clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile
Image: Walt Disney Productions / FromSoftware via Polygon

Filed under:

Elden Ring is my new favorite Alice in Wonderland adaptation

FromSoftware’s latest game feels like a young Victorian girl’s nightmare

Maddy Myers has run Polygon’s games section since 2020 as deputy editor. She has worked in games journalism since 2007, at Kotaku, The Mary Sue, and the Boston Phoenix.

Elden Ring, like so many other FromSoftware games, evokes the same uncanny feeling as a nightmare. You meet a series of strange creatures in its mysterious world, and its story plays out like a parable. It’s a lot like the world Lewis Carroll crafted in Alice in Wonderland, a novel about a young English girl named Alice who has a lengthy dream about a hostile world full of similarly bizarre characters.

The minimalist, symbol-laden storytelling in FromSoftware games allows players to find their own sense of meaning. I’ve personally compared “going hollow” in Dark Souls to living with depression, and other critics have compared its doomed world to the experience of living under capitalism. Similarly, Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass have inspired critics over the ages to opine that it’s a commentary on the poor treatment of children in Victorian society, or perhaps a political satire of the royals. By creating a dreamlike world full of vague and relatively undeveloped but provocative characters, both FromSoftware and Lewis Carroll have invited endless debate over these works.

I could spend the rest of this article explaining why Elden Ring and Alice in Wonderland both effectively poke wise at various societal norms, but I’d much rather tell you Alice’s story through the lens of the Lands Between. After all, it’s plain to see that the smoking caterpillar and smiling Cheshire cat would fit in just fine in Elden Ring — and my own journey as the Tarnished has me feeling just as baffled as Alice felt in Wonderland.

Into the rabbit hole we go!

The player character in Elden Ring takes a swig from a flask Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

It was all very well to say “Drink me,” but the wise little Alice was not going to do that in a hurry: “no, I’ll look first,” she said, “and see whether it’s marked ‘poison’ or not” …

However, this bottle was not marked “poison,” so Alice ventured to taste it, and finding it very nice, (it had, in fact, a sort of mixed flavour of cherry-tart, custard, pineapple, roast turkey, toffy, and hot buttered toast,) she very soon finished it off.

The Elden Ring player character looks at the goldern Erdtree beyond Caelid Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

“The first thing I’ve got to do,” said Alice to herself, as she wandered about in the wood, “is to grow to my right size again; and the second thing is to find my way into that lovely garden. I think that will be the best plan.”

The Elden Ring player character approaches the Erdtree in Caelid, but there’s a dog on the horizon waiting to attack Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

It sounded an excellent plan, no doubt, and very neatly and simply arranged; the only difficulty was, that she had not the smallest idea how to set about it; and while she was peering about anxiously among the trees, a little sharp bark just over her head made her look up in a great hurry.

The Elden Ring player character faces down one of the massive dogs in Caelid Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

An enormous puppy was looking down at her with large round eyes, and feebly stretching out one paw, trying to touch her. “Poor little thing!” said Alice in a coaxing tone, and she tried hard to whistle to it, but she was terribly frightened all the time at the thought that it might be hungry, in which case it would be very likely to eat her up in spite of all her coaxing.

The player character in Elden Ring looks down at a caterpillar Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

Her eyes immediately met those of a large blue caterpillar, that was sitting on the top with its arms folded, quietly smoking a long hookah, and taking not the smallest notice of her or of anything else.

A bird with knives in its talons attacks the player character in Elden Ring Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

A sharp hiss made her draw back in a hurry: a large pigeon had flown into her face, and was beating her violently with its wings. “Serpent!” screamed the Pigeon.

“I’m not a serpent!” said Alice indignantly. “Let me alone!”

Renalla sits in her chair with her egg while the player character looks on Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

“Oh, don’t bother me,” said the Duchess; “I never could abide figures.” And with that she began nursing her child again, singing a sort of lullaby to it as she did so, and giving it a violent shake at the end of every line ...

The Tarnished sits at Renalla’s feet while she cuddles her egg Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

“Speak roughly to your little boy,
And beat him when he sneezes;
He only does it to annoy,
Because he knows it teases.”

Alice caught the baby with some difficulty, as it was a queer-shaped little creature.

The Erdtree Burial Watchdog, which looks like a three-headed cat Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

“In that direction,” the Cat said, waving its right paw round, “lives a Hatter: and in that direction,” waving the other paw, “lives a March Hare. Visit either you like: they’re both mad.”

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

The player character in Elden Ring meets Renna again; she’s going by Ranni this time and inviting the player to enlist in her service Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

“I’ve had nothing yet,” Alice replied in an offended tone, “so I can’t take more.”

“You mean, you can’t take less,” said the Hatter: “it’s very easy to take more than nothing.”

Queen Marika destroying the Elden Ring in the game’s opening cutscene Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. “Off with his head!” she said without even looking round.

Miriel, the Pope Turtle, says hello to an astrologer in Elden Ring Image: FromSoftware/Bandai Namco via Polygon

“When we were little,” the Mock Turtle went on at last, more calmly, though still sobbing a little now and then, “we went to school in the sea. The master was an old Turtle—we used to call him Tortoise—”

“Why did you call him Tortoise, if he wasn’t one?” Alice asked.

“We called him Tortoise because he taught us,” said the Mock Turtle angrily; “really you are very dull!” ...

Alice did not feel encouraged to ask any more questions about it, so she turned to the Mock Turtle, and said, “What else had you to learn?”

“Well, there was Mystery,” the Mock Turtle replied, counting off the subjects on his flappers,— “Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography: then Drawling—the Drawling-master was an old conger-eel, that used to come once a week: he taught us Drawling, Stretching, and Fainting in Coils.”

One of the massive lobster enemies in Elden Ring Image: FromSoftware via Polygon

“‘You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out to sea!’
But the snail replied, ‘Too far, too far!’ and gave a look askance—
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join the dance
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join the dance!”

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Patch Notes

A weekly roundup of the best things from Polygon