Down the Rabbit Hole
"Why, Alice, I'm sending you through the looking-glass!"
—Cortez, The Longest Journey
"This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill; the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill; you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes."
—Morpheus, The Matrix
So you've got yourself a little story about a more than ordinary young girl who's not fully satisfied with the status quo. Perhaps she yearns for a place where the Grass Is Greener, her parents dote on her every whim, or she's a princess. She either visits or finds herself trapped in some sort of Alternate Universe (potentially a Dark World) where bizarre creatures and The Fair Folk are common inhabitants. The heroine will often encounter various parallels between this strange place and her former reality. She may face any number of Threshold Guardians and undergo trials through which she learns a lesson about herself or her place in the world. There will be enough strange goings on to make you wonder if the creators were on something, so expect Nightmare Fuel from even the more lighthearted variants. By the time she makes it home, many viewers will wonder if it was All Just a Dream.
Crawling through tunnels, descending underground, and getting stuck in confined spaces are all unusually common (though not required) in these works. This theme first appears as a physical passage between the mundane and the fantastic, a gateway which can not be crossed from elsewhere on the real world side. The symbolism involved is typically suggestive of the birth canal (i.e. the "womb of the earth" metaphor). Several of the genre's defining works then continue to put their protagonists back underground on the fantasy side. The presence of so many long, narrow tunnels in what are usually coming of age stories may therefore leave you wondering if Freud Was Right.
This has been Evolving Trope through various adaptations of the story: Alice in Wonderland goes literally down the Rabbit Hole (and finds herself stuck in odd places), while Chihiro and Coraline both cross over through comparable tunnels. Kagome tumbles down a dirty old well. Sarah gets trapped in an oubliette which is but a part of the long confined path that is the Labyrinth itself, and then you have David Bowie crooning about the Underground. Ofelia experiences this phenomenon the most; she meets the Faun at the bottom of a pit at the end of (another) labyrinth, crawls through the mud under a tree, and encounters the Pale Man beneath a bedroom floor. In one very distinct version, Dorothy doesn't go through a hole—she's dropped into Oz by a tornado (which one could view as a free-standing hole due to its "hollow" structure).
Christopher Booker categorizes this plot structure under Voyage and Return, which he identifies as being most suited to children's stories (not that it can't be used for adult ones as well). The hero (usually) won't bring anything back from the world of journey other than personal growth. Another distinction is that the world doesn't conform Real World logic. In fact, because the hero can't trust logic as a guide, she has to use intuition, a good heart, and an ability to acquire allies (though she may be unsure who to trust).
Even when the work is critically acclaimed, at least one reviewer is still likely to accuse the creators of "lazy and haphazard" storytelling for trying to create a world where anything can happen.
Anime and Manga
- Inu Yasha has elements of this, crossed with Time Travel.
- Chihiro crosses over through comparable tunnels.
- Miyuki Chan in Wonderland IS Alice with even more sexual symbolism.
- And Alice in Sexland goes the same route but is downright Hentai.
- In My Neighbor Totoro, Mei first meets Totoro after following a small white rabbit-like creature through a tunnel.
- Digimon Adventure, though that case is more Down The Random Tsunami/Waterfall. Digimon Tamers offers a more literal example halfway through the season.
- Ouran High School Host Club has an episode that parodies Alice in Wonderland.
- Harukanaru Toki no Naka de - Hachiyou Shou starts off a bit like Inuyasha, with the main character carried through an old well by the Dragon-God into a world that looks like a version of ancient Kyoto with the addition of random monsters, The Four Gods and various forms of magic.
- Fushigi Yuugi arguably falls under this category, when Miyaka gets trapped in a story book. It's much like Inuyasha in the sense that she seems to be trapped in the feudal era of the book.
- Heart no Kuni no Alice has the White Rabbit Peter kidnapping Alice and forcibly throwing her through the rabbit hole. She ends up stuck in Wonderland.
