Escapees from an Exhibition: Some Curious “Alice in Wonderland” Items…

Alice once fell asleep and she was dreaming. / When she awoke, she started screaming... "Jabberwocky: Novelty Fox Trot Song," [©1921]. (Cotsen SM 1965)

Alice once fell asleep and she was dreaming. /
When she awoke, she started screaming… “Jabberwocky: Novelty Fox Trot Song,” [©1921]. (Cotsen SM 1965)

Exhibitions of illustrated books, manuscripts, ephemera and other “curiosities” are great ways of highlighting certain aspects of “rare” collections that usually don’t otherwise see the light of day. This is certainly true for items relating to Alice in Wonderland, due to the book’s ongoing popularity and all the “variations on the original theme” by later illustrators, pop-up book designers, and manufacturers of collateral marketing paraphernalia. Imagine seeing a Through the Looking Glass biscuit tin once owned by Lewis Carroll’s sister! Or depictions of Alice as a 1920s flapper girl or as grown-up woman waking from a nightmare dream in a musical score. Or a number of later illustrators’ reinterpretations of John Tenniel’s original illustrations for Alice.

One problem, though, is that an exhibition (particularly a “live” one) can never accommodate everything. There are usually just too many books and items to display them all! Selecting from among all these items was one of the (fun) challenges in curating Cotsen’s “Alice after Alice” exhibition, which will soon be ending its run (extended from its original July 15 end-date). With that in mind, I thought it might be amusing to feature here some of the “also-rans” and items that we just didn’t have room for in the display cases.

First up, is perhaps Cotsen Library’s smallest version of Alice, measuring just 7 cm (2 ¾ inches) in height: a 1998 Russian edition, Alisa v strane chudes. The pictorial paper dust-jacket shows a smiling Alice with a somewhat modern, but essentially timeless look — fitting perhaps with the timeless beginning of Alice: “All in the golden afternoon…”

Minaiture Book version of Alice

Cover of Russian miniature edition of “Alice” — Alisa v strane chudes — with a penny for size comparison (Cotsen 153255)


Alice as imagined by illustrator Ekaterina Shishlova

But things really get interesting when we open the book and see Ekaterina Shishlova’s language-transcending, process-printed color illustrations, which accompany the Russian text. In one, Alice herself is shown as a doe-eyed, brown-haired girl, full of perplexity, when trying to decide what to make of the key after she tumbles down into Wonderland. An interesting ‘take” on a character depicted many different ways by various illustrators in the 150 years since the first edition (a number of which were featured in the “Alice after Alice” exhibition)..

But I think Shishlova’s real genius manifests itself in her depictions of Alice tumbling down into Wonderland and a too-large Alice peeking through the tiny door.

timblign alice

Alice tumbles down into Wonderland

In the first, Alice seems to be tumbling down into a well-cum-malestrom, along with a framed picture (the river-bank scene where her sister had been reading to her?) and some leaves from tree Alice was sitting under; you can almost feel the downward motion! Note the tiny circle of sunny sky at the top of the well. And how about Alice’s hand, foregrounded so it looks like the disembodied hand of some giant? Brilliant!


“Big” Alice peering though the tiny door…

I also particularly like Shishlova’s depiction of Alice peering through the door she’s too big to go through before swigging from the “Drink Me” bottle. The garden seems full of mysterious plants, befitting an enchanted place; and note the hint of red from the Queen of Hearts garden to come.  And how about Alice’s huge eye peering through the door? While great in and of itself, this illustration seems especially perfect for a miniature book!  A big eye peering into a brave new miniature world…

"I'm late, I'm late..."

I’m late, I’m late…

Other wonderful depictions of Wonderland characters in this book include the White Rabbit, wearing what looks like a red-and-blue livery of some sort with a giant floppy hat, mouth agape, and holding his packet-watch, which looms large in the foreground and features a cameo portrait of a harridan-like woman. Is it the Queen of Hearts?

Queen of Hearts

Shishlova’s Queen of Hearts

Speaking of the Queen, take a look at Shishlova’s reimagining of her — a comically scary figure, recalling the proverbial evil step-mother of fairy tales, here with a fawning courtier draped over her. Definitely recognizable as the Queen of Hearts, but also quite distinctive, in the best tradition of illustrators’ reimaginings of Tenniel’s originals!

