Alice Lives Here

I own more editions of Lewis Carroll's
Alice books than of any other book, at least if you count adaptations as well as the original texts of 1865's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and 1872's Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

Martin Gardner's The Annotated 'Alice', recently referenced (again) on an episode of Lost to a hoot from me, might be my favorite book ever. It's not the only or necessarily even the best way to experience Alice, but if you only know the Disney film by all means read Carroll and if you've enjoyed Carroll by all means plunge into Gardner's exegesis and celebration of his work.

Off the top of my head (with dates from the 'Net), since most of it is boxed up right now, my Alice collection includes...

• a plain old omnibus reading copy of the stories, with John Tenniel's original illustrations;

• an illustrated picture-book adaptation of the 1951 Disney animated film
Alice in Wonderland;

• Kyle Baker's 1990
Classics Illustrated comics adaptation of Through the Looking-Glass;

• a trade-paperback edition of
The Annotated 'Alice';

• a long-sought-after 1960 hardcover of same;

• the 1990 hardcover of Gardner's
More Annotated 'Alice';

• the 2000
Annotated 'Alice': The Definitive Edition, combining both;

Alice's Adventures Under Ground, a facsimile of the original manuscript hand-written by Carroll, alias Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, for Alice Liddell, before its expansion and publication as Wonderland;

• Robert Sabuda's 2003 abridged pop-up adaptation of
Adventures in Wonderland;

• another abridged pop-up done in 2000 by Nick Denchfield and Alex Vining;

• and various picture-book abridgments of the original stories, including stand-alone editions of the famed "Jabberwocky" poem from
Looking-Glass illustrated by Graeme Base, Nick Bantock, and others.

I was in third grade when I read the real
Alice books for the first time. We had moved to the Philadelphia suburbs from a much smaller community in New Jersey, and my new school participated in SSR, or Sustained Silent Reading periods. Of course we could bring our own books, but the classroom had a small bookshelf with a series of like-binded editions of classics from Alice to Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I made my way through them (probably not all of them) methodically. The differences between L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and the familiar MGM movie musical surprised me; if possible, Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio scared me more than the circus scene in the Disney film. Carroll's Alice books just plumb fascinated me in their intricacy and inventiveness.

One of the great things about the books is their utter malleability. You can read them as celebrations of fantasy, nonsense, and wordplay. You can dig deeply into their puzzles and allegories, intentional and otherwise — even setting aside Dodgson's potentially inappropriate relationship with the actual Alices and fetishism of young girls (if you can, something I've struggled with as an avowed lover of the books). You can explore the translation of both their most superficial elements and their underlying motifs into new entertainments. Like the Oz books, Wonderland and Looking-Glass are seemingly infinitely adaptable, often with surprisingly satisfying results on their own terms — which is rare for discrete works of fiction, as opposed to broad canons like Batman or Star Trek or Greek mythology.

There have been a great number of films, stage plays, comics, and prose works based on Alice, both straight-up adaptations and explorations taking the form of further adventures or "the real story" or dystopic steampunk mecha sci-fi gangster spins on the original. A new big-budget Alice in Wonderland movie opens this weekend, and I'm expressing my attachment to the source material now because otherwise I'll try to shoehorn too much into my review.

When I discovered The Annotated 'Alice' in high school, it not only rekindled my affection for the Carroll books themselves but sparked or reinforced my interests in logic, textual analysis, and critical commentary. I was primed to receive the essays of Douglas Hofstadter, the stories of Jorge Luis Borges, and even mathematics with an appreciation I might not otherwise have had or at least would've taken longer to attain. Perhaps most importantly, because Gardner's work could have come across as so self-important or irritatingly clever, but did not, I also had the concept of appreciating the story on the page (and whatever added dimensions unfold in your head) reinforced, analysis be damned. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, a thrill ride is just a thrill ride, a wonderland is just a wonderland. The fact that its insights are so thought-provoking as to feel utterly indispensable and yet reinforce the fact that the Alice books themselves are so self-evidently rich as to render any commentary utterly dispensable makes The Annotated 'Alice' a remarkable thing.

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Palindrome said...

Have you ever thought of writing your own version of Alice??

I think you would bring something unique and very entertaining if you ever decided to do so.

Joan Crawford said...

Or better yet - have Evil Blam write it!

Teebore said...

I read the original Alice years ago (and probably didn't understand half of it). I really want to pick up the annotated version and dig in again soon!

I absolutely adore annotated editions. I'm one of those people who want to know EVERYTHING about a story: textual meanings, cultural events being alluded to, authorial intent, etc. It's the English major in me, I guess.

El Qué said...

dystopic steampunk mecha sci-fi gangster spins on the original
I wanna read that one! ^__^
And I agree: You should write an Alice story, Blam. Nice call, Palindrome.
Teebore, I think you'd totally love the annotated edition; I think anybody who enjoys using their brain would, but especially if you already have that interest in annotations.

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

I have loved the Alice stories (and other Carroll works) for a long time. I did a paper in high school on Lewis Carroll and loved digging into some of his other works like Sylvie and Bruno and his letters... so much fun. Haven't got a copy of the Annotated Alice ... yet :)

Matthew said...

You should check out Automated Alice by Jeff Noon, I think he captures Carroll's whimsical way...

Or you'll hate it :)