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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland is one of the most celebrated children's books of all time. Since its publication in 1865 most editions of the beloved tale have featured the work of a single artist. Chronicle Books is proud to present this Classic Illustrated Edition with a unique vision: Lewis Carroll's original story of little Alice's tumble down a rabbit hole is brought to life by a wondrous collection of vintage illustrations gathered from the late 19th & early 20th century editions of the book. This oversize edition of the complete text of Carroll's classic contains examples of illustrations from 29 artists.
Barnes & Noble.com: When you were a child, did you always know you'd be an artist of some sort when you grew up? How did you get your start illustrating kids' books?
Helen Oxenbury: No, I didn't think I would be an artist, but my father was an architect, so drawing in one way or another was very familiar to me. I drew all the time -- but I didn't really think anything of it. It was just something I thought everybody did. What I wanted to be was a dancer. I learned ballet from the age of three and absolutely loved it. And later on, I wanted to be a tennis player. I made it to Junior Wimbledon, but when you go somewhere like that, you realize when you haven't got it -- that you're not good enough. I wasn't -- so that was the end of that. Then when I left secondary school, my father encouraged me to go to art school. I loved every minute of the course I took in art. And I suppose it was at that moment that I thought I would carry on and try for a career in art. But not in illustration at that point. I specialized in theater design. And I worked in the theater for a few years and in television, and it was only after I had married John [Burningham], who was an illustrator and had already produced about two books, that I got the idea. I saw what was involved and how it was done and when we married and started a family, I really wanted to carry on working, so I tried to illustrate children's books -- because I could do it at home. I didn't have to leave the babies. And that's how I started illustrating.
B&N.com: What made you want to take on Alice in Wonderland as a project?
HO: My mother read Alice to me when I was a little girl, and I'm not sure that I particularly understood it all, but I just caught her enthusiasm for it. She loved it. And then I went back to it as an adult and saw all the things that she had loved in it. I, too, loved it on another level. But how this Alice came about was that a television company wanted to make an animated film about it, and they asked a few people to submit illustrations; I think mine were the most suitable. So I did a lot of work and a lot of research on Alice, and that's when I found my ideal Alice. And the project was all sort of going ahead...and then the team left. So I thought, I've done so much work on this, this must be the moment that I go ahead and try and do it on my own. So I took my work to my publisher, and he said, "yes, fine, go ahead."
B&N.com: Was it difficult to illustrate Alice in Wonderland?
HO: Yes. There were several times when I wanted to give it up or to shelve it and go back to it in six months. But my publisher was very encouraging, and they said, "Oh come on, Helen, you can do it...get on with it -- do it." So I did. And that's how it came about.
B&N.com: How long did it take you to illustrate Alice in Wonderland?
HO: It took a good two years to do. But all the research and working, thinking it was going to be an animated film, was about a year before that. So I'd say three years in all. It was difficult because Alice in Wonderland comes with so much baggage; the most wonderful people have illustrated it. And of course I was brought up with the Tenniel illustrations -- which I loved -- but I had to think of how to make it different from Tenniel's Alice in Wonderland. His version was quite sparsely illustrated, so I thought for today's children, because the language is a little bit difficult, they probably could be helped along the way with pictures. So I made my Alice in Wonderland quite densely illustrated. I also wanted to bring to the fore the peripheral characters like the little creatures, which Tenniel didn't do. And to make my illustrations a little warmer and a little more humorous than Tenniel's.
B&N.com: Throughout your career, you've worked on books geared toward a wide range of ages. Is there a type of book that is more difficult for you to illustrate?
HO: The board books, I suppose [I Can, I Hear, I See, I Touch]. It's quite difficult to pare down and simplify. It looks easy, but it isn't. Like an author with his writing, it's extremely difficult to take something down to the bare bones. It took quite a time to get a style going for those board books.
B&N.com: What kinds of things do you like to do when you're not working?
HO: Well, I still play tennis. I kept it up...but it's on a really pathetic level now. I also do yoga, and I love exploring antique shops and junk shops.
B&N.com: What advice do you have for kids who say they want to be illustrators?
HO: Well, I say, "Go ahead!" It is so much more difficult today than it was in my day. I mean, I wouldn't like to have to start now. It's so competitive, and there are so many children's books around. But don't not do it because of that, if you really want to.
