightly a tougher name than Lord Poodlepants. Princess Alyss? I have an article Mr. Beddor should read, but let's just leave it that Alyss will probably not become a neurosurgeon. And so on. There were moments of charming creativity there (I'll admit, calling the elite card soldiers "the Cut" was cute), but really.


I have an ARC, so I will hope the writing and grammar improve. But things ultimately got so bad that I started bookmarking pages specifically with the purpose of listing them here. ". . . and out of the vacuous dark stepped a girl." Vacuous does not mean what he thinks it does. ". . . with the play of the suns on their caps and the multihued shadows they cast on the valley floor, the Alyssians were greeted." The subject of the beginning part of this sentence? Mushrooms. Not delightful headgear being worn by our heroes. But, sadly, the misplaced modifiers kill us dead. Heartbreaking.


The dialogue! This is the sort of book in which we get full quotation marks for stupid things, like a character's "yeah" of assent. Also, is it just me, or do you fall totally out of the story when the author bothers to include things like "whoa" and "duh" on a regular basis? Maybe I'm too picky. Also, there's this really bizarre scene with the assassin "the Cat" going all Travis Bickle on a bunch of trees. Full on "I don't see anyone else here, so you must have been talking to me." How are we, as the readers, supposed to respond to this? Are we supposed to think a (bioengineered? animatronic? I have no damn idea?) cat in an alternate dimension is the inspiration for Taxi Driver? (Remember, this book takes place in (the equivalent of) the 1850s-1860s.) Are we supposed to think he's witty in quoting a kind of played out line of dialogue he has no way of knowing? This takes place maybe 70 or 80 pages into a 300+ page book and it stands out to me now. I have no idea where Mr. Beddor was going with this, but he's the creative mind who produced "There's Something about Mary," so we know he's up on pop culture.


We meet Hatter Madigan, who has nothing at all to do with the Mad Hatter except a similar name and the ownership of a top hat. I'm of the impression that we're supposed to think he's terrifically cool, given his being real quiet and being good at fighting. After all, pop culture is full of this kind of stuff -- we love quiet dudes who are tough. The problem is this: he has no actual personality. We see him brood by a fire once. We see him chuck around his hat a lot. We get no dialogue (or monologue) explaining anything about why he's supposed to be interesting. (I also have the sense he may be supposed to be a little something for the ladies, but once again, this is my reading of a book that makes no damn sense, and hell if I can figure out why or how, unless we're just supposed to remember that quiet, tough guys generally = James Dean or Dirty Harry.)


The worst thing Mr. Beddor could think of about Jack of Diamonds was to give him a big butt? Seriously? The man is clearly a creep and everyone is dumb enough to trust him, against all odds and against any normal human behavior. Are all the characters idiots? Are they supposed to be fooled by his giant hiney? (PS: How do you SPELL the word pronounced "hiney?" Because I thought it would be funny here but can't quite type it.)


Last one, I swear. And this is totally leaving out the big villain Redd, who deserves to be left out for sucking so badly. But. "Wondertropolis?" This sounds like some sort of lame facebook-based game where you'd click on things in exchange for points. From the second I read it, I WANTED Wondertropolis to fall. (When I was growing up, I lived near a day camp called "Camp Wonderfun." I felt the same way about that.) And the Wonderlanders in Wondertropolis? Did Mr. Beddor never say these names aloud? They're freaking tongue twisters. I hate Wondertropolis so bad. And it's a magical land fueled by imagination! With a "Heart Crystal" (which you would totally click on in the Wondertropolis facebook game). And the characters have magical powers of imagination. This is lame when it's hawked by Figment at Epcot, and he's cute and has all of Disney behind him. But when you have two characters battling it out with their all-powerful imaginations? You're getting into territory best left unentered.

Anyway. I hated this book. A lot. It's not going into my classroom, ever.
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Comments (showing 1-28 of 28) (28 new)

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message 1: by Wyn (last edited Jan 15, 2010 05:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Wyn What an immature school teacher, goshdarnit! I'd be very, very irritated with you if you were my teacher! :1 Please try to be more open minded, I'm in seventh grade at an Academy (full pre-IB) and I really really liked this book! You might not want to take what YOU thought of the book and automatically assume that your students WORSHIP your opinion. Because, honestly, honestly, and be HONEST with yourself, if a TEACHER dislikes something, that just gives the students all the more reason TO LIKE IT.

