We owe it to each other to tell stories - Neil Gaiman

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Alice in Wonderland: An Introduction

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, then dipped slightly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down a very deep well.

When I was four years old for my birthday I got the book Alice in Wonderland. I remember being enthralled by it when I unwrapped it, but then being put off when I opened it to see that the pictures were not really what I expected to be. Looking at the book whilst I write this post I see that this book although considered to be a children’s book is not exactly child friendly. I remember how I was actually frightened by some of the pictures.

So despite getting the book from my mom 18 years ago I still have not actually read that particular edition of Alice in Wonderland. Last year before I left Grahamstown I went to one of the bookshops and bought a Puffin Classics edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. And I should mention that the copy I bought at UPB is much less frightening than the one I got when I turned four. The One that I got when I was four years old was published by Brimax and illustrated by Eric Kincaid. And let’s face it; Eric Kincaid is no Quentin Blake!!!

I will give the Brimax edition credit for its introduction which I’ll quote from...

“Lewis Carroll was the pen-name of mathematics lecturer Charles Dodgson when writing his nonsense poems and books... His best known book is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which he wrote specially to amuse the daughter of the Dean of Christ Church... The book was first published in 1865 and has since become one of the most famous and best-loved children’s stories ever written... In Lewis Carroll’s story, Alice follows the White Rabbit down the rabbit-hole into an amazing wonderland where creatures hold never-ending tea-parties, dance the “lobster quadrille” and play the strangest game of croquet ever seen.”

I must say that I rather prefer the Puffin Classics edition because it has a wonderful introduction - by Chris Riddell - and publisher’s note and in the publisher’s note the verses that are so central to the story are given in full. I’ll quote some of it here:

‘Tis the voice of the Lobster; I heard him declare,
‘You have baked me too brown, I must sugar my hair.’
As a duck with its eyelids, so he with his nose
Trims his belt and his buttons, and turns out his toes.
When the sands are all dry, he is gay as a lark,
And will talk in contemptuous tones of the Shark.
But, when the tide rises and sharks are around,
His voice has a timid and tremulous sound.

But this one verse is the verse I think astutely sums up the magical realism in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland...

Anon, to sudden silence won,
In fancy they pursue
The dream-child moving through a land
Of wonders wild and new,
In friendly chat with bird or beast –
And half believe it true.

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