- Alice by Jan Svankmajer is a most deranged and incomprehensible adaptation with its stop-motion animation and mostly silent script.
- It doesn't happen in the book, but James and the Giant Peach has the boy crawling into the center of the peach through a hole that he ate, where the film detours from live-action into the stop-motion animated portions of the film.
- The Matrix, Keanu Reeves starring as our darling Alice. White bunnies mentioned.
- Mirror Mask: Word of God is that the Henson company asked Neil Gaiman for a movie that was "whatever genre Labyrinth is".
- The same applies with Helena as with Anna in Paperhouse. Helena is in essence, the creator of her world. Compare with Jareth's god-like qualities in Labyrinth. Also note that both Helena and Jareth juggle, thus inverting the power dynamic. Helena is also a classic Circus Brat, which makes this a brilliant mix of tropes, especially when compared with the already established Circus of Fear trope, which brings the wonderland to you.
- Sarah gets trapped in an oubliette which is but a part of the long confined path that is the Labyrinth itself, and then you have David Bowie crooning about the Underground.
- Ofelia experiences this phenomenon the most; she meets the Faun at the bottom of a pit at the end of (another) labyrinth, crawls through the mud under a tree, and encounters the Pale Man beneath a bedroom floor.
- Notable for inverting the origin of the heroine and where she's trying to return to.
- Also notable for not making "Real Life" so mundane. The main character's troubles don't just start as soon as she makes a naive mistake. Ordinary humans are not so innocent, and real life is often more evil than fantasy. A successful mix of genres, if you will. Or a subversion of a trope.
- Paperhouse: "Anna is becoming lost in the loneliness of her own world when she discovers she can visit another, a house she has drawn herself and occupied by a young disabled boy. But as she discovers more of the links between her fantasy world and the mundane present, she is drawn only deeper into a dream turning into a nightmare. "
- Although we don't follow her there, Carol Anne's sojourn on the Other Side in |Poltergeist may qualify, particularly as she doesn't seem to remember much of what happened to her. Plus, the way her closet tried to drag her back again matches the "rabbit hole" imagery ... if it's a carnivorous rabbit with an extradimensional esophagus, that is.
- The Company of Wolves is about a girl's dream, with lots of fairytale references, as well as sexual symbolism.
- Forbidden Zone parodies this, with the "rabbit hole" being a giant mouth and its associated digestive tract, which later "deposits" you in the sixth dimension.
- In one very distinct version, Dorothy doesn't go through a hole—she's dropped into Oz by a tornado (which one could view as a free-standing hole due to its "hollow" structure).
- Both Tron films have this. Both involve a laser that zaps Kevin Flynn (original) and his son Sam (Legacy) into the "electronic world".
- Trainspotting: Renton climbs inside the filthiest toilet of Edinburgh and swims under water. (Though this is all a drug hallucination)
- Alice in Wonderland. Trope Namer and probably the Trope Maker. Alice in Wonderland goes literally down the Rabbit Hole (and finds herself stuck in odd places).
- Coraline cross over through comparable tunnels.
- The Chronicles of Narnia has elements of this. Apt since each book has at least one girl hero. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe has plenty in common with regard to Lucy, up until the other children become involved on the other side.
- Milo in Norman Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth certainly undergoes this, for a male character.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.
- Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, by Edwin Abbott Abbott, is about a two dimensional character who goes to many different dimensions. The main character is clueless, of course.
- The Forbidden Game trilogy by L. J. Smith features a girl, who, with a group of friends, gets sucked into the shadow world. Features a Persephone-like love story.
- Magic Kingdom for Sale -- SOLD!, of the Magic Kingdom of Landover novels by Terry Brooks, takes a tongue-in-cheek approach to this trope. The protagonist learns about a magic kingdom via a real estate ad. Rather than a rabbit hole, the protagonist has to wander headlong into a train tunnel to get there.
- Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, the main character becomes invisible to those around him, and has to travel around in London Below to find a way home.