And if you were really a mature schoolteacher, then you would consider letting your students read it and ACTUALLY let them decide for themselves.

Have you written a book?

I'm just sayin'.

PS: While I'll admit that adding the author in the book was a little... mean... I think that it was all meant in good nature. I mean, OBVIOUSLY the author didn't have any mal-respect for the book or he wouldn't have bothered making a spin off at all.

And I like the name "King Nolan". Granted, I also like the name "Lord Poodlepants", but that's just me. And also, A L Y S S is a darn cool name.

ALSOOOO, I don't think teachers should use such words as "damn". The book aside, I think YOU'RE the bad example.

Again, I'm just sayin'.

Please reply. And please feel free to be rude. I was. (:


PLEEAAASSSSEEE don't EVER come to my school!

The Winter Rose Sae, it is in no way immature of Emily to not keep a copy of this book in her classroom. She did not say that she banned her students from reading it, just that she would not keep it in her classroom. There is nothing wrong with that and, in fact, it is a decision I support as it is a poorly written book. As a teacher, it is her job to promote examples of good literature to her students and this book falls very short of that.

emily Thanks, Winter Rose -- I'm delighted to see my students read, but I'm not one of those people who thinks that reading is reading and all reading is good. (If this were the case, we would all read cereal boxes and lottery tickets and be done with it. If this were the case, that is, and if we took arguments to ridiculous but logical conclusions.) Anyway, I appreciate your point, and I agree 100%

(Sae, I'm glad you took the time to look up other review online, though I'm of course not going to debate a book I read more than a year ago with you. Also, honestly, chill.)

message 4: by Brian (last edited Oct 21, 2010 08:37PM) (new)

Brian Nguyen Honestly the Looking Glass Wars is supposed to have little relationship to Alice in Wonderland. Alice in Wonderland was supposed to be a lie according to this book, so why should Hatter Madigan and Mad Hatter resemble eachother? Also including Carroll in this book was clever, even if he did insult him. It was for the sake of character development. Also the persona or the personality of Hatter Madigan is that he is the quiet type. He is characterized by his ability to hide his emotions, as described in the last few pages of the book. And last of all he probably does know what vacuous means, empty. Which was incorporated correctly describing it as appearing empty. Also your quotes are attrociously cut off, so that your points are only proven because of how you make them out to be. In the book it clearly states that the caps were from the mushrooms. Also if you did some research you'd realize Carroll did indeed stutter a lot and had the characteristic of nervousness.

message 5: by emily (last edited Jan 09, 2011 10:38AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

emily Okay, Brian: we'll start with the grammar.

"Vacuous" does not mean empty. Well, in a second or third-tier definition it does, but words have not only definitions but also connotations. And in the case of "vac., " we're actually talking about meaning empty of CONTENT -- generally it means stupid, dull, meaningless. If you're using a thesaurus to guide your writing you might make the mistake of misusing it, but if it's a word you're actually familiar with, that won't happen. (It's like the words "hound" and "remind" -- both can be used to talk about your mother telling you to clean your room for the second, third, fourth time, but one of them portrays your mother as a harridan and one as a pleasant person. Words mean things.)

In terms of misplaced modifiers, you don't *need* the entire quote. In English, a modifier (http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/res..., if you need it) describes the phrase it's immediately next to. Therefore, though the context of the sentence may allow us to figure out what Mr. Beddor is after, we don't need it to know that the sentence is grammatically incorrect. In the book, yes, it's clear the caps are on the mushrooms thanks to context, but according to any standard rules of grammar, that's not the case. (Try this one: "Soaring above the Serengeti in a private helicopter, the ferocious lion still looked dangerous." Clearly, the viewer, not the lion, is in the helicopter (thanks, context!), but according to English grammar the lion is airborne and terrifying.)

