Lewis Carroll’s whimsical world of Wonderland conveys concepts of reality through the eyes of a child. The world Carroll creates in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) is absurd and fantastical, pushing the boundaries of narrative with an exploration in duality. Alice struggles to understand the peculiarity of Wonderland as Carroll’s curious world merges reality with the imaginary. To acclimate to Wonderland, Alice articulates the strange and topsy-turvy behavior and situations she encounters in ways she can understand.
Coincidently, the idioms Carroll creates through Alice’s adventures have become modern forms of interpretation, extending beyond the era’s Victorian ideals and the literary theme of duality. Carroll’s idiom “falling down a rabbit hole” has developed into something more than a whimsical image, providing a way to articulate intangible emotions with a universal understanding. Taylor Swift’s songs “Wonderland” and “long story short” reference Carroll’s story and popularized idiom to metaphorically define the curious, maddening feelings of love.
At seven years old, Alice is at a peculiar age in understanding. She is old enough to listen to adult conversation and young enough to be overlooked in such conversation. Because of this, Alice is aware of mature concepts; however, her understanding is interlaced with child-like rationale because there is only so much she can process with the knowledge she has. Wonderland, therefore, becomes a place of duality as reality merges with the imaginary. Carroll embodies the Victorian literary theme of duality within Alice’s inner and outer worlds to address the Victorian curiosity of interpretation.
Perplexed by the fantastical elements of Wonderland, Alice begins to articulate her surroundings and experiences in ways she can understand. When falling down the rabbit-hole, Alice links the sensation to falling down the stairs, claiming that “After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down-stairs! How brave they’ll think me at home!’” (Carroll 2). Alice compares a new physical sensation with something familiar. Since she has fallen down the stairs before, Alice can connect the new sensation with one from her past, whether the connection comes from the sinking feeling in her gut or the entangling of limbs. In order to understand the curious world of Wonderland, Alice combines her knowledge of reality with her imagination.
To Alice, falling down the rabbit hole is a physical, unexpected occurrence that brings her into a new world. Today the phrase “falling down a rabbit hole” has a broader metaphorical meaning, embodying the wonderment and confusion Alice originally endured. Carroll’s idiom has become a symbol of tribulation, excitement, escape, and disorientation that expands beyond the Victorian era. By “falling down a rabbit hole” one is consumed by thought, lost within themselves or with another. Carroll describes Alice’s rabbit hole as a tunnel that “dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well” (2).
Artists, writers, and creators alike have fashioned Carroll’s phrase to articulate conscious turmoil. The tunnel metaphorically represents a stream of consciousness; as the tunnel dips and dives, further ideas and questions arise before an individual can stop themselves from being consumed by their thoughts. The infamous idiom relates reality with the imaginary similar to how Alice uses her limited knowledge to explain the extraordinary.
Released as a bonus track on Swift’s 2014 album 1989, the upbeat and exhilarating “Wonderland” speaks from the perspective of a young woman madly in love, who is running away with her beloved to what she believes is a safer place. The couple falls down a rabbit-hole and finds themselves in Wonderland. Swift sings in the opening verse, “Took a wrong turn and we / Fell down a rabbit hole”, and the chorus, “We found Wonderland / You and I got lost in it” (“Wonderland” 13-14).
Do the characters in Swift’s song figuratively – or literally –fall down a rabbit hole? Even if Swift’s characters are walking where Alice once walked in a physical Wonderland, the metaphorical significance of the allusion cannot be ignored. Swift’s Wonderland is a representation of the characters’ blooming romance, and the rabbit hole symbolizes the sinking, dangerous, and exhilarating unknowns of a new and quickly progressing relationship.
Swift sings in the pre-chorus, “Didn’t they tell us ‘Don’t rush into things?’ / Didn’t you flash your green eyes at me? / Haven’t you heard what becomes of curious minds?” (“Wonderland” 7-9). The characters in Swift’s song are rushing into their relationship without thinking, consumed by erotic desire. A sense of wonderment and urgency excels as the tempo heightens and the beat drops within the chorus. Swift combines electric beats and delicate chimes to create a chaotic but whimsical atmosphere, alluding to the curiosity and frustrations of Alice.
Swift’s allusions to Carroll’s novel continue as she mentions “a Chesire cat smile” (“Wonderland” 35), referring to losing one’s mind and certain kinds of madness throughout the song. By including these references, Swift articulates the intense feelings of a new and quickly growing relationship with an old and well-known tale.
Six years later, Swift returns to the rabbit hole, referencing Carroll’s idiom in her second 2020 album evermore. The catchy, playful, and hopeful track “long story short” follows a fictionalized story as Swift sings of fighting battles and dropping a sword. The song is a composite of metaphors used to express a story of losing and finding one’s self. Amongst Swift’s metaphors is Carroll’s idiom repeated throughout the chorus:
And I fell from the pedestal Right down the rabbit hole Long story short, it was a bad time Pushed from the precipice Clung to the nearest lips Long story short, it was the wrong guy (“long story short” 9-14)
The narrator is inferred to have been in a place of power or, in terms of romantic interpretation, to have been in a long-standing relationship. From this idealized position, Swift sings that the narrator falls “right down the rabbit hole” (“long story short” 10). The rabbit-hole symbolizes a transition of worlds, emphasizing a change from an idealized situation to a series of unfavorable events.
Carroll’s idiom alludes to disorientation and division between two different lives: the narrator’s life before and after meeting their significant other. Swift’s further interpretation articulates the emotions associated with moving on from a difficult situation and persevering, concluding the song with “Long story short, it was a bad time / Long story short, I survived” (“long story short” 69-70). By including Carroll’s idiom, Swift is expanding on the overall fictionalization of the song with a fantastical image while also providing a transition to emphasize the duality within the narrator’s story.
“Wonderland” and “long story short” both use imagination to come to terms with reality as Alice uses reality to interpret the imaginary. The emotions tangled within Swift’s lyrics are intangible; however, Swift makes the intangible reachable for her audience. She articulates deeper and confusing emotions with conventions that can be universally understood.
Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. 1865. Dover Publications. 1993.
Taylor Swift. “long story short”. evermore. Republic Records. 2020.
—-. “Wonderland.” 1989. Big Machine Records. 2014.