- Un Lun Dun by China Mieville. Notable in that there seem to be many different ways to get to and from there (turning a handle, climbing a bookcase, crossing a bridge), and that due to it being fairly easy as long as you know roughly what to do, problems from one world can cross to the other if the wrong people are involved. Needless to say, in the story, they are.
- In Patrick Senecal's macabre retelling of Alice in Wonderland, Aliss, the subway is used to get to a parallel neighborhood called Daresbury. The subway can freely be used by anyone, not just the protagonist, to travel back and forth between Daresbury and the real world - except when the subway employees are on strike.
- In The Phantom of the Opera, Christine goes underground with the Phantom. Includes masquerades, mirrors, and masks. Christine literally interprets her descent to the Opera's cellars as transition to a mystical underworld and describes the Phantom in terms reminiscent of The Fair Folk. In the book the Opera's cellars actually have other inhabitants almost as peculiar as the Phantom himself, almost composing a miniature world in themselves, though it's more mundane than it seems to her.
- In Laura and the Silver Wolf, the heroine can enter Ice-Land through the white wall near her bed. Or any other completely white wall.
- The book Marco's Millions plays this trope straight by having two kids discover a gate to another world in their basement. Then, in typically William Sleator style, everything starts going down Creepy Crawly Lane. Both literally and figuratively.
- Be warned that within lie singularities, sacrificial swings, and cardboard boxes.
Live Action TV
- Fiona Apple's song "Sleep to Dream" subverts this trope.
- Gwen Stefani's song and music video of "What You Waiting For?" uses this trope.
- Oomph!'s music video for "Labyrinth" mostly references the usual Alice in Wonderland tropes but throws in a wardrobe, a labyrinth, and extra underground descent for good measure.
Myths and Legends
- Persephone's abduction myth.
- Clara in The Nutcracker. Clara's journey isn't scary once the Mouse King is dispatched; none of the places she goes are confined or underground and she has no tasks to complete.
- Deconstructed in Politically Correct Bedtime Stories, where a character says she thinks the cliché of a young girl going on a journey in a surreal world where she's acted upon but rarely gets a chance to act on the setting is overplayed, and she refuses the call to adventure and goes home "In the name of Alice, Dorothy, Wendy and all the others".
- Cirque Du Soleil's Quidam has adolescent heroine Zoe, her parents, and two bizarre companions transported to a sometimes-melancholy Magical Land via a Nice Hat dropped off for her by the mysterious, literally faceless (it has no head) title character, where she learns that the loneliness and alienation she feels in the real world is in fact something everyone feels at one time or another.
- Link didn't seem like he wanted to go, and he's male, but otherwise the entirety of The Legend of Zelda Majoras Mask is this crossed with Groundhog Day Loop.
- The Longest Journey. Bonus points for explicitely referencing Alice at many occasions.
- Athena has this more or less as an Excuse Plot. The Japanese arcade flyer advertised the game as being about "Athena's Wonder Land," and the intro to the Arcade Game even shows her falling down some sort of hole.
- This site is all about this trope. It calls it "Girls Underground". Also features a number of examples.
- Cheshire Crossing. Alice Liddell, after years of being sent to insane asylums because of her delusion, ends up at a new place, run by Nobel Prize winner Sir Ernest Rutherford, who has figured out that she isn't crazy. She meets two other girls: Dorothy Gale and Wendy Darling, who also have been assumed to be insane. Their nanny is a woman named Mary Poppins who turns out to be a really powerful witch. Hilarity Ensues.
- Kidd Video involves a (live action) rock band who is forcibly transported to the "Flip Side" (a 2D animated world) through a mirror in the garage of one of the members, thanks to the Big Bad Master Blaster. Each episode focused mainly on the group trying to get back to their world, with their Fairy Companion Glitter helping along the way, but like many shows made at the time (early-mid 1980s), there was no proper resolution to the story.