Apart from the specific delights of this tiny Russian edition, it also serves as a reminder that Alice has been translated into some 174 different languages, including Afrikaans, Latin, Cornish, Welsh, and Tongan.


“26 Letters of Lewis Carroll,” fanned out for display, as per the book designer’s suggestion. The Q image is (of course!) the Queen of Hearts (Cotsen 46698)

Another “curious” item that didn’t quite make it into the exhibition is titled Twenty-Six Letters of Lewis Carroll, a 1998 limited printing of 26 letters that Carroll actually wrote to various children, including Alice Liddell (the “real” Alice) and Queen Victoria’s granddaughter. What makes this collection so interesting is the presentation. Each of the letters — one for each letter of the alphabet — is housed within an envelope with an illustration based on a Tenniel original: the whole collection of illustrations forming something of a rebus alphabet (A is for Alice, B for beeQ is for Queen…).  All the envelopes are bound together within a bright red “piano hinge binding,” designed so that the letters can be fanned out for display in a semi-circle. (The bound collection even comes with a descriptive sheet from the book designer, Linda K. Johnson, suggesting display options–no “mere” child’s toy, this!)


The list of letter recipients: from A (Alice Compton) to Z (Zoe Dodgson)

Carroll corresponded with a large number of “child friends” throughout his career and wrote special Christmas or holiday letters or messages to some, including Alice. The pictorial Table of Contents page provides some of of the scope of this correspondence.

Let’s take a look at just two of the letters: Carroll’s letter to Alice Lidell and her sisters and his letter to Princess Alice, Duchess of Altlone (aka. granddaughter of Queen Victoria, who is sometimes regarded as Tenniel’s inspiration for the Queen of Hearts).


My dear Lorena, Alice, and Edith…

The letter to the Liddells: Lorina, Alice, and Edith (addressed to them essentially in order of their ages) is housed in an envelope with an illustration of a lion (L is for Lion) and the letter itself has the lion illustration too, as you can see. It’s addressed to “My dear…” as were many of Carroll’s letters to children. He didn’t write to children as a celebrity author or a condescending adult, but rather as a friend, which is probably one reason he was so popular with them.

As you can see, the letter also contains an acrostic poem, the first letter of each line spelling out a letter in the three girls’ names — Lorina, Alice, Edith — Carroll loved all sorts of puzzles, based on words and math alike. He actually wrote the original version of this letter on the flyleaf of a book he gave the girls as a Christmas present: Catherine Sinclair’s Holiday House (with no lion pictured, though!). The stilted formal style of this letter, although typical of both the time and some of Carroll’s other writings, is quite unlike that in Alice — probably a good thing in terms of the lasting appeal of the book!


My dear Princess…

In another letter — P for Princess (Alice), illustrated here with a crowned regal-looking version of Wonderland’s Alice — features a letter Carroll actually wrote to Princess Alice, Victoria’s granddaughter, as well as another acrostic poem. The letter has a remarkably conversational tone (quite unlike the poems), which is doubly remarkable since Carroll was writing to a royal princess at a time when the social bounds between “commoners and royals were quite pronounced. Carroll had actually met Princess Alice previously, something he alludes to in his letter (“before you’ve forgotten me…”). After the 1865 publication of Alice, his celebrity as best-selling author allowed him an entree to social levels quite impossible for a math don (his “day job” as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), something he clearly relished.

The original letter accompanied a “Through the Looking Glass Biscuit Tin” that Carroll sent to Princess Alice, after he had licensed Barringer, Wallis & Manners to produce the tins as a purchase incentive for biscuits (“cookies” to those of us in the USA). Although Carroll complained about the firm’s commercialism in using the tins to encourage purchase of their products, this didn’t stop him from requesting several hundred freebies to give away to various people!


Whenever your brother Charlie is very naughty, just pop him in [the biscuit tin] and shut the lid!