B&N.com: Can you tell me some of your favorite kids' books?
HO: That's jolly difficult. I love the work of Edward Ardizzone and Dr. Seuss, who's an absolute genius. But no specific books are coming to me right now. I know, when I put the phone down, it will all come to me....
B&N.com: That's all right, we'll leave it at that. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. Your Wonderland is simply wonderful, and it's been great getting to know you. (Jamie Levine)
In his diary on July 4, 1862, Lewis Carroll wrote, "Duckworth and I made an expedition up the river to Godstow with the three Liddells: we had tea on the bank there, and did not reach Christ Church again till quarter past eight, when we took them to my rooms to see my collection of micro photographs, and restored them to the Deanery just before nine." Although Carroll did not know at the time, this excursion proved to be the catalyst for the fairy tale which he initially called Alice's Adventures Underground.
In later years, Carroll, his friend Robinson Duckworth, and Alice Liddell all alluded to this day as the origin of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. In the opening poem to the story, Carroll wrote:
Thus grew the tale of Wonderland:
Thus slowly, one by one,
Its quaint events were hammered out —
And now the tale is done,
And home we steer, a merry crew,
Beneath the setting sun.
In its initial form, this tale told on July 4, 1862, was simply another entry in the oral story tradition that Carroll forged on the numerous expeditions on the "quiet stream." Years later, Carroll wrote, "many a day we had rowed together on that quiet stream—the three little maidens and I—and many a fairy tale had been extemporised for their benefit." He indicates there were numerous other tales that "lived and died like summer midges," but in this single instance "one of my little listeners petitioned that the tale might be written out for her," and thus began Alice's adventures.
Alice's adventures begin on a lazy summer day when a "White Rabbit with pink eyes" races by her. While it was unremarkable for a rabbit to run by her and it was not "very much out of the way" to hear the Rabbit talk, she hurried after the White Rabbit when it "actually took a watch out of its waistcoat pocket." Alice scrambled to her feet and followed it, without a thought, down a large rabbit-hole. Similarly, in Through the Looking-Glass, Alice impulsively goes through the glass over the mantel and into the Looking-Glass room. Later, in both stories, this initial impulsiveness becomes tempered through experience. Although Alice learns from her experiences, the stories were neither moralistic nor written for the purpose of teaching lessons. Instead, they were, and still are, two of the most highly imaginative fairy tales ever conceived.
Both Alice and Looking-Glass, while drawn from Carroll's extemporaneous stories, were later refined and infused with a wealth of allusions to both his own experiences and Alice's. In her travels through Wonderland and the chess-board world behind the Looking-Glass, Alice encounters a multitude of curiosities, many traceable to experiences in her own life. In chapter II of Alice, "The Pool of Tears," she encounters a Duck, a Dodo, a Lory, and an Eaglet. This entire episode in the pool alludes to a trip that Carroll referred to in his diary for June 17, 1862. On this day, during a trip, the traveling party was drenched in a downpour. The animals who appear in the "Pool" chapter represent the trip's participants: the Duck is Carroll's friend Robinson Duckworth, the Dodo is Carroll (a stutterer all his life, Carroll would often pronounce his real name Dodgson as "Do-Do-Dodgson"), and the Lory and the Eaglet are Alice's sisters, Lorina and Edith.
When it was published in 1865, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was reviewed widely in newspapers and journals drawing near universal praise. Among the reviewing publications were The Times, the Spectator, and the Publisher's Circular. The Circular selected the story as "the most original and most charming" of the 200 books for children they were sent that year. When it was published in late 1871, Through the Looking-Glass reaped similar praise.
While Carroll continued to write children's stories, his distinguished place in literary history was firmly established with the publication of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. By the time Carroll died in 1898, there were about 250,000 copies of these stories in print.