In terms of Lewis Carroll, well, stuttering isn't my issue (you'll notice I never mention it in my review). My problem is that he's an idiot and that his stuttering is played for laughs. This is mean-spirited, analogous to writing a book in which FDR is always hilariously falling down, or one in which that goofy Stevie Wonder is always crashing into walls. It's classless and nasty. (For what it's worth, as well, Carroll was known as someone who, in spite of his speech impediment, was a suave social companion and a delightful storyteller.)

Now, I'm not going to argue about Hatter Madigan's last-minute conversion to almost-a-character since I read this book more than a year ago, but I will point out simply that literature is replete with characters who are both quiet and have some emotional depth (or even some personality, and we're not talking some crap like a single tear rolling down his cheek. Think E. Annie Proulx's "Brokeback Mountain," which I didn't love, or Ernest Hemmingway's "A Farewell to Arms"). Silence does not create a deep character unless it's backed up elsewhere in the book. All it does is create a statue.

Listen. There are many, many examples of genuine (and respectful) metafiction out there -- Jon Clinch's "Finn," Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern," Jean Rhys' "The Wide Sargasso Sea." None of them are book reports -- they're all creative, vivid, and new. They're also all able to stand on their own with complete characters and with a certain respect for the source material. This book fails at doing so.

message 6: by Francina (new)

Francina Simone I agree whole heartedly with your review. I just finished the book and the misplaced modifiers really scrambled my brain. I thought, "Is this on purpose? did Carroll do that?" Then I realized it was just poorly written. In fact the entire time Alice, I'm sorry ALYSS, was in London I thought it entirely too boring, she doesn't have to come out a grown woman considering I felt like she hadn't grown past the age of 16 in the end. And your dead on about the Imagination. It started out interesting as I waited for the rules and limitation to show up. Then it turned into a giant black whole.

Sigh, It really is a shame. Such a cute cover and it will have to go on the downstairs bookshelf.

message 7: by Marie (new)

Marie "Vacuous" does not mean empty. Well, in a second or third-tier definition it does, but words have not only definitions but also connotations. And in th..."

I found the original review both detailed and informative, and I liked this response as well for the outside examples and fuller explanation. Thanks so much for the careful attention.

Haley You SUCK emily.The book is awesome so far and you just hate it because of it's grammer.You make be sick. http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=h...

message 9: by Jessica C. (new)

Jessica C. Wow, Haley. Show that grammar love by further mangling the English language!

Emily, though I haven't read the book nor do I plan on it now, I wanted to comment on the description of the Cat. If you ever read the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde, you might understand why the Cat seems so knowledgeable--he's the librarian for all of fiction in the book world. So I suppose that the newly modified Cat had some of the original's characteristics. I guess this post won't make much sense without your having read Fforde's books, but I couldn't help it. Good luck finding better things for your class to read!

message 10: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan I do think that it is hard to judge the quality of a book based on the grammar of the novel. Reading through C.S. Lewis' work, one can find numerous grammatical issues. I would hardly say that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe a horribly written book. Put any classic into a grammar check and a person would find a lot of grammatical errors. Being an English teacher, I do think that if students have a book in there hands, it is a positive thing. Many individuals have been very critical of modern literature due to the poor grammar or lack of imaginative characters. The issue I take with people criticizing the names of characters or depth of a character is that the author has the right to name the character whatever they want. I may not like the name (fill in the blank) but that does not mean that I should think poorly of everyone with that name because I can't believe any parent would name their child that. The story of Alice in Wonderland is a very drug induced piece of literature. I thought that this story was a creative spin-off of the classic tale. The Looking Glass Wars was meant to give a darker "true" story behind the fictional tale written by Lewis Carroll. It should not have any real similarities. Alyss is a great spin on the name Alice. Hatter Madigan's character is rather interesting because he is not like the Mad Hatter. His character is dark and brooding, so why would you expect him to have a large amount of dialogue? His character is explained in the novel to the degree that the author intended. Just because we may want the author to spend more time on something does not mean that he/she should. The author may be waiting until a later point (maybe in a later sequel) to reaveal more information about a character. Redd's character was a wonderful twist on The Red Queen. She is spiteful, vindictive, and just plain ruthless. The imagination concept in the book is a hokey at times, but in the world of wonderland, it makes sense. If you dislike the name Wondertropolis, then I can assume you also do not like the name Wonderland. The author refers to Wonderlanders, but this is obviously a reference to the original work. The author is constantly trying to show a glimpse of where Lewis Carroll came up with the concept for his "fictional" tale. Just because you do not care for this book does not mean that you should deny your students the chance to read it. If the book was inappropriate in content (language, sexual content, etc.), then remove it from your class. Otherwise, it is censorship.

message 11: by emily (new) - rated it 1 star

emily I'm eagerly awaiting your list of major grammatical errors in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Also, no way in hell are you an English teacher.

