Before making connections between “Alice in Wonderland”, written by the mathematician Lewis Carroll, and the K-drama “The King: Eternal Monarch”, it is relevant to know about the major topics in that fairy tale. In this story, Alice is getting sleepy on a bench, when she suddenly witnesses a White Rabbit running while holding a clock. She gets curios and decides to follow him and that’s how she enters a new world: Wonderland. This land symbolizes the epitome of craziness and fantasy. Alice discovers strange animals and people like Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar, Mad Hatter and Queen of Hearts. No logical explanation can be applied in this world, like e. g. the baby of the Duchess turns into a pig or the Cheshire Cat appears and disappears or the Mad Hatter drinks tea with Dormouse and March Hare without changing the table. No rational thoughts and physical laws can rationalize the events.
Striking is that a mathematician, a representative of logic and sciences, wrote this book, where creativity knows no boundary and where sciences can not be used. However, at the same time, Alice tries to use sciences and her knowledge in order to understand this strange world because the female protagonist of this fairy tale keeps wondering if her adventure is a dream or a reality. As she attempts desperately to use her knowledge in order to solve this dilemma, she fails. Even the reader keeps wondering the same thing either as there are always allusions that she could be sleeping and as such dreaming.
Coexisting to this dilemma, the reader is following Alice on her journey from childhood to adulthood. Her strange adventure makes her experience different stressful situations (growing, shrinking, having a long neck etc.) and this should be interpret as a symbolization of her future puberty. The transformations of her body are not the only changes operating in Alice, she also questions herself and about her own identity. The Caterpillar asks her about her identity and she can not answer it right away. She even adds, she feels that she has changed since the morning too. And later after eating a mushroom, her neck streches out so that a pigeon calls her a snake. In other words, her identity quest suggests a initiatory journey. On her way to become an adult, she faces difficult and strange experiences which turns her into a different person at the end. When she leaves this land, she is no longer a child. That’s why time plays a huge part in this book. Remember that the White Rabbit held a clock in the beginning, later she meets the Mad Hatter who owns a strange clock as well. Transforming into a adult is definitely linked to time. Just before leaving Wonderland, Alice is put before a trial and the Queen of Hearts wants to condemn her. The latter embodies the adulthood, the parent who appears to teenagers strange, authoritarian and strict. At the end, Alice defies her and leaves Wonderland before getting any punishment. All this represents Alice cutting ties with her parent on her identity quest.
That’s why my comparison between the fairy tale and the k-drama “The King: Eternal Monarch” is not just about the characters, but also about the following topics: dream, reality, fantasy, sciences, identity quest, initiatory voyage, adulthood and time.
First, the fairy tale “Alice in Wonderland” is directly mentioned in the first episode. The main lead, the King of Corea Lee Gon, is reading this book in front of children. He even reads the passage where Alice is following the White Rabbit.
This scene is really important as it serves two purposes. First, it gives a first overview of Lee Gon’s personality. We discover that this story is the king’s favorite and he considers himself as a mathematician therefore he feels connected to the author, Lewis Carroll, who is also a mathematician. Here, our main lead seems to know himself quite well, unlike Alice. Lee Gon is a scientist loving Physics and Maths and even using physic laws and mathematical formulas in order to grasp the world around him. Furthermore, he shares some similarities to Alice. Just like her, he is curios and shows a certain innocence. The second purpose of this scene is to elucidate the reason why Lee Gon will discover the parallel world, Republic of Korea. Since Lee Gon reads the excerpt where Alice is chasing after the White Rabbit, the protagonist is suddenly confronted in a similar situation: he sees a person running with a rabbit costume hence he decides to follow this Rabbit. It was, as if Lee Gon had become Alice.
Since this is an adaptation of this passage from the book, we also need to compare the two scenes. The first difference is the gender. It doesn’t seem to be relevant, yet it gives us an illustration that everyone is like Alice. The second difference is that Alice is a child in the story and changes through the story so that at the end, she is no longer a child. Here Lee Gon is an adult. Yet he sometimes behaves like a child, e. g. when he yells at his captain of security Jo Young that everything in this palace belongs to him. He acts as a spoiled child who doesn’t want to share his belongings. In other words, despite his age, Lee Gon hasn’t lost his innocence completely. Therefore, when he sees a person dressed like a rabbit, he acts like Alice: he chases after the White Rabbit and the clock.
Unlike the fairy tale, the rabbit is not a real rabbit but a person. Besides, the biggest contrast is that the rabbit jacket is not white at all but black. She doesn’t hold any clock but she is followed by thugs, hence she is under pressure. What caught my attention is that once Lee Gon notices her (the person is a woman called Luna), he says that he is chasing after the white rabbit and the clock. His words defy the reality as it is not correct. Then here is the question: why did the writer and director choose a black rabbit jacket? Is it a coincidence and is there a meaning behind it?
In my opinion, this choice could be deliberate as Luna, dressed as rabbit, is supposed to lead Lee Gon to the parallel world: Republic of Corea. Besides, during that first incident, Lee Lim, the villain and uncle of the King, appears at the rowing event. While white is associated to innocence and purity, black embodies the opposite: evil and corruption. Hereafter, this visit in Republic of Korea, is not supposed to be an initiatory voyage, rather a trap for the King.
However, the author of the k-drama has not just associated Lee Gon to Alice. During the 6 first episodes, our main lead has a terrible habit: he keeps threatening everyone to behead them, if they don’t follow his orders or disregard his wishes.
