Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland Reading Trifecta

First, second and third Alice ‘s Adventures in Wonderland* reads for the New Year:

*A Note on my link above:  For those who are interested in Alice, I found this fun site, Lenny’s Alice in Wonderland, and I was pretty impressed with the layout and information that nicely consolidates a wealth of information about all things Alice available online, including online texts, textual analysis in accessible English, quirky insights into Alice and Caroll himself, quick explorations of Alice adaptations, links to images from a variety of sources, all up to date and authoritative plus hand-selected Alice paraphernalia from Amazon.  I wish Lenny had cited her sources throughout, because she has certainly read and distilled an enormous amount of popular and scholarly information about Alice, but her work is still easy to navigate, read and use. Both a labor of love and for profit, what is also fascinating to me about the site, living in the Netherlands, is that the site’s developer, Lenny de Rooy, is Dutch! Yet another unexpected kudo for the literate, multi-lingual Dutch Citizenry.

Now for our recent Alice reading trifecta:

Wikimedia Commons image of Alice Liddell, photo by Lewis Carroll

1. Alice’s Adventures Underground by Lewis Carroll

This is a British Folio Society Edition limited to 3,750 impressions, hand numbered, bound in leather that smells like Justin cowboy boots or the inside of a Minnetonka Moccasin shoe box, arrived in the post on 30 December for Aaron’s 19th wedding anniversary present.  Aaron has been in love with the blond Disney-Alice ever since he was a little boy.  Ironically, I have been in love with the cartoon red head Disney-Peter Pan, but that’s a different story.  Ask my brother Tim about it.

Anyway, Aaron has the Annotated Alice, and biographies of that massive perv Lewis Carroll, because say what you will he was pretty interesting and brings the Victorian Age graphically to life with all its genius and peccadilloes.  After a fateful meeting with a fine editions collector in Hamburg, Germany this past November, which I will describe in a future post, I got obsessed with finding beautiful editions of our favorite stories.  The Folio Society was just publishing this manuscript facsimile from the British Library,

The edition is accompanied by an illuminating companion booklet, in which Sally Brown, Curator of Modern Manuscripts at the British Library, traces the manuscript’s development, and explores Carroll’s friendship with Alice Liddell and her family. This 32-page companion booklet contains 17 illustrations, including photographs taken by Lewis Carroll (Folio Society).

Had to have it.  The presentation is gorgeous.  I also ordered the three volume set of the Pullman’s Dark Materials series.  That hasn’t arrived yet, we’re really looking forward to it.  I have to warn you dear readers, the Folio Society can become addictive.  I keep looking at the Liber Beastiarium for £495.00.  Just looking…so far…

2. Wonderland by Tommy Kovac and Sonny Liew

I brought home our Middle School Library’s copy of the graphic novel Wonderland written by Tommy Kovac and illustrated by Sonny Liew to read over the holidays, so the Folio Society facsimile showing up in the mail early (wasn’t supposed to be sent out until February 2010) made me bump Wonderland up to the top of my stack by my bed.

Detail from double page spread of Mary Ann taking a Wonderland shortcut.

The artwork is a self-conscious riff on the Disney movie, unsurprising since this is a Disney Press publication, an imprint of Random House Books for Young Readers.  The print edition production values are very nice, however—the presentation is so satisfying, thick, warm, tactile pages and artwork in dreamy rainbow hues of blue, green, pink and purple.

The story is based on the moment when the White Rabbit mistakes Alice for his maid Mary Ann in the original story, and from there the author and illustrator take off on a mad dash through all the usual suspects in a distorted yet fun visual Disney-inspired narrative:  the Queen of Hearts meets her ultra-thin nemesis the Queen of Spades, Tweedle Dee and Dum implicate the White Rabbit in a treasonous plot, the political machinations of the pink and purple Cheshire Cat build to a frenzy including a full-fledged attack by the Jabberwocky.  Mary Ann, drawn as an Alice Liddell cum Disney’s Alice-in-a-pinafore mix (compare with the photo above), is a maid at heart, not an adventurer, and simply wants to keep her master on time and all surfaces clean, but the inhabitants of Wonderland are hoping she will overthrow the monarchy like the Alice monster did in the original. If never quite as hilarious as it might have been story-wise, the artwork is magical.

You can read more in the detailed review by Elizabeth Bird at School Library Journal…by the end she manages to work in an unusual and satisfying reference to Dali in her analysis of the artwork.  I’m also going to look up her recommended graphic adaptation based on Alice, Alice in Sunderland.

3. Stiches by David Small

And finally, a startlingly bleak, ultimately hopeful graphic memoir by David Small, who was another little boy who fell in love with Alice and the idea of Wonderland.  My friend Catharine came to visit for Christmas and gave me a copy.  2009 National Book Award Finalist sticker on the front, she told me that she chose it for its strong reviews and because the book was by a Caldecott Medal-winning children’s book illustrator.  Being a very well-informed librarian-type, I recognized his name immediately, as well as his style of drawing from So You Want to Be President?

Haunting, shadow-filled pencil drawings create Hitchcock-inspired frames of ghostly grey and white memories in this deeply creepy memoir.  This is an American Gothic  story set in the bleak, decaying urban world of elm-disease blighted Detroit in the 40s and 50s.  Kafka would definitely feel at home here as would Alison Bechdel, whose Fun Home comes quickly to mind when reading Stiches.  Small tells his story with a assured sense of pacing, using spare wordless images and all-caps text when words are needed.  He clinically describes how he survived a childhood plagued by radiation treatments given to him for his breathing difficulties by his radiologist father, the appearance of a disfiguring tumor on the side of his neck that proves to be cancer and a family equally malignant with abuse, repression and unbearable secrets. There is a very well-done book trailer for Stiches on YouTube narrated by Small that describes his inspirations behind his book and is really worth checking out.

As a little boy Small would play Alice when life became too much to handle, his doctor father’s distance, his mother’s slamming rage in the kitchen, his older brother’s hellbent beating on his drums in his room. Believing that it was Alice’s long, blond Disney hair that gave her “the magic ability to travel to a land of talking animals, singing flowers and dancing teapots” (56), he would put a yellow towel on his head and race around his neighborhood searching for Wonderland.  The target of bullies when he was outside enjoying his pursuit of a welcoming fantasy world, Small sought refuge and comfort at home drawing alone on the living room floor.  There is a poignant two-page spread where he draws himself bending over headfirst into a blank sheet of paper, legs flying up into the air as he dives in, and then, as if sliding down a massive throat, he lands in a stomach full of cheering characters from his imagination with the White Rabbit front and center.

When Small is older, after surviving the surgeries that remove the lump on his neck and leave a “crusted black track of stitches; my smooth young throat slashed and laced back up like a bloody boot” (191), he acts out in numerous, escalating ways after discovering by accident that he had had cancer and his parents did not tell him.  At long last, like “throwing money down a hole”, his mother takes him to a therapist, hurling abuse at him the entire time.  There, Small plays Alice again and encounters the first adult who is honest with him.  Drawing his doctor as the White Rabbit to his Alice in the pages of his memoir, Small lovingly illustrates how therapy helps him begin to repair the damage that his family had inflicted on him and how this relationship gave him the courage to leave home at sixteen and try to make a life for himself.

You wouldn’t know that this memoir is a lovesong for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland until you’re deep into it, and what a remarkable find in combination with an unrelated present arriving in the mail and a random library book waiting to be read.  Drawn together, what a great way to start the New Year!

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