Dan wrote: "I do think that it is hard to judge the quality of a book based on the grammar of the novel. Reading through C.S. Lewis' work, one can find numerous grammatical issues. I would hardly say that The ..."

message 12: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan I am glad to see that the only part of my comment that you took issue with is that I said C.S. Lewis made grammatical mistakes in his writing. I do find it interesting that you are unable to have a civilized conversation about a book without the swearing. Being from a profession that prides itself on good moral character, I would presume that you could speak more appropriately when talking about a piece of young adult literature. A mature mind would have a wide enough vocabulary to not use four letter words just to convey your emotions.

message 13: by emily (last edited Oct 06, 2012 07:52PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

emily Honestly, it's the only part I responded to because I decided pretty soon thereafter that you're a liar and a troll.

(I do, however, wonder: If you believe that a teacher choosing not to have a book in her classroom is censorship, should I assume that your fictitious classroom is stocked with copies of every book published since the dawn of time? You must have a very large room. Your district is *marvelous.*)

Edit: Let's go with "a liar and a troll" being somewhat unfair. I think you're lying about being a teacher of English, given your difficulty with homophones and with paragraph structure. I think you're fudging when you say that modern literature is characterized (in the view of many people) by poor grammar (it isn't) and lack of imagination (I'd like to hear who's said that). And I think that you're falling back on a weak, pearl-clutching argument when you say that the use of the word "hell" shocks and appalls you to the extent that you're unable to continue. Oh, right, and that you just made up C.S. Lewis's confusion with the way the English language works.

I do think that it's a common -- and lazy -- argument is that an author doesn't owe the reader much in the way of story or characterization if he might intend to write a sequel in the future. In that case, the author hasn't written a novel: he's written a chapter, and it should be published as such. Doing otherwise is disingenuous. And I also think that it's a common -- and also lazy -- argument is that any flaws in any work are negligible since the author "wanted it that way." Desiring to write a good book doesn't mean you *did* write a good book. It means you wanted to write one but may not have known how.

message 14: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Why am I a liar and a troll. I do not make a lot of remarks on people's posts (especially negative ones), nor did I say anything that was not true. I do not have a large library in my classroom only because I have the books that are given to me or ones that I have purchased. I make it a point to have read all of the books in my classroom so that I know the content that my students are reading. I am not starting an argument with you, just merely pointing out that there may be more validity to the book than you are giving it. It is okay for someone to have an opposing view. Truthfully, you should learn to be a little less defensive, and less vindictive in your responses.

message 15: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Also, if you thought the book to be so poorly written, why not take it as an opportunity to have your students correct the grammatical errors? It is not uncommon for teachers to find mistakes in books and use those as teaching points.

message 16: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Just an FYI: Here is an entire paragraph from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. "She is a perfectly terrible person," said Lucy. "She calls herself the Queen of Narnia thought she has no right to be queen at all, and all the Fauns and Dryands and Naiads and Dwarfs and Animals—at least all the good ones—simply hate her. And she can turn people into stone and do all kinds of horrible things. And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia—always winter, but it never gets to Christmas. And she drives about on a sledge, drawn by reindeer, with her wand in her hand and a crown on her head."

Obviously, there are numerous grammatical issues in the text. Here is where I would create a teachable moment with my students so that they can connect grammar to what they are reading.

message 17: by emily (new) - rated it 1 star

emily I can only imagine that you're suggesting that beginning a sentence with a coordinating conjunction is as grammatically incorrect as misplacing modifiers. But you'd be wrong. Even Fowler, Garner, etc. (as well as 10+ centuries of historical precedent) argue that doing so is acceptable,especially when it's for strong emphasis (as it is here). Also, even if you still *do* find is objectionable (which I don't), it's worth noting that this is indeed the way people actually speak and that it provides a certain note of realism to the dialogue.

