A long, strange trip: 150 years of 'Alice'
It’s a story that never goes out of style: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll’s chronicle of an inquisitive girl lost in a parallel world of talking animals and pompous royals, is a tale unlike any other—one that celebrates the complexities of language, the singular genius of children and the absurdity that lurks just beneath the surface of reality.
In honor of the novel’s 150th anniversary, we’ve rounded up a trio of new Alice-related titles, all of which prove that Wonderland still has mysteries well worth exploring.
David Day combines the expertise of an academic with the fervor of a true Alice enthusiast in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Decoded. In a remarkable act of literary excavation, Day exposes the historical references, classical allusions and subtly disguised symbols that he thinks Carroll embedded in the tale of Wonderland as lessons for his protégé, Alice Liddell. Day believes Carroll included these elements to round out the narrow education Alice would’ve received as a female in the Victorian age. It’s an intriguing theory, and he supports it impressively throughout Decoded. The volume includes Carroll’s novel in full, supplemented by Day’s observations as he painstakingly traces the various themes—music and philosophy, mathematics and poetry—that run through Carroll’s narrative, proving along the way that Alice, even as it celebrates the absurd, exhibits airtight logic. Richly illustrated, this is a book Alice addicts will find irresistible.
A WONDERLAND HANDBOOK
No reader should plunge into Wonderland without taking Martin Gardner along as guide. The celebrated Carroll expert published The Annotated Alice in 1960 to great acclaim and popularity—more than a million copies are currently in print. In the intervening decades, Gardner, who died in 2010, continued to pick at the riddles of Wonderland—the numerical enigmas and verbal brainteasers that make the text so perplexing—and his findings are shared in The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. This comprehensive volume collects all of Gardner’s notes, his correspondence with Carroll critics and his introductions to previous Alice-related works. Filled with breathtaking illustrations by a wide range of artists, including Beatrix Potter and Salvador Dalí, the book offers invaluable insights into the Victorian mores, literary movements and real-life elements that inform Alice’s adventure, including all manner of Carroll arcana (it seems the writer, like the White Rabbit, had a fixation on gloves). For the latest in Alice analysis, Gardner’s your man.
The Nursery Alice (1890) from The Annotated Alice: 150th Anniversary Deluxe Edition.
DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE
As he proved in Wicked and Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister, Gregory Maguire is a wiz when it comes to taking a fresh angle on a classic tale and spinning it into a fully formed story—one that lives up to its distinguished lineage. In his new book, After Alice, he works his customary magic, using Carroll’s story as a springboard for his own inventive novel. Maguire casts Alice’s friend Ada (who is mentioned briefly in Carroll’s narrative) as a leading character. When Alice disappears down the rabbit hole, Ada pursues her. In Wonderland, she encounters the usual suspects (including the pipe-smoking Caterpillar and unsettling Cheshire Cat), as well as a number of new—and equally eccentric—inhabitants. Meanwhile, back in the rational world, Charles Darwin, Walter Pater and other Victorian-era personages provide a rich contrast to Ada’s surreal adventures. The blend of fact and fiction results in a magical addition to the literature of Wonderland. Maguire and Alice: It’s a pairing Carroll himself would’ve consecrated.
This article was originally published in the December 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.