While the Alice books have charmed and excited children ever since their first publication, they have also stimulated a wide array of literary, philosophical, and psychological discussion from twentieth-century writers. As the editor of the Penguin Classics edition, Hugh Haughton, makes clear, at the heart of these children's books lie fascinating questions about meaning. Maneuvering throughout Carroll's puns, word plays, and unconventional prose, the adult reader of these books, often finds him or herself feeling two responses at once: a submission to the spontaneous play of nonsense, to utter meaninglessness—as the Lobster-Quadrille would urge—and a compulsion to interpret, or decode meaning in even the most trivial incident—as Queen Alice might do. For twentieth-century writers like James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and W. H. Auden who borrowed freely from Carroll, the Alice books have become models of experimental writing. For other intellectuals, reading Alice's Adventures and Through the Looking-Glass as Surrealist dream books, Freudian case studies, or political allegories, they have become texts brimming with profound insights.
ABOUT LEWIS CARROLL Of Lewis Carroll, Virginia Woolf said, "since childhood remained in him entire, he could do what no one else has ever been able to do—he could return to that world; he could re-create it, so that we too become children again." Edmund Wilson also recognized Carroll's ability to see from a child's perspective when he noted, "Lewis Carroll is in touch with the real mind of childhood." Wilson linked this understanding to a flair for drawing on "the more primitive elements of the mind of maturity." These characterizations describing the creator of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass exemplify the enigmatic Carroll. However, most casual readers may be unaware that Carroll was also a don at Christ Church, Oxford University where he spent most of his adult life as a Mathematics lecturer. In addition, Carroll was a logician, a renowned photographer, and a prolific letter writer and diarist.
Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in 1832 in the parsonage of Daresbury in Cheshire, England, a small village about twenty miles from Liverpool. The third child and eldest son in a household of seven girls and four boys, Charles spent the first eleven years of his life on this secluded farm. The surroundings of the parsonage were reflected in the characters and images that grace both Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. One can imagine a young Charles seeing the White Rabbit, the animals in the Caucus-Race, the Caterpillar and the mushroom, the Mouse, the garden of flowers and much more as he grew up amidst the barnyard and fields of the parsonage.
In 1850, Charles entered Christ Church, Oxford where he would spend the rest of his life as a student, fellow, and lecturer; and where he developed into an accomplished photographer, and met Alice Liddell, the heroine of his great stories. During his lifetime, Charles Dodgson published nearly 300 works on an array of topics. These works included not only children's stories but also books and pamphlets on mathematics, logic, and philosophical debates at Oxford. In addition, he wrote parodies such as "Hints for Etiquette, or Dining Out Made Easy" and constructed games, puzzles, riddles, and acrostics. Among his works are: Euclid and His Modern Rivals, Formulae of Plane Trigonometry, Guide to the Mathematical Student in Reading, and Game of Logic (a method of teaching the principles of logic to children). Allusions to these writings and interests were scattered throughout the Alice books. Both stories, though clearly written to amuse young children, were also replete with puns and allusions to Victorian society, making them 'mature' enough to pique the interest of adults. Interestingly, Dodgson contrived his pen name as a slight puzzle in itself. The pseudonym Lewis Carroll, was created by Latinizing his two given names, Charles Lutwidge, to Carolus Ludovicus, reversing them and translating them back into English.
Besides the array of intellectual pursuits, Charles Dodgson's interests also extended to gadgets, most importantly the photographic camera. Dodgson was introduced to photography by his Uncle Skeffington Lutwidge. In the 1850s and 1860s, prior to the actual development of film, this art form required patience and devotion. Among the persons of his era whom Dodgson persuaded to sit for portraits were the poet Alfred Tennyson, Sir John Millais, Prince Leopold (the youngest son of Queen Victoria), Lord Salisbury (who became Oxford Chancellor in 1870), the Crown Prince of Denmark, John Ruskin, and the actress Ellen Terry. Besides such luminaries, Dodgson also photographed young children he met during his years at Oxford, including Alice Liddell.
However, it is through Charles Dodgson's extensive letters and diaries that a great deal of his life, motivations, and inspiration are revealed. Starting on January 1, 1861, Dodgson began maintaining a register of all the letters he sent and received. Although the register has never been found, the final number that he recorded was 98,721. In a letter to a friend of his, Mary Brown, he estimated he wrote 2,000 letters each year. There are letters to friends, family, his publisher and illustrator, and to endearing young fans. The minutiae of daily life also crept into his correspondence. After the death of his brother-in-law, just days prior to his own, he wrote his nephew, Stuart Collingwood requesting a simple funeral and burial upon his own death. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson died at age 66 on January 14, 1898.