Apart from the social-climbing aspect of this letter, what makes it interesting to me is Carroll’s tongue-in-cheek advice to Princess Alice: the idea that she should “pop” her annoying little brother, Charlie, into the tin and shut the lid whenever he was “very naughty”! Take a look at the highlighted text. Imagine an author passing along that sort of advice to a kid today!

Princeton has one of these original biscuit tins in our Parrish collection, ours formerly owned by Carroll’s sister, Louisa. Even though the tin is displayed in Cotsen Library’s “Alice after Alice” exhibition, I thought you might like to see it here — from several different angles, something not really feasible in the actual “static” exhibition.


Front of the “Looking Glass Biscuit Tin”: Alice & the Knights (Parrish Dodgson 967)


One side of the tin: Alice & Humpty Dumpty


Side two: Alice, the White King, and “the Messenger”


Back of the tin: Alice, Tweedledee & Tweedledum, and the Red Queen



Top of the tin: Alice goes through the looking glass

A final “escapee” from the exhibition is a Jecktor Company Alice in Wonderland movie filmstrip from 1933. As you can see, it’s an early form of a movie, printed on a translucent paper strip with two rows of images; it’s wound on a wooden spool and would probably be about 2 feet long if fully unrolled.


“Alice in Wonderland” filmstrip (#165) by Jecktor Co., 1933 (Cotsen 40848)

But when looking at the Jecktor Alice more closely for this blog posting, I noticed a curious thing: the images on the top and bottom of the filmstrip are slightly different — I’d assumed that the parallel images would be the same, creating some sort of “stereo” or three-dimensional effect when viewed while they moved in some way. (Take a look at the photos above/below and you’ll see what I mean.) So I did what most of us do these days when looking for basic information; I looked online.


“Alice in Wonderland” filmstrip: Alice tumbles down into Wonderland… (note the differences between the images on the top and bottom rows)


Jecktor projector and movie-strips (image from:

I learned that Jecktor (based in New York City at 200 5th Avenue, close to the Flatiron Building — quite a toney address now) was an early manufacturer of home movie projectors and gramophone-projector combos gizmos in the 1930s — Jecktor/projector, get it? They made at least 12 filmstrips of popular children’s titles, including Mickey Mouse, Cinderella, and Tom Sawyer. These filmstrips were designed to be played back using an ingenious, but very unusual-looking, playback device (that combines aspects of a hand projector with a gramophone in some cases). It even had its own US patent: #1,929,353. Take a look at it!

The projector had two lenses and a shutter that flipped the projected image from top to bottom row, and back again, when the film was hand-cranked through the projector, thereby creating the effect of animation (not unlike a flip-book, but much more mechanically complex).


“Alice” filmstrip: sequence showing Alice shrinking and getting taller…

So that’s why the images on the top and bottom rows are different — shifting from one to another enhanced the  “moving picture” effect that the changing images in each parallel row create as the film was unrolled. (If you’d like to find out more about these filmstrips, the projector, and see an animated clip of Alice, take a look at the YouTube clip from the University of Texas’s Ransom Center, which also explains more about how it all works and describes a conservation project on their own Alice filmstrip for a recent exhibition.)

projector 2

“Talkie Jecktor” projector and gramophone unit (image from” Skinner Auctions,

But that’s not all. Some of these projectors also had a record-playing device on top, which enabled playing of what looks like a 78 rpm record, presumably as some sort of a musical soundtrack or perhaps even some sort of dialogue, although synchronizing the movie and filmstrip would have been very very difficult. In the 1930s, commercial movies with soundtracks were still newfangled technical marvels, so I would have guessed that the record would play music — not unlike that heard in many cartoons in the 1940s-1960s — early Mickey Mouse, for instance. (Sometimes the accompanying music was classical music too — William Tell Overture, anyone?) But the box identifies the projector-cum-gramophone as a “Talkie Jector,” so maybe the record did indeed play dialogue? But I prefer to think of Alice in Wonderland set to classical music. What a combination! What music would you select?

