Posts Tagged ‘alice in wonderland’

John sent me the picture below of a corn maze designed to look like a scene from Alice in Wonderland.

It got me thinking about Alice’s other outdoor appearances, like the Mad Tea Party topiary at Disney or the statue in Central Park, New York City.

“Alice and her cast of storybook friends found their way to Central Park in 1959, when philanthropist George Delacorte commissioned this bronze statue as a gift to the children of New York City. … Engraved around the statue are lines from his nonsensical poem, The Jabberwocky. …

“Created by the Spanish-born American sculptor José de Creeft, the piece depicts Alice holding court from her perch on the mushroom. The host of the story’s tea party is the Mad Hatter, a caricature of George Delacorte. The White Rabbit is depicted holding his pocket watch, and a timid dormouse nibbles a treat at Alice’s feet.” More.

Photo: http://i.imgur.com/8uwnCKI
Aerial view of a corn maze commemorating the 150th year anniversary of
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

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Alice in Wonderland is turning 150, and several media outlets feature articles on its many translations, visual interpretations, and anniversary celebrations.

Jane L. Levere writes at the New York Times, “Stephanie Lovett, president of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, which is coordinating many of the exhibitions and activities, described the two Alice novels as ‘likely the most frequently quoted works of fiction in the English-speaking world, standing alongside only Shakespeare in frequency of citation.’ They are also among the most widely illustrated and translated pieces of English fiction, she said, published in more than 170 languages in several thousand editions. …

“Interpretations of the stories and anecdotes about their relevance to today’s readers abound. … For Carolyn Vega, curator of the exhibition at the Morgan, the appeal of both ‘Alice’ books is that they are essentially about learning how to ‘navigate the world’ — a challenge that she said remained highly relevant today.

“Derick Dreher, director of the Rosenbach, called ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ ‘an adventure story with almost unparalleled innovation.’ … He also emphasized the elements of science and logic that Carroll wove into the book, which tend to intrigue puzzle lovers. And, Mr. Dreher said, it’s about ‘overcoming adversity.’ “

My own take: It’s about the impenetrability of grownups’ rules and how they often fail to apply the rules to their own behavior — and about a practical little girl trying to cope. And a lot besides.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal notes that Alice “is marking its 150th anniversary with new translations. She is Alis (in Yiddish), or Alisi (in Tongan) or Anya (in Russian), and, despite her advanced age, to readers everywhere she remains a curious youngster whose adventures have never gone out of print.

“Two Yale professors are translating ‘Alice’ into Late Egyptian hieroglyphs. A language consultant in California is putting the finishing touches on a Kazakh translation. There is an emoji version. An edition in Scouse, the dialect of Liverpool, is with the publisher; so are ones in Cockney rhyming slang and in two Afghan languages, Dari and Pashto. The Gothic translation came out just last week.”

(Unfortunately, the Wall Street Journals article is behind a firewall.)

Photo: Alice150 (click to see a surprising array of cover illustrations)

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I’ve been wanting to share this remix of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland but hoped to add something beyond saying that I like it.

Then today, Asakiyume tweeted some comments on fantasy that science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin posted at the Book View Cafe blog.

Le Guin was reacting to a comment Kazuo Ishiguro made about his latest novel when he was interviewed by the NY Times: “Will readers follow me into this? Will they understand what I’m trying to do, or will they be prejudiced against the surface elements? Are they going to say this is fantasy?”

Le Guin launched into a spirited defense of fantasy in which she mentions the very story I had been thinking about for this post.

“Fantasy is probably the oldest literary device for talking about reality. ‘Surface elements,’ by which I take it he means ogres, dragons, Arthurian knights, mysterious boatmen, etc., which occur in certain works of great literary merit such as Beowulf, the Morte d’Arthur, and The Lord of the Rings, are also much imitated in contemporary commercial hackwork.

“Their presence or absence is not what constitutes a fantasy. Literary fantasy is the result of a vivid, powerful, coherent imagination drawing plausible impossibilities together into a vivid, powerful and coherent story, such as those mentioned, or The Odyssey, or Alice in Wonderland.” More here.

I love Le Guin’s characterization of fantasy. It reminds of something C.S. Lewis said about writing good fantasy. He said that, within the laws of its own realm, everything had to be plausible. Or words to that effect. And he wrote an essay with a splendid title, “Sometimes Fairy Stories Say Best What’s to Be Said.” (For a comparison of Tolkien’s and Lewis’s ideas about fantasy, check this essay.)


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Art: Salvador Dali

I was swept away by theater at age 10 as the understudy for Alice in Binny Rabinowitz’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland. Ever since, I’ve been a fan of the little girl who was so clear-eyed about the unreasonableness of grownups.