The Winter Rose Dan, the example you chose to give is dialogue. Lucy is a child and the author appropriately had the voice, tone and content reflect that. But even if there are other examples, we're not discussing Narnia, we're discussing The Looking Glass Wars and in that regard I stand by Emily's assessment of this work. In my opinion, it was in need of major editing and revision. The entire piece was utterly contrived and the grammar is atrocious. It reads like a bad slush pile screenplay. This is not a good example of sophisicated literature and I praise Emily for not keeping a copy of it in her classroom. She likely has other, better written works in her room. I do like the idea of using it as a lesson plan for teaching children to identify bad grammar though considering the entire text is rife with it. It's a fair idea.

Diashawn It would've been fun classwork to have your students find grammar and punctuation errors in the book. Speaking as a senior in high school.

message 20: by M. (new)

M. Rempen Your review is great. Don't let the trolls bite. Also, I believe it's spelled "heiney", but who knows.

message 21: by Melissa (new) - added it

Melissa Your review starts by saying that you picked this book up for free from your library, but then you say you got an ARC. Did you get and read the ARC first and then pick up the free copy? Or did you get an ARC, pick up the free copy and then go back to read the ARC even though you had the final edited copy from the library? I'm quite confused by this and the use of the word "Dayenu".

Unfortunately, I did not find your review to be useful in the slightest. It was convoluted and felt more like you didn't like it for personal reasons rather than anything the author actually did wrong.
This, coupled with the way you responded to people who did not agree with your opinion in the comments section, leads me to not take your review seriously and it will not impact my desire or disinterest in reading this book whatsoever.

message 22: by emily (new) - rated it 1 star

emily I got the ARC in a free bin located at the library -- I'm sorry for any confusion.

"Dayenu" means "and that alone would have been enough and it's the refrain to a traditional Hebrew song. It's (relatively) obscure unless you're in a certain group, I guess, but the general meaning is "this reason alone sufficed to make me dislike the book, but wait! there's more!" I might imagine that context would help, but there you go.

Really, don't we all dislike things for personal reasons, when you get down to it? I'm trying to be polite here, but liking and disliking is sort of inherently subjective. I found the usage issues, naming conventions, character development, and general conceit of many large chunks of the book unpleasant. I'm not chasing down strangers on the internet slapping them across the face if they disagree with me, but if I'm going to post a review -- on a book review site! -- then I'm not going to just say "eh, make up your own mind because everyone likes what they like." Feel free, read the book, rock on with your bad self. (I'm also not sure why you're reviewing the structure of my own review, but hey, once more, rock on with your bad self.)

message 23: by Karli (new) - rated it 1 star

Karli Kruschel-Hill I don't know why people are getting so pissed at you for stating your opinion... Did they think YOUR review was supposed to reflect THEIR assessment? Apparently. Anyway, I agree with you. This book was terribly written. If people enjoyed it, great. But that doesn't mean it was good.

Kenneth Gutierrez Leon Well I started reading not so long ago and I enjoyed the book. The first book I read in only 2 days. I liked the characters and the plot and as for the grammar errors I didn't mind them. We'll English isn't my native language so that explains a lot. Still I liked the book. For me it was a fun read.

Shari I'm listening to the audio book version and I really like it a lot so far.

message 26: by Caitlin Rose (new)

Caitlin Rose Blaney Hey :) Judging by your review, this does not sound like my kind of book at all. Thanks for letting me know ;). Also - I want to read the article you mentioned about names, but it needs me to log in to the site. Are you able to sum it up or paste the main ideas? Thanks!

Max S. 5 you need to chill and stop being so critical, just because you teach elementary school doesn't give you the right to be a jerk

message 28: by Ravenna (new)

Ravenna Valdyr I haven't read the book, and I have no criticism of your review. I did just want to mention that there are quite a few historical accounts of Lewis Carroll as a nervous, bumbling idiot, who most likely had some sort of social anxiety. It is possible the author was representing him with some realism here. Perhaps some of the material was intended for those who are more familiar with his works? Just a thought.

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