03 December 2023

Tatton Park, a grand National Trust house in Cheshire, has an Alice in Wonderland event this Christmas. More details here.

They're rather fond of Alice at Tatton Park. I remember going to a Queen of Hearts Tea there once in the summer, so keep an eye on their website if you're going to be in the area.
15 November 2023

I haven't written here for a while, but I really must put something now because I wanted to write a small appreciation of Edward Wakeling, who was undoubtedly THE world expert on Lewis Carroll. He was such a towering figure that it is almost impossible to believe he has passed away. As well as maintaining a gigantic database, writing tirelessly and looking after a wonderful collection of Carrollania, he was such a nice person - and that is the aspect that I'd mainly like to write about here.

First though, I must mention some of his most useful and remarkable books and pamphlets, which covered most aspects of Carroll's life. His magnum opus was the complete edited edition of the surviving Diaries of Lewis Carroll, meticulously researched and invaluable to any scholar of Carroll and his life. He was also an expert on Lewis Carroll's photography, and compiled the Catalogue Raisonne of Carroll's photographs (here). One of his lesser known but very entertaining books was a look at Lewis Carroll's games and puzzles.

The last of his books which I read was, I believe, the last he ever wrote. It is called THE LIFE OF EDWIN DODGSON, and it was written in conjunction with Caroline Luke, great-granddaughter of Skeffington Dodgson. Based on previously-unpublished material, It tells the life story of the youngest of the Dodgson sons, Edwin, who lived an hard and extraordinary life in various far flung corners of the globe, notably the remote island of Tristan da Cunha. The LCSNA ran a seminar about this book in 2021, which is online at time of writing, here.

On a personal level, whenever I was researching books, media appearances, lectures and newspaper pieces about Carroll, Edward was ready to help if needed. Several times he opened his home to me, let me stay and gave me access to his collections and archives for days at a time. I loved the calm, unchanging atmosphere in his house, particularly his living room with the painted harpsichord, the grand piano and, usually, classical music playing on the radio. I chose the picture above to illustrate him because that informal lunchtime in the garden just sums up what it felt like to be with him in his well tended and utterly fascinating cottage. But I could also mention meals at the pub in Hay, or tea and cake in his conservatory of an afternoon, perhaps with Smokey the cat in attendance. All would have conveyed the orderly, friendly scene that always awaited visitors at his home.

He was welcoming to his friends' families too. We last dropped in to see him in May 2022, when we were on holiday about 30 miles away. He was already feeling great physical limitations, and had suffered many unpleasant medical incidents, but despite this he was his usual self. So we remember that last visit with great affection and happiness, and when we left, we did hope we would see him again.

Sadly, it was not to be. When Christmas comes this year I will really miss receiving his latest instalment of ADVENTURES IN BOOK COLLECTING; his serialised account of hunting down some of his favourite books. Last Christmas he said he still had three more booklets to go, which he hoped to live long enough to send out. We are far from being the only ones who will sincerely mourn the fact that he will not be able to do this. But we know that his memory will be celebrated for as long as people study the life of Charles Dodgson. R.I.P, Edward.
31 October 2021
Nicolas Codron is a French paper artist, making artist's books and pop-ups, with objets in many collections, including the Met in New York. He's very interested in Alice. I was taken by this image of the White Rabbit's watch, with what seems to be a shadow of the White Rabbit racing across it. Some of his Alice items are included in his current exhibition in Paris, at Chantrelivre bookstore.

See what you think of his miniature "Alice " book over on Instagram, with echoes of the original binding which Lewis Carroll chose himself.

04 September 2021

Finally, I managed to see "Curiouser and Curiouser" , the V & A's major exhibition on "Alice" - in particular the evolution of the story from a manuscript to a global phenomenon.

It's been eagerly awaited by Alice fans, but most of the time it was on last year, Britain was in lockdown and the museum was either closed, or had very restricted opening. Even after they extended the show, it was hard to go during the earlier part of this year. Tickets are in high demand, and we had to book here at 12 noon sharp on a Tuesday to be sure of getting in!

Anyone who has watched this "Secrets of the Museum" episode on the BBC will know how much trouble went into creating a Mad Tea Party for the exhibition. Animated film was used to create and change colours and patterns on the table,crockery and tablecloth (which swooshed up and spread out like a banner.)



Alongside the animation was a clip from Jonathan Miller's BBC "Alice in Wonderland" film. This film uses many top actors and has a wonderful Gothic atmosphere. Unfortunately, though, Miller demanded a strange performance from the actor who portrayed Alice, in which the poor girl was supposed to represent a blank space in which the viewer could project themselves. It can't have been much fun for her to play. Here's a clip to give you the general atmosphere..