House of Cards? or, The Case of the Queen of Hearts and Her Tarts…

‘You’re nothing but a pack of cards!’  –Alice

Queen of Hearts

“the Queen turned crimson with fury… Off with her head!”
(Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. MacMillan & Co., 1866. 1st ed. CTSN 27693)

Alice’s assertion, at the end of the climactic confrontation with the Queen of Hearts in the trial scene in Alice in Wonderland, dramatically brings the proceedings to an close…  But it also highlights one of the many sources of humor in the book: Alice’s nemesis in the court—the Queen of Hearts – is indeed nothing but a playing card animated by Lewis Carroll’s imagination into a comically malevolent personality, whose favorite utterance seems to be “Off with her/his head”!  Tenniel’s classic illustrations seems to perfectly complement Carroll’s presentation of the Queen.
And remember, Alice is not even the accused in the trial!  She’s merely called as witness in the trial of the Knave of Heart for stealing the tarts, as per the nursery rhyme, which Carroll incorporates into his story, as an indictment read by the White Rabbit:

The Queen of Hearts
She made some tarts,
All on a summer’s day;
The Knave of Hearts
He stole the tarts,
And took them clean away.

The Queen is depicted as a comical stereotype, a despotic harridan brought to life, a “blind and aimless Fury,” as Carroll himself once described her.1 The King and Knave (the latter more familiar to us now perhaps as the “Jack”) are similarly depicted as individualized “three dimensional” comic personalities, and it seems as though the other royal members of the court—the “face cards”—are too.


“Why, they’re only a pack of cards, after all.  I needn’t be afraid of them!”

But  Carroll’s text describes the number cards as animated playing cards—“oblong and flat” who fall face down at the approach of the Queen—and Tenniel correspondingly pictures the gardeners like the cards they’re comprised of, essentially animated walking-and-talking sandwich-boards with heads, legs, and arms attached.

As such, I think they serve to foreground the more important characters: the Queen, King, Jack, Alice, etc.  They really are the sort of “cardboard-cutout” characters that literary critics tend to mock! They also serve to remind readers of something we’re always implicitly aware of—that all these “characters” are playing cards brought to life—and this is another reason why their antics seem so comical.  The inanimate, animated—objects and animals brought to life and imbued with human qualities, even if satiric ones. This provided a tried and true literary device in children’s literature long before Carroll.

lLice & the cards

“the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her…”

Yet when Alice blurts out: “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”, the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.  The court deconstructs back into a pack of cards, raining down on Alice’ head, a moment of humor which is, however, not without some anxiety, as Tenniel brilliantly depicts.  Amid the confusion, the non-playing card Wonderland characters in court—animals comprising the erstwhile jury—are pictured as fully reverted back into unfrocked frogs, mice, and birds.  And a storm of cards swirls toward Alice, whose face shows clearly that she is not amused, all set against a darkly cross-hatched backdrop calling to mind an ominous storm (a Kansas tornado perhaps?).

Again, this depiction seems to perfectly match Carroll’s language, and perhaps extends it, thereby deepening the presentation of a funny, yet scary scene, one final vision before the sometimes-nightmarish midsummer-night’s dream finally yields back to bucolic daytime reality:

At this the whole pack rose up into the air, and came flying down upon her: she gave a little scream, half of fright and half of anger, and tried to beat them off, and found herself lying on the bank, with her head in the lap of her sister, who was gently brushing away some dead leaves that had fluttered down from the trees upon her face.

A “scream, half of fright,” flying objects around Alice’s head and face which she “tries to beat off”… This could be right out of Poe—or Hitchcock.  (The Birds, anyone?).  The sudden deconstruction of the Queen and her court back into a pack of cards that briefly assails Alice before falling onto the floor like dead leaves fluttering down is a terrifically dramatic moment.  But in a flash, it’s all over and she’s back on the calm riverbank—all’s well.

Queen of Hearts

Queen of Hearts, as conceptualized by the Salzburg Marionette Theatre
(reproduced with permission)

The visual aspect of the this reverse-metamorphosis was dramatically realized in a production of Alice in Wonderland that I saw not long ago by the Salzburg Marionette Theatre (where the Queen was presented as an overt caricature of Queen Victoria, something Carroll wouldn’t have done but which was a funny adaptation for a modern audience).  All the cards, as all the characters were “brought to life” on-stage by marionettes, adding a nicely surreal effect to the comical, ever-so-slightly-nightmarish fantasy.

