Picturing “Alice in Wonderland”: How Do Child Readers Imagine It?

Tenniel's 's original illustrations from "Alice in Wonderland"

One of John Tenniel’s original illustrations for “Alice in Wonderland” (Cotsen 657)

Alice in Wonderland has been delighting children and grown-ups for over 150 years now. In addition to Lewis Carroll’s text, the illustrations by John Tenniel and other, later illustrators have been a major source of readers’ delight.

Try to imagine Alice without any illustrations of the famous characters and scenes, either by Tenniel or other illustrators. Virtually impossible isn’t it? Carroll himself provided very, very little descriptive detail, if you actually look at his text. So our sense of how Alice and all the inhabitants of Wonderland look is strongly conditioned by illustration, when you stop to think about it. Textual and visual elements of Alice seem inseparably intertwined, with the illustrations shaping meaning, extending it, and sometimes commenting ironically on the text. Tenniel’s Queen of Hearts and Mad Hatter look comically absurd, rather than menacing or hostile, illustration leavening the tone of the words, which can be quite edgy, or even scary, all by themselves.

Professional illustrators have been reimagining Alice in new versions since the nineteenth century, including names like Arthur Rackham, Willy Pogány, Ralph Steadman, or Salvador Dali. (Yes, Dali did have a go at illustrating Alice, in his own distinctive style! More on that “curiosity” in a later posting.). The flood of the new illustrations shows no sign of abating in the twenty-first century either, based on recent editions.

Cheshire Cat (detail) by Lesley Young

“Cipher Alice” Cheshire Cat (detail) by Lesley Young (Cotsen 20836).

detail

Another “Cipher Alice” Cheshire Cat (detail) by Lee MacArthur & David Dansey (Cotsen 20836).

But it’s worth remembering that adults haven’t been the only illustrators of Alice. Generations of children have reimagined Alice in their own pictures, mostly unpublished, but some have found their way into various publications. For instance, the Cipher Alice — a coded version of the story based on the Telegraph Cipher devised by Carroll — credits some twenty-six ten- and eleven-year old children as illustrators (in addition to twenty-nine named “code checkers” for the coder cipher text), all of whom were students at the Edward Peake Middle School in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, England in 1990, when the book was printed by L & T Press, Ltd.

CitherAlice-Alice-DrinkMe

Alice & the “Drink Me” bottle, by Louise Lawson.

The students’ graphic renderings vary in style and sophistication, but all display the obvious pleasure that children have taken in Alice since 1865. Louise Lawson, for instance, pictures Alice as a smiling little girl with huge bow on her hair, wearing a variation of Alice’s traditional pinafore emblazoned with a super-hero’s “W” (“Wonderland”) and the name “Alice” added on her apron, just for good measure. She chooses to depict Alice theatrically holding up the “Drink Me” bottle at the beginning of her Wonderland adventures.

The book’s Preface, by supervising grown-up, Edward Wakeling, notes that the Cipher Alice was produced for the Alice 125 Project of the Carroll Foundation, Australia, which attempted “to set a world record for the number of different languages version of the same book.” Interest in Alice was indeed world-wide in 1990, and if anything, it has become even more so in 2016 (Alice 150), with the book having been translated into more than 170 languages in countless editions!

But as in so many editions of Alice, I think the illustrations in the Cipher Alice are “the thing” (with apologies to Hamlet), so I’d like to share some others with you. It’s one my very favorite editions, since it shows how child-readers responded to Alice. I also like the way that different children sometimes imagined quite different depictions of the same scene — there’s no one, “right” way to depict Alice, as the many different versions over the last 150 years have shown us! The illustrations are simply terrific fun to see too! (Click on any thumbnail image to see a larger version.)

Down into Wonderland via a tunnel-like maelstrom... Past curious things on the way

Down into Wonderland via a tunnel-like maelstrom… past curious things on the way.

CitherAlice-RabbitHole2

Descending into Wonderland via a bucket in a well… Past dinosaur fossils on the way!

CitherAlice-AliceandRabbit

Alice and the White Rabbit “after the fall” — Alice looks distinctly unhappy (and wears a name-tag).

CitherAlice-TinyAlice

Alice (wearing a “Cool” tee-shirt) as she shrinks, becoming too small to reach the key on the table.