So imagine my delight at Maria Popova’s essay on the many different ways the story has been illustrated, including by Salvador Dali.

“In the century and a half since Sir John Tenniel’s original illustrations, the Carroll classic has sprouted everything from a pop-up book adaptation to a witty cookbook to a quantum physics allegory, and hundreds of artists around the world have reimagined it with remarkable creative vision. …

“In 1969, Salvador Dalí was commissioned by New York’s Maecenas Press-Random House to illustrate a special edition of the Carroll classic, consisting of12 heliogravures — one for each chapter of the book and an original signed etching in four colors as the frontispiece. Distributed as the publisher’s book of the month, the volume went on to become one of the most sought-after Dalí suites of all time.”

See a splendid array at Brainpickings, here.

Art: Lisbeth Zwerger 

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Yesterday I was thinking about how Lewis Carroll’s wry humor was a kind of code targeted directly at kids. No kid could miss that Alice is the only sensible person among a nutty bunch of adults in Wonderland — Caterpillars, Mad Queens, March Hares, and Mad Hatters — who can’t seem to follow the rules of social behavior they always lecture children to follow.

I was thinking particularly of Carroll’s spoof on the moralizing poem about the little busy bee — familiar to children of that day — and how he entertained with verses about a completely irresponsible and self-indulgent reptile.

Instead of admonishing children to be industrious with “How doth the little busy bee improve each shining hour,” he writes, “How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail.” (Click there and watch the delicious Disney version on YouTube. Note how confused Alice looks at hearing the wrong words and how polite she is anyway.)

I realized I could write a post on spoofs of poems after my husband pointed out a second item this morning. It seems that the tree Joyce Kilmer praised in his best-known poem turns out to have been close to where I grew up.

And I can never hear these words by Kilmer — “I think that I shall never see/A poem as lovely as a tree” — without immediately hearing Ogden Nash spoofing Kilmer with “I think that I shall never see/A billboard lovely as a tree/And that unless the billboards fall,/ I’ll never see a tree at all.”

Please help me think of more examples. I’m sure there must be more.


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At ConceptualFiction.com, Ted Gioia writes that the friend of Lewis Carroll who helped organize the boat trip where  Alice in Wonderland emerged deserves much of the credit for its being a story that amuses adults as well as children.

“On July 4, 1862, mathematician Charles Dodgson—better known to us as Lewis Carroll—spent a pleasant afternoon with a small party of acquaintances. The group embarked on a rowing expedition from Oxford, journeying to Godstow some three miles away, where they stopped to have tea on the river bank.  Dodgson was joined by his friend Reverend Robinson Duckworth and the three Liddell sisters:  Edith (age 8), Alice (age 10) and Lorina (age 13).  As he often did on such occasions, Dodgson regaled his companions with an extemporized tale.”

Some of the bits the children found funniest on their level could be understood differently by the adults, and Gioia thinks that is what gave the story its lasting appeal.

Rev. Duckworth later wrote an account of the day:  “I rowed stroke and he rowed bow … and the story was actually composed and spoken over my shoulder for the benefit of Alice Liddell.” In essence, it was being told to both Duckworth and Alice.

The e-mailed Poem-a-Day I just received:
A Boat, Beneath a Sunny Sky
by Lewis Carroll

A boat, beneath a sunny sky
Lingering onward dreamily
In an evening of July—

Children three that nestle near,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Pleased a simple tale to hear—

Long has paled that sunny sky:
Echoes fade and memories die:
Autumn frosts have slain July.

Still she haunts me, phantomwise,
Alice moving under skies
Never seen by waking eyes.

Children yet, the tale to hear,
Eager eye and willing ear,
Lovingly shall nestle near.

In a Wonderland they lie,
Dreaming as the days go by,
Dreaming as the summers die:

Ever drifting down the stream—
Lingering in the golden gleam—
Life, what is it but a dream?

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Did you catch the National Public Radio story on backwards running? Who knew that there are actually competitions in backwards running? I thought it was something kids do, and only for a minute or two.

“Achim Aretz holds the Guinness World Record for running the half marathon, backward. But now, the 27-year-old German athlete says he’s tired of doing something almost no one else does and wants to head in a new direction. Reporter Caitlan Carroll caught up with him in Hanover, Germany.” Listen to the Interview.

What would Lewis Carroll do with this? I immediately thought of the Red Queen from Through the Looking-Glass.

Wikipedia has the story: “The Red Queen’s race is an incident that appears in Lewis Carroll‘s Through the Looking-Glass and involves the Red Queen, a representation of a Queen in chess, and Alice constantly running but remaining in the same spot.

” ‘Well, in our country,’ said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else — if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.’

” ‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’ ”

Pretty much anything Lewis Carroll wrote has always made perfect sense to me.

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