When puppet Alice uttered the line, “You’re nothing but a pack of cards!”, the whole pack exploded, and Alice was deluged by a literal rain of playing cards falling on her and all over the stage—a perfect dramatization of Tenniel’s drawing, yet I think one more dramatic than a still illustration could possibly provide, no matter how striking.  It’s one thing to read a description, even a vivid one, or to see an image, even one as evocative as Tenniel’s, but it’s quite another to see actual kinetic movement and tumbling items cascading down before your eyes. The effect isn’t “better”—it’s just more inescapable and dramatic to a modern viewer—at least this one.

Queen and the Knave

The Queen & the Knave (The Queen of Hearts and her Damson Tarts. Dean & Son, between 1857 & 1865. CTSN item #6040014)

I was recently reminded of that staging—and of course Carroll’s story—while cataloging a “toybook” version of the story about the Queen of Hearts and her tarts: The Queen of Hearts and the Damson Tarts, published sometime between 1857 and 1865 in London by Dean & Son.  (Coincidentally—or maybe not—Carroll’s Alice was first published in 1865.  Hmmm…)  This illustrated eight-page paperback (somewhat like a comic book in format) begins with the first stanza of the “Queen of Hearts” nursery rhyme and then elaborates the story through the combination of text and illustration that characterizes the toybook format.  (Damson by the way, is a type of sweet plum, popular for jam-making in the 19th century—I didn’t know that either and had to look it up.)  Note the toybook depiction of the Queen. Here, she appears quite benevolent, and even slightly dishy, in contrast to either of the other versions we’ve looked at so far.

The Queen "sent out her cards about to every King and Queen, / Who were in the pack, in red or black, and always to be seen."

The Queen “sent out her cards about to every King and Queen, / Who were in the pack, in red or black, and always to be seen.”

The Queen makes her tarts “to feast a chosen few” and sends “her cards” out to invite all the other kings and queens to a noble feast—a play on words reinforced by the accompanying illustration.  (Remember, in those days people sent out invitation cards and left calling cards when visiting.)  As in Tenniel’s later rendition, we see the combination of “three-dimensional” royalty and “sandwich-board” card-like courtiers.  But for the most part, the characters are pictured as being “3D,” even though they retain the trappings and symbolic accoutrements of playing cards—the Knave’s poleaxe, for instance.  Otherwise,  what’s he otherwise doing with that in the court, especially as a suspected thief and a defendant?

I wonder if perhaps Carroll or Tenniel saw this depiction—or one like it—or if this playing card/realized character distinction was part of the received idea for this basic story that was then taken and reconceptualized.  The nursery rhyme characters are, after all, based on playing cards: the King and Queen of Hearts, etc.

Dean & Son - Knave and cat

“Your Majesty… Your cat it must sure be.”

Note the thievish Knave lurking in the background behind the oblivious Queen in the first illustration.  He’s depicted as a pretty disreputable—dare I say, knavish-looking—character in this version.  He’s the thief—as readers, we know that from the rhyme—but when called upon to produce the tarts (which he has already eaten in this version, as we later read/see), what does he do? He blames the King’s cat!

“Your majesty,” said he, [the Knave]
I think I know who is the foe,
Your cat it sure must be:
He looked at me quite guiltily
And ran away full speed…”

And the accompanying illustration shows the cat of course high-tailing it away—imagine a cat doing that when in trouble!  The King doesn’t buy the Knave’s lame excuse—“Oh Knave for shame!… Do cats eat damson tarts?”—and he rages before the court.

"To hide his sin, his mouth and chin / To wipe, he did forget"

“To hide his sin, his mouth and chin / To wipe, he did forget”

The Knave is eventually indicted by his own jam-stained chin, and the King commands that he confess on “bended knee.”  (Unlike the nursery rhyme version, there are no tarts for the knave to bring back in this telling.)  But remember that friendly-looking Queen?  She has other, distantly non-merciful, ideas: “Oh sire…He surely ought to die.”

