The image of a white rabbit manically rushing around muttering, "I'm late! I'm late!" is one that has stuck in generations of film fans' minds. The fictional character from Lewis Carroll's 1865 novel, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, appears at the beginning of the book wearing a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch.
The tardy rabbit is pivotal to the plot, since without his appearance, Alice wouldn't have followed him down a rabbit hole and the fantasy adventure would never have begun. When Disney created an animated version of the book in 1951 called Alice in Wonderland, the rotund rabbit resplendent in red waistcoat was positively racing along as fast as his little legs would carry him.
When Alice tries to stop him, he carries on running faster, pocket watch in hand, telling her he's "late for a very important date", before disappearing down a large rabbit hole! After Alice follows him underground, her adventures begin in earnest.
Written by a mathematician called Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, under the Lewis Carroll pseudonym, the book was intended to entertain his friend's three children. It was based on a short story he told them in 1862. The author was telling stories to the three daughters of Oxford University vice-chancellor Henry Liddell: 13-year-old Lorina, ten-year-old Alice and eight-year-old Edith. Alice particularly loved the story and asked for it to be written down.
Carroll transferred the story on to handwritten manuscript with a few illustrations and asked the cartoonist and illustrator John Tenniel to add some additional drawings. He then gave Alice the completed manuscript as a Christmas gift in 1864. The author expanded the original 15,500-word draft to 27,500 words and it was first published on 26th November 1865.
Today, the novel's popularity is global and there have been several film adaptations. In 1985, a television film starring Natalie Gregory as Alice was nominated for five Emmy awards, followed by a second made-for-TV film in 1999 on NBC, starring Tina Majorino in the lead role. It also featured appearances from many well-known stars including Ben Kingsley, Whoopi Goldberg, Ken Dodd, Gene Wilder, Peter Ustinov and Robbie Coltrane.
In 2010, Tim Burton directed another Disney film version starring Anne Hathaway, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, while the 2016 film, Alice Through the Looking Glass, also starring Depp, was released as a sequel.
It's a little-known fact that before the Disney film was released in 1951, there was a 12-minute short film of Alice in Wonderland released in 1903 that was directed by Percy Stow and Cecil Hepworth.
Restored by the National Film Archive, film buffs say it's the earliest film version of the book. A copy on YouTube has achieved 2.1 million hits, proving the enduring popularity of the story. The human-sized white rabbit (played by an actor) is really quite freakish and probably not the type of thing you'd want to follow down a hole!
Twelve years later, in 1915, a 53-minute long Hollywood film version of the book was made, starring silent film star Viola Savoy as Alice and other actors as the freaky creatures. It all seems rather bizarre with its piano accompaniment and not at all like the family-friendly Disney version that emerged in 1951.
Throughout every film adaptation, the white rabbit remains constant - and we know he will always be late! This is because his giant pocket watch is permanently set to 12.25 - so he is on time only twice a day! At all other times, he thinks he's late.
Academics have suggested the character was based on Alice Liddell's father, Henry. In the book, the character was Herald to the Queen and King of Hearts and was always rushing about late. In real life, Henry Liddell was also the Dean of Christ Church in Oxford and he reportedly ran late into services quite frequently!
Without ever explaining his inspiration for the white rabbit, Charles Dodgson (alias Lewis Carroll) died suddenly of pneumonia on 14th January 1898, aged 65.
While the fictional rabbit character is humorous - and the fact he's running around frantic and late all the time is even endearing - in real life, people who are continually late can wreak havoc on your schedules, particularly in the workplace. It's impossible to organise anything if colleagues are late and it also creates an unprofessional image to clients.
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