An Eye on the Looking-glass: The Enduring Appeal of Lewis Carroll and Alice

Lewis Carroll's best-known and best-loved creation, Alice, is about to get a facelift.  Any fan of Tim Burton can tell you that his next major project is a typically Burton-ian approach to the children's classic. In his version, a 17-year-old Alice returns to Wonderland for the first time in 10 years and meets up again with all her old acquaintances. (In theatres on March 5, 2010, teaser trailer is here.)


Of course, the launch of a new movie adaptation is always a good reason to put together a display of the latest editions of Alice in Wonderland, and its related books.  Most stores can easily do an Alice display without breaking a sweat - there are always new editions coming out and evergreen classics that are usually in stock.

Here are three suggested books to add to the display that could take it through the looking-glass!

Alice in Wonderland
by Lewis Carroll
illustrated by Rodney Matthews
Templar Books (Candlewick Press) | 9780763645687 | $24.99 | Sept 2009

A CAUCUS RACE - 1994 (Rodney MatthewsThe relatively new-to-the-US Templar Books imprint at Candlewick Press is bringing out this lavishly illustrated edition, complete with bejeweled slipcase.  The illustrator is the legendary UK fantasy and SF artist Rodney Matthews (he's also a jazz and rock musician, album cover artist, and video game designer).  He may be best known for his illustrations for Michael Moorcock's Elric books.

AT THE MARCH HARE'S TABLE - 1990 (Rodney Matthews)Given his credentials as a painter of the fantastic, you can imagine just how over-the-top his Alice paintings would be.  Luckily, you don't need to imagine.  His web site hosts a gallery of past works and images from works in progress.  Check out these two illustrations from Alice in Wonderland, previously published in a series of calendars featuring his fantastic art and now repurposed as part of the suite of illustrations for the new book.


On to two books that look at the creator of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (or as he was known to his friends and colleagues at Christ Church college at the University of Oxford, Charles Dodgson) and the young girl who was his muse and friend, Alice Liddell.

Lewis Carroll
by Colin Ford
Thames & Hudson (Norton) | 9780500410981 | $15.95 | Sept 2009

Alice I Have Been
by Melanie Benjamin
Delacorte Press | 9780385344135 | $25 | Jan 2010

I've previously featured Lewis Carroll, edited by Colin Ford, in the "my3books x 3" post about three terrific series, which included the Photofile series from Thames & Hudson.  The newly released volume in that series is on the photography of Lewis Carroll.  In addition to being a lecturer in mathematics at Christ Church college, Carroll was a well-known local photographer, just years after the popularization of photography as a hobby. 

It was through his photography that Dodgson met Alice Liddell and the rest of her family. He famously befriended the young girls, Alice and her two sisters, and escorted them on many outings in the area around Oxford.  On one of those occasions, Dodgson invented the tale that would become Alice in Wonderland.

Alice Liddell as a beggar-maid. (photo by Lewis Carroll)The Photofile book of Dodgson/Carroll's photography features 59 of his pictures, most of them featuring the young girls that were his constant sources of inspiration and to some historians and observers, a possible source of some scandal.

Aside from Dodgson's perhaps questionable focus on young girls, his photography is timeless, and because of the fame of the man as an author, is particularly well-documented. 

Melanie Benjamin's marvelous upcoming novel, Alice I Have Been, covers the same ground from the perspective of Alice Liddell herself, drawing on the historical record and much research, but expands the story into the realm of the possible. 

Alice I Have Been opens in 1932 as an aged Alice Liddell Hargreaves looks back on her life: from the earliest years as the middle daughter of the Dean of Christ Church college, her friendship with Dodgson and the creation of Alice in Wonderland, to her (speculated upon) romance with Prince Leopold, the hemophiliac youngest son of Queen Victoria, and finally to her marriage in later years to Reginald Hargreaves, and the life they had together with their three sons.  

Benjamin has taken the well-worn cloth of the life of Alice Liddell and given the fabric new life with a richly imagined tale.  The crowded streets and gardens of Oxford are filled with vibrant characterizations of Alice and her family, celebrities of the day, and brings a fresh understanding of the possibilities and limitations of the life of one particular girl.