In this version, the King rules, not the Queen who railroads the proceedings in Alice, and he opts for “mercy”—the Knave is to be beaten, as per the nursery rhyme. The text states this, but there’s no corresponding illustration of the actual beating, only one of the cowering Knave.  The effect is to lighten the cautionary tone considerably, I think–illustration predominates over the text in terms of imparting overall meaning to us.  Then, with justice dispensed, the king decides that a party is in order:

The King's Ball

“The company felt such delight, they danced til it was morning quite.”

The King did then for music call,–said he, “We now will have a Ball.”
The company felt such delight, the danced till it was morning quite.

The story thus concludes with an all-nighter celebration, rather than pandemonium, as  “Queen of Hearts episode” in Alice.  The accompanying illustration, labeled “the King’s Grand Ball,” perfectly captures this festive-comic resolution–excluding the Knave though, if you look closely.

Having let the knave eat the stolen tarts, this version also does away with his repentance—and, of course, with his restitution of the stolen goods; the lines above take the place of the last three lines of the nursery rhyme, which have mysteriously disappeared:

The Knave of Hearts
Brought back the tarts,
And vowed he’d steal no more.

So with the same basic story line, we’ve seen essentially three different resolutions, if we factor in the combined effect of text and illustration: 1) restitution and repentance; 2) beating of the malefactor; 3) dancing and celebration.

First page of New Story of the Queen of Hearts -- leaf laid down to front wrapper (New Story of Queen of Hearts. Dean & Co., between 1847-1854. CTSN 1738)

First page of the New Story of the Queen of Hearts — leaf laid down to front wrapper (Dean & Co., between 1847-1854. CTSN 1738)

An apparently earlier toybook version of the Queen of Hearts story, published between 1847-1854 by Dean & Co., features most of the same illustrations (omitting the smaller insets), and essentially the same text (the Queen is “troubled” instead of “ireful,” etc.).  Titled New Story of the Queen of Hearts, it provides a variation of the ending with the Knave being beaten.  The last illustration in this version shows the cowering Knave before his beating, and the last lines of text are here:

…mercy shall guide my will,
So let the thief be beaten.”

The lines ending the Damson Tarts have been deleted altogether and the illustration showing the festive dancing scene has been moved—somewhat incoherently, in terms of the accompanying text, or even the plot itself—to the front pastedown, above the beginning of the text: “The Queen of Hearts once made some tarts…”  But when is this dancing celebration supposed to take place?  And what’s its cause in this retelling?  Things don’t really add up logically, but illogical or inconsistent plotting doesn’t really destroy delightful aspects of a children’s story as long as it’s indeed entertaining–and perhaps also instructive in a cautionary way.

As first, I was tempted to think that the New Story might be a one-time publication variation, or even a book whose leaves were rebound, a not-infrequent occurrence in old toy books—cheaply-bound, inexpensive items, often “read to death” by child readers.  But book in hand, I can see that this toybook is still intact, as issued—the first, unnumbered leaf and leaf number eight are laid down to the original wrappers, which are still attached to each other along the spine edge.

Queen of Hearts, French version

La Reine de Coeur, et Les Tartes Volees ([Dean & Son?, ca 1850?] CTSN 150467)

And another toybook variation—an undated French-language version probably dating from about 1850, possibly published by Dean too—essentially duplicates not only the New Story’s version of the story but also the page layout and design, the decorative bordered boxes into which caption title text is set, and also provides a text that’s a pretty close French translation—almost word-for-word.  Again, the text ends with the Knave being beaten:

Le Roi…dit…
Main la merci encore guidera ma volunte,
Ansi, que le voleur soit battu.

It’s hard to know why both books end this way—with the Knave being punished with a beating—instead of with the restitution and repentance from the nursery rhyme version.  Perhaps the toy book maker simply didn’t plan well and ran out of space in the preset eight-page format?  (This sometimes happens.)  Or, more likely, perhaps, the message for children was intended to be one frightening them away from theft by playing up the consequences, both in language and illustration?  There may well be other explanations too.  Beatings, or similar punishments, were quite common features in stories about bad children, as shocking as this seems to us now in a story aimed at children readers.

