Thursday 23 July 2015

Book Review: Lewis Carroll – 'Alice's Adventures In Wonderland: 150th Anniversary Edition'

'Alice's Adventures In Wonderland: 150th Anniversary Edition'

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson better known to the world by his pseudonym Lewis Carroll has by way of his most famous creation 'Alice's Adventures In Wonderland' enchanted and subverted generations for 150 years with his psychedelic fantasy of anthropomorphic animals literary nonsense. It is no surprise that Princeton University Press have decided to publish a new edition that not only presents the classic text, but also forgoes the original illustrations by John Tenniel that accompany most print runs in favour of the rarer, and arguably stimulating artwork from Salvador Dali.

The new edition begins with an insightful forward by Mark Burstein president emeritus of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, who dissects the impact and influence of the book, as well as analyses its surrealist credentials which ties the Victorian fairy story with the subversive post-Dada art movement of which Dali is the most renowned member. Burstein goes on to look at Dali's own links to the classic book by way of his collaboration with Disney and the recurring motifs of his own work.

This is followed by further elaboration on the genius and eccentricity of Dali by Thomas Banchoff, professor emeritus of mathematics at Brown University. Banchoff looks deeper into the process of Dali's work and in particular his use of mathematics in his iconic works, as well as detailing his own meetings with the artist which provides an intriguing insight into the enigmatic figure.

For those who have never read the book, the story follows the character of Alice, a seven-year-old girl who follows a white rabbit (who is curiously wearing a waistcoat) down a rabbit hole and is transported to the bizarre world of Wonderland. In Wonderland she encounters the strange and half-mad inhabitants that populate it and attempts to keep hold of her own sanity as logic becomes more relative in comparison to the regimented world of Victorian values from which she has come. It encompasses themes of childhood rebellion through imagination, as well as playing with the ideas of logic, proportion, time, and the blurring of reality and dreams... as well as some of the best wordplay in the English language.

The book presents the original text in an unabridged format and preserves the original formatting for a faithful reproduction throughout. This coupled with the juxtaposition of the vivid watercolour prints by Dali combine to add a a far more abstract leap of the imagination that serves to show how a children's story has gone on to influence adult artists, musicians and film-makers such as Salvador Dali, Marilyn Manson and Tim Burton.

The real beauty of this edition is that it makes the Dali illustrations affordable as they had only been published by Random House in a rather expensive manner once in 1969, putting them out of reach of most Alice/Dali fans. Even if you own one of the recent hardback reprints of the book with the original Tenniel illustrations, this is still a must have for its sheer beauty and intelligent insight into both the life and works of Dodgson and Dali. 

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