Anyway, when the clip from the film has finished, the teaparty begins to change colour and apparently come to life. It is worth checking on Youtube to see whether anyone has put a film of this on. Certainly many people were filming it when I was there.

The teaparty is one of the big setpieces, but since I'm most interested in Lewis Carroll as a person, I liked the parts which cast light on him and his world. (I noticed that this was also the section that had most people lingering and examining the exhibits carefully.) There are too many to mention but they include a dodo skeleton, and lesser known bits of Carrollania, as well as toys and small objects inspired by the book, such as this little cut out scene spied through a hole in one of the doors. It is, of course, the wondrous garden which Alice glimpses through the tiny door when she is shut in the hallway.


There are also sketches which Carroll apparently did for his own illustrations of the handwritten version of the story which he gave to Alice Liddell herself, and a set of cards for the game of "Ways and Means" which he created in his youth to amuse his many brothers and sisters. I like the card showing the young man representing "The Friend" although the resigned looking cat also makes me smile.


I had hoped that someone might have made up a replica of this game to sell in the gift shop, as I'd have liked to know how it was played, but that wasn't the case.

I also liked a paper panorama of Humpty Dumpty's story which the Dodgson children played with in their youth, and almost certainly would have been in Carroll's mind when creating his own Humpty Dumpty character.


Many of the exhibits showed aspects of the Victorian age which were relevant to "Alice" the book. This huge, expensively made and somewhat grotesque clock (below) could only ever be Victorian, and to me it sums up the period well, right down to the rather moralistic reminder that TEMPUS FUGIT in enamelled mock-medieval lettering.


The exhibition catalogue has many pages of pictures from the virtual reality exhibit and many of the gifts in the giftshop also feature the VR steampunk-style artwork, which was created by Kristjana S. Williams

In real life, I'm not sure how many people got to see the VR at the show. There weren't many headsets, and a long and rather crowded queue offered a twenty minute wait for the chance of five minutes playing the Queen at Hearts at croquet. But it looked fun, and well done, and if you have VR at home, you can download it for a very reasonable price.


There is a large but rather sparse section on the seaside. I thought the highlight of this was a big animation of bubbling water cascading ceaselessly into a pool, with quotes from the book floating about .... mesmerising.


The seaside area contains a section on film and theatrical performances, including several gorgeous vintage film posters and material I hadn't seen before. In fact, even when I went to the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco, I didn't manage to see all Mary Blair's brilliant conceptual sketches for how the Disney "Alice" should look, so it was really good to see them again. They were hard to photograph at the show, so I've linked to some online images.

One of the more baffling Disney-related exhibits was also in this section. It is part of a transcript of a discussion between Walt and Aldous Huxley, who was apparently being considered as an advisor to the film. Aldous Huxley? Why? Could he have been asked because of his experiences with mescalin? It's hard to imagine Walt wanted to make a feature of drug use, but who knows?

But, obviously, hallucinogenics do have their place in the show, including posters from the shortlived but famous American studio "East Totem West" (they did the cat at the top of this post). And, perhaps predictably, there was a film of Jefferson Airplane's "Go Ask Alice."

The exhibit before the exit was one of my favourites. It shows ribbon-like projections constantly twisting and bending into curious shapes - a bit like flowers, a bit like trees


They display some of Alice's more prescient or thought provoking comments, such as "I don't want to be anybody's prisoner - I want to be a Queen." Very much the inner cry of many a Victorian woman, I'd have thought.


This final exhibition space was full of mirrors and dimly lit, and, in echoes of "Through the Looking Glass" I watched a small golden haired child walking through the room. But as I watched, she seemed to take off in all kinds of different directions as each mirror caught and reflected a different glimpse of her. It seemed a good way in which to end the exhibition.

27 April 2021
I just discovered this Japanese TV version of "Alice in Wonderland" from 1986. I've never seen it before and didn't even know it existed! This version is not subtitled in English but don't you love how it's put Alice in a Japanese context? I think it's great.

21 April 2021

My friend Yoshi sent me another beautiful item created by well known Japanese illustrator Takako Hirai. It's called "Alice Alice Alice" and pulls together some of her cute postcards and other Alice drawings, together with some images that I haven't seen before.

Here, the White Rabbit's House is a 1930s villa growing like a rose on a very tidy rosebush - quite appropriate, as this is the sort of house I always associate with neatly tended gardens of roses.


Lewis Carroll's actress friend Isa Bowman said that the most mysterious and thrilling parts of the stories he told to children often included a wood. Here the woodland theme is integrated with the playing cards which fascinate Takako Hirai. The leaves are made of clubs, hearts, spades and diamonds, with a tiny white rabbit tumbling out of the cascade.