CitherAlice-Chair

Tiny Alice after shrinking too small to reach the door key on the (now giant-sized) table.

CitherAlice-Hatter

The Mad Hatter (price tag in his hatband) with a hot-dog, a coke, and an earring!

CitherAlice-AliceandCaterpiller

Alice and a mustachioed caterpillar, who also wears a monocle and smokes a gentleman’s pipe.

CitherAlice-theCourt

Alice (with a name-tag), an unusual-looking White Rabbit, and the Court of the Queen of Hearts.

CitherAlice-Court

“You’re nothing but a pack of cards!” –Alice. (And how about the Hatter’s outfit shown here?)

How do these illustrations compare with how you visualize Alice, Wonderland, and its inhabitants?

If you’d like to see more illustrations of Alice, Wonderland, and all its inhabitants, come visit the exhibition now in the Cotsen Gallery: “Alice, after Alice: Adaptation, Illustration, and the ‘Alice Industry’!”

Alice after "Alice" at Cotsen Library

Alice after “Alice” Exhibition at the Cotsen Library:
April 15–July 15, 2016
Free & Open to the Public, Daily 9-5

 

Marcus French Licks His Algebra Anxiety

pathex news showing pictures

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, January 9, 1927. Marcus as projectionist. He’s chosen a film of a boxing match to show.

Marcus is back, with more letters to his big sister Eleanor this week.  Most days in Amsterdam, New York, were school days, not holidays, and buried in some of his bulletins  (aka the “Pathe newsreels”), were hints that things weren’t going well in algebra.

quad_patterns

A page of equations from an algebra text in use during the 1920s.

The first sign is in his letter of November 22, 1925, when he was eleven.  The pet stories always came before any other news.  His dog Jock had started raiding trashcans for food, while Dixie the cat disgraced himself by leaping on the dining room table at dinner to steal a piece of rabbit off a plate.  After an anecdote about the Sunday school teacher, Marcus announced, “I’m getting on in school pretty good here’s my marks.”  He received a gentleman’s C in English, writing, arithmetic, junior business training, printing, and textiles.   No absences, no tardies, but not exactly a stellar academic record that marking period  (the symbol scrawled down for his grades in spelling, history, science, and music is undecipherable and highly suspicious).

report card

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor dated November 22, 1925.

Nothing much about algebra until January 9th, 1927.  It was a pretty good day, all things considered.  Dixie had been given a dose of catnip after he was caught eating the house plants.  “For an hour and a half,” reports Marcus delightedly, “he was an insane cat.”   catnip-banned-uk

Another hot tidbit was that Father had brought home three new films–two two-reelers “Castor Oil” and “Big Business” starring Our Gang and a one-reeler “Suds” featuring Stan Laurel, making Marcus the proud possessor of ten reels of film.

big_business__1924___lobby_card_

Lobby card for the Little Rascals’ short “Big Business.”

Then he drops the bombshell: “Miss Bartley is giving me 3 extra hours every week in algebra.  No more news.”

movie reels and extra algebra

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, January 9, 1927. Surely Miss Bartley did not actually whack him over the head to make him do his homework…

By the 30th of January, the increased homework was paying dividends.   After telling Eleanor that Dixie had discovered the catnip’s hiding place in the pantry and sat in front of the cupboard yowling until given a dose, Marcus crowed, “I passed another algebra test 85%.”

85percent

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, January 30, 1927.

Things had really improved by mid-March.  There was a long account of Jock’s returning home covered in blood with a crushed paw (he had probably gotten run over again) before Marcus gleefully announced, “I passed an Algebra test!!” (That made three for the academic year.)

an algebra test!

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor March 13, 1927.

On the next page, he drew himself fainting when Miss Bartley handed back another exam marked 85% with the encouraging words, “Good work.”  What is going on in the paper he drew in the upper right hand corner???  It looks as if he got all five questions right…

help Im fainting

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, March 13, 1927. He appears to be wearing sunglasses, which surely can’t be right, and knickerbockers.

We may never know the answer to that question, because the ice floes rushing down the creek behind the barn was a lot more interesting, when it came right down to it.

icebergs

Marcus French, letter to Eleanor, March 13, 1927. Marcus has drawn himself on an ice berg saying “Haw, haw, what fun.”