Caldecott, The Queen of Hearts

Randolph Caldecott, The Queen of Hearts (Warne & Co., ca. 1890?. CTSN 13172)

The story of the Queen of Hearts and her tarts was popular fodder for other illustrated children’s versions too.  One of the best known is Caldecott’s The Queen of Hearts, first published by Routledge in 1881, and later reissued by Warne (which is the copy the Cotsen Library has).  This book offers an interesting interplay of the text and interpretative illustrations, as well as an example of how book design can affect meaning in an illustrated book.  Caldecott reproduces the classic nursery rhyme text verbatim, but his own illustrations and overall page design both shape—and indeed, modify—a reader’s reception of this text.  Caldecott provides his characteristically gently satiric take on a “story,” via visual elements.

Caldecott's Queen (The Queen of Hearts. Warne & Co., ca. 1890. CTSN 13172)

Caldecott’s Queen of Hearts

His cover design sets the tone: against a background of playing card on the ground, a comically wild archer of Diamonds (perhaps a youth?) apparently shoots at Hearts balloons, while a foppish attendant of the Queen of Hearts protests.  The Queen is depicted partly within a bordered a frame making her look like a two-dimensional playing card—she’s both within the scene and outside it, an interesting narrative ploy.  Is she a person? A playing card?  Or both at once?

Caldecott presents a fairly glamouous Queen, like Dean’s earlier toybook version—and very much unlike Tenniel’s. Apparently, she’s quite a reader too—reading cook books, if you look closely—Caldecott’s creative invention, and perhaps his wry “educational” message to young readers?

Caught in the the cat!

The Knave caught in the act…by the cat!

The Knave’s thievery is also depicted with Caldecott’s gently satiric humor—the Knave is another real court dandy, shown caught “in the act” in Caldecott’s depiction.  But how is he discovered this time?  Take a look!  The cat is witness, and Caldecott’s illustrations show the loyal cat ratting out the Knave…no doubt strictly in the interests of justice!

While adding no new text, Caldecott thus creates a much-enhanced role for the King’s cat via illustration, a role he expands even further with the line drawings accompanying the color wood-engravings in this book.  The cat—which is not mentioned at all in the nursery rhyme and which is merely the Knave’s absurd object of blame in Damson Hearts—is turned into the eyes and ears of the King and an active agent of justice, as you can see in the composite view below of Caldecott’s line-drawings on four separate pagesno text is really needed!

Caldecott's cat

Caldecott’s cat: Adding to the “story” with graphic elements.

"And [the King of Hearts] beat the Knave full sore..."

“And  beat the Knave full sore…”
Here, for illustrative purposes, the punishment of the Knave, barely noticeable in the background of the scene as Caldecott presents it, has been magnified and added below the dancing scene.

Following the nursery rhyme text, Caldecott shows the Knave being beaten by the King of Hearts—but here the act takes place in the background, with color illustration shifting the focus to the rest of the royals happily dancing the night away.  (Note: the Queen of Hearts is dancing with the King of Clubs, while her consort administers punishment.) Illustration reinterprets the text, lightens the tone considerably, and adds a festive slant.  Celebration is foregrounded, while punishment and severity are pushed into the background.

The Knave brings back the tarts, but Caldecott shows him giving them to celebrating little royal children of all four suits, not feasting adults as in Damson Tarts.  So restitution is made—and crowned children get a treat, an ending with obvious appeal to child readers! (“Plumb-cake for ever, Huzza!,” as John Newbery put it.)

Interestingly, Caldecott also depicts liveried court-servants and heralds as playing-card, sandwich-board wearers—but unlike Tenniel, he provides them with bodies underneath.  This certainly seems like some sort of visual allusion to Carroll’s work and Tenniel’s illustrations to me, which wouldn’t be a too surprising, since Alice in Wonderland was still hugely popular in the 1880s and 1890s, as it remains to this day.

Knave of Hearts & Children

The Knave of Hearts,
Brought back those tarts.


Caldecott’s take on the playing card heralds…now granted bodies.

1.Quotation from an article by Carroll, “Alice on Stage,” quoted by Martin Gardner in The Annotated Alice (Clarkson N. Potter, Inc., 1960, p. 109)