He behaves just like the Queen of hearts who constantly orders the beheading of people when something isn’t to her liking (although these orders apparently never are actually carried out). In Monarchy of Corea, it is the same: no one has ever been beheaded since the beginning of the 20th Century. As I had mentioned above, Queen of Hearts, represents the adulthood and as such the absurdity of the adult world. Lee Gon had to act as an adult, the moment he lost his father. He had to fight his uncle and later assume his function as the next King. That’s why Lee Gon is a combination of Alice and Queen of Hearts. Furthermore, the latter did act like a strange and even childish person… she never wanted to lose a croquet game hence she bent the rules to her liking. However, just like Lee Gon embodying two characters from Alice in Wonderland, Luna doesn’t just resemble the White Rabbit, her actions remind us of Cheshire Cat as the latter keeps appearing and disappearing. Luna pops up in front of Lee Gon twice and in front of JTE in the car once. She just remains there for a few second. There is no logical explanation for her appearance and disappearance, only magic or fantasy can elucidate this. Our female lead JTE is a combination of two characters: the Caterpillar as she keeps asking who Lee Gon is and Alice, when she visits Monarchy of Corea. After her return, she tells her father that she was in Alice in Wonderland.
Once the king arrives in the parallel world, he is surprised and confused, just like our heroine from the novel. Nevertheless, he adjusts himself very quickly as he tries to use his knowledge and sciences to grasp this new world. Strangely, Alice has a similar attitude: just like him, she attempted to use her knowledge in order to distinguish if this world was a dream or a reality. Although their behavior is a little similar, their purpose is different. Lee Gon is not questioning himself if he is dreaming or not. First, he is not alone because he traveled with his horse Maximus. So for him, this is all real. Here, Lee Gon is trying to assess how this world works and how it is different from his own world. He makes different experiences… for the first time, he learns f. ex. the value of money. Just like a spoiled child he was in his world, he doesn’t change his way of life therefore he is too spendthrift with his money. As result, he is left with no money (end of the second episode). Here, for the first time, he makes the experience that there is nothing free in this world.
As you can observe, although Lee Gon has been sent to Republic of Korea with some bad intention, his trip to that parallel world can be seen as an initiatory journey. For the first time, he is on his own… not surrounded by his bodyguards and his Lady Head of court No. That’s why he is able to become more mature. Then he confesses to JTE for the first time. It seems to me that his change from childhood to adulthood is much shorter than the one compared to Alice. First, he is already an adult hence his body doesn’t change so that he doesn’t need to deal with transformations. Secondly, the central topic of the k-drama is to fight against his uncle and not the loss of childhood. The loss of childhood and the initiatory voyage are just side issues.
Then in both works, the quest of identity is present. Contrary to the novel, here Lee Gon is not trying to find his own identity as he is already an adult. In “The King: Eternal Monarch” Jung Tae Eul, the lieutnant, is the one who is attempting to identify the weird man. Since she keeps asking who he is, she could be linked to the Caterpillar. However she fails with every possible method. Her problem is that she doesn’t believe him at all, when he claims that he comes from a parallel universe and he is a king there. On her quest to identify him, she can’t help to find him weird and crazy. The craziness, existent in Alice in Wonderland, is shown in a subtle way in the k-drama. Lee Gon has no current money therefore he uses buttons to get money. Then what he says and the way he acts look weird to JTE and the others. They all keep calling him: “crazy bastard”, “weirdo” or “half-crazy bastard”. JTE even gives him a name connected to “dog excrement”. They sometimes give him a better description: a handsome man with a beautiful white horse. Yet JTE fails to really understand him, until he leaves her world. Only after his departure, his words are proved to be true. His weirdness fades away and JTE is finally able to identify the man.
However, there are two common denominators with the fairy tale in this drama: the importance of time and fantasy. The importance of time is already pointed out in the poster that you can see above. In the title, there are actually two clocks. And it looks like there will be a time loop. Remember in the book that the white rabbit was running with a clock. Secondly, the Mad Hatter owns a strange clock that doesn’t give time but the day of the month. Just like the Mad Hatter, Lee Gon possesses a clock that is unique in both worlds:
Then while talking to Alice, mad Hatter mentions time as a person: “If you knew Time as well as I do, said the Hatter, you wouldn’t talk about wasting it. It’s him. “[…] I daresay you never even spoke to Time”. He even adds that if Alice talked to Time, then he could help her to change time as she wished. She only needs to whisper to him about the time she would like to have. In my opinion, this excerpt could be seen as an indication that something similar will happen in the future. Lee Gon will time travel.
The time is even so relevant that’s why the writer uses a lot of expressions and situations around the time, like f. ex. The lady No and the prince Byeong are both annoyed by the disappearance of the king and are searching for a good excuse. Each of them keep saying “this time”. I could mention two scenes
1. when Lee Gon confesses how troubled he is. It took him 25 years to find JTE, yet this day felt so long for him. Notice the discrepancy, although 25 years is much longer than a day… Lee Gon pointed out that he felt the exact opposite. He, a scientist, who keeps measuring time in order to know the time difference between the two worlds, is making the experience that sometimes time can not be really measured.
2. when Lee Gon is asked if he has dated before then he kisses her. Indirectly, he is underlining the importance of the present. The kiss marks a turning point between the past (has he been dating before?) and the future (Is he dating now?)
The other common point is fantasy which is linked to time. Lee Gon discovers that time can stop there but first he has no idea why. Then his uncle doesn’t age. In 2020, Lee Rim doesn’t look like a 71 years old man. Then in the passage between the two worlds, Lee Gon the scientist has noted that there is no time there as the red balloon is still remaining at the same place. The air has not disappeared. This space defies the laws of Physics. Hence he wants to discover this world. Furthermore, the ID that was printed in 2019 already existed in 1994.
As conclusion, we find many elements from Alice in Wonderland existent in the k-drama and many characters from “The King” are inspired by different characters from the fairy tale. The viewer need to know the book in order to understand the insider jokes (like the beheading e. g.)