Of course I loved the title page with its nice message from Takako to me.


The little teapot opposite was almost my favourite picture of all. The Mad Hatter calls out of the window with a towering plate of buns, the Cheshire Cat sits on the saucer, as the whole thing sails through the air looking as if catastrophe will hit any minute - though you can be totally sure it won't.


Endpapers are often forgotten in picture books, but here, the endpapers have tiny characters marching about endlessly amidst the magical leaves, in a very Victorian style of design. Maybe one day Takako will create wallpaper like this: I think it has possibilities.


I wish I could show all the many pictures, but, as the Mad Hatter said, "No Room, No Room!" and in any case, the book is so beautifully produced it deserves to be seen in real life. I'm really grateful to Yoshi for this lovely addition to my little collection of illustrated "Alice" books.
27 March 2021
Yes, I think I could handle it if some kind person gave me an "Alice's Wonderland Drink Me" hamper from the Cheshire Cheese Company. This company is, of course, based in Cheshire, and it has always been well aware of the Lewis Carroll link. Close readers of "Wonderland" will know that Alice is offered a glass of wine at the Mad Tea Party, and, in fact, upper class Victorian children were often allowed to drink wine and spirits if their parents did so, although I don't know if Alice and her siblings were.

Anyway, the hamper contains 9 x 200g waxed truckles of cheese in various flavours (Old Hag Ale & Mustard Cheddar Cheese, Caramelised onion & Rioja, gin & lemon Cheshire cheese, El Gringo chilli lime & tequila, Irish Whiskey & stem ginger among them) 3 mixed packets of specialist biscuits for cheese, a bottle of Prosecco, a bottle of Ribshack red wine and a miniature Cheshire Gin No.7, plus a free gift from Alice of 3 decorative miniature wooden mice. Alice has also apparently added a free Cheshire Cheese Club membership card, although I'd have thought you'd have had enough cheese there to last you the rest of the year.

There's apparently also a Mad Hatter non alcoholic hamper, featuring Mad Hatter Tea, which I can vouch for as really delicious tea. But in this case, I think I would stick to the wine, and I'd guess Lewis Carroll would have done so too, as he is known to have liked a glass or two of wine. In fact, he even had the duty of keeping the members' wine cellar for a while - not a bad little task.

21 March 2021
I always wonder why editors commission particular illustrators for new editions of "Alice," which are coming out all the time. I quite like these pictures by Andrea d'Aquino, a New York-based artist who works a lot for the US press. They have a mysterious, dreamlike feeling, although they don't convey any of the cleverness and sharpness of the book, which are a large part of its attraction for me.

What do you think?


Here are some more of the pictures.

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The truth seems to me that Alice is all things to all people.

14 March 2020

We went to see Tim Walker's photography show "Wonderful Things" at the V & A museum the other day. Walker really stretches boundaries and is one of the most imaginative photographers working right now. He's specially well known for his spectacular fashion shoots in "Vogue," but the show also included many personal projects, which I found even more interesting after I had read his own accounts of how he came to conceive and create them. His work may seem alive and full of movement, but it is the opposite of spontaneous, and relies on often gigantic and elaborate sets and truly surreal props.

So Walker's just the person to do an "Alice" project, you'd think; specially since in the introduction to the show he actually mentions Wonderland. I was surprised to spot only one definitely Alice-themed photograph (above). When I looked up his website afterwards, though, I found a whole group of "Alice" themed pictures, in a different style. They are images numbers 7-15 on this website carousel.

The "Alice" iconography is so familiar and so many artists have tackled the book that it must be frustrating to try and create anything wholly original. Since extreme originality is one of Walker's main characteristics, I don't feel these Alice pictures are among his most typical images, although I don't think I ever saw black or white models used to represent the chess set...

Oh, come to think of it, perhaps I should go back and look a bit harder...
28 February 2020
Today Google's Doodle features John Tenniel, who did the famous original illustrations for the Alice books. Tenniel, who became the principal political cartoonist of "PUNCH" magazine, was born on the 28 February 1820. He seems to have been a quiet, retiring and somewhat introverted man - long suffering, too, if an anecdote about his youth is to be believed. It seems that his father was a dancing and fencing master, who taught his son to fence. When he was 20, Tenniel was fencing with his father when his father accidently hit his eye with the tip of his foil. Tenniel never told his father that his eyesight had been permanently damaged by the accident, because he did not want to upset him.

He indicated that he found it a strain to work with Lewis Carroll because Carroll was so demanding. In fact, after illustrating "Wonderland" Tenniel actually refused to illustrate "Looking Glass," to Carroll's dismay... I wonder how Carroll persuaded him to change his mind.