Posts Tagged ‘alice in wonderland’

Photo: Barry Weatherall/Unsplash.
That moment before the show starts.

When I was 10, I was the understudy for Alice in Alice in Wonderland, a big deal in my life. Television director Binny Rabinowitz adapted the book and directed the show for the Antrim Players.

I never miss a chance to tell people that future star of stage, screen, and television René Auberjonois was the Gryphon. The girl who played Alice grew up to be an architect. She actually follows this blog.

Years later, John was also in a production of Alice, not to mention a variety of cool shows after that. He’s still a natural.

Theater stayed a big part of my life after that first Antrim Players show and included a few years with the Teenage Play in Ocean Beach, Fire Island, creating with other theater-loving kids, some of whom went on to fame and fortune (e.g., Tony Roberts, Michael Pressman, Lynn Lavner).

So of course I got a kick out of last night’s living-room production orchestrated by my youngest grandchild, a 7-1/2-year old writer/director. Having commandeered her older brother plus Suzanne, Erik, and me, she rehearsed each of us individually.

I was the Announcer and received a script featuring red marker and curious spellings. I was instructed to pause after each line introducing a performer and to press a button for that person’s specially composed and recorded song.

The show was called The Fantastic Tribes. It went without a hitch until the last minute, when we would have taken our bows together (in the hand-holding, swing-your-arms-up prescribed style) if I could have figured out how to continue recording while also getting myself in the frame. The dismayed director at first wanted a retake, but her brother convinced her that the look on her face when she realized the show was over was actually a perfect ending.

The iPad video evidence has been preserved for posterity and is sure to get someone in big trouble if they ever run for public office.

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On January 15, I took a walk and encountered the astonished hellebore above. It’s not supposed to bloom until spring, but it just couldn’t help itself, the weather was so warm. Goodness knows what it thought when we went down to single-digit temperatures shortly thereafter!

I gather things have been topsy-turvy where you are, too, and I look forward to seeing other photos of out-of-season bloomings on your blogs.

Today’s collection of pictures includes a few from New York. Alice holds court at the Mad Tea Party in Central Park. I sent a close-up of the Dormouse to Carole, whose voice I still hear playing that role 65 years ago.

Building details are always fun in New York, where the ship below caught my eye. In the park one day, I also saw a panther ready to pounce.

Suzanne’s son, 7, wrote a nice essay about his vacation. And John’s daughter, 6, played a fierce game of ice hockey.

I took a picture of the flour can for no special reason at a favorite bakery in Providence.

The crooked tree continues to tempt and challenge my camera, because no matter what angle I try to take a photo from, there is always too much confusion in the background. I should get someone to hold up a white sheet for me. Perhaps you have another suggestion?

Next you can see our famous bridge and the statue of the “embattled farmer,” followed by a glimpse of town from a snowy balcony. I took three shots of a local arts center’s latest exhibit, “A Change in Atmosphere, a group show celebrating contemporary atmospheric firing of New England-based ceramic artists.” Not really sure what “atmospheric firing” means but it sounds elemental.

I liked the funny clay dwellings (which seemed both ancient and futuristic to me), the female figure bursting out of confinement in the Greek-type vessel, and the contrasting textures of the piece featured in the exhibit poster.

Jean K. tells me my photos are amusing, which has inspired me to start looking specifically for funny shots in the future. But I had to abstain from the name of a construction company on a passing truck because it would never have passed the Code of Conduct.











012320-bursting free-from-vessel012320-atmospheric-firing-ceramics



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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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I care about the original meanings of words. Poet John Ciardi cared even more than I do. A random thing I recall from his book How Does a Poem Mean? is that a person alert to word derivations would never say that a ship “arrived” at an oil platform in the North Sea because “arrived” is from the Latin words “to shore” and a North Sea platform is not the shore.

My office window overlooks the location of the Boston Tea Party. So lately, I have watched the museum rising from the ashes of a fire that destroyed it years ago, and I have been thinking about original tea parties.

When I was little, I loved to use the visit of a friend as an occasion for a tea party in our large attic closet. My mother or a babysitter would make a pot of tea and very buttery cinnamon and sugar toast, and my friend and I would cart it all upstairs with the cups, saucers, spoons, sugar, napkins, and milk, and have a tea party by the glow of flashlights.

Then there is my feeling for the tea party in Alice in Wonderland. That is perhaps the most important tea party to me because, at age 10, I understudied Alice in a local production of the play, which had been adapted from the book by New York television director Binny Rabinowitz.

I think part of the reason I loved that experience so much was because Alice is a sensible little girl who tries hard to follow all the rules laid down for her, but she is surrounded by completely inconsistent, stubborn, unreliable, and unreasonable adults. In spite of the enormity of the task, she keeps trying to help these grownups make sense. I loved the tea party scene, in which my best friend, Carole, was the dormouse (“Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle … zzzz”). Today I’m thinking about the fact that, other than Alice herself, all the tea party participants were quite mad.

Quite, quite mad.

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