Catalog for Tate Liverpool Alice exhibition looks great

Alice in Wonderland Tate Catalog

Tate Publishing, 2011

The catalog for the Tate Liverpool’s Alice in Wonderland exhibition is now for sale on the Tate’s website. Edited by Gavin Delahunty, head of exhibitions and displays at Tate Liverpool, and Christoph Schulz, curator of the exhibition, it reproduces the art of the exhibition in 120 color illustrations. Also included are critical essays by Dame Gillian Beer, Alberto Manguel, and Edward Wakeling, and a new fairy tale by Carol Mavor.

Reviews of the exhibition have been published by Adrian Searle and Mariana Warner in the UK’s Guardian and by Lindsay Duguid in the Financial Times.

Related events at the Liverpool Tate gallery in late November and early January are listed here. The exhibition ends on January 29.



Thought-provoking article in Prospect Magazine by Richard Jenkyns

Prof. Richard Jenkyns

Prof. Richard Jenkyns

Issue 187 of Prospect Magazine contains a good article on the influence of the Alice books written by Richard Jenkyns, professor of Classics at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. The article is free to read on Prospect’s website.

Jenkyns makes several interesting points that may get LCSNA members thinking and, perhaps, arguing.

Here are some extracts:

Previously, most books for children had been either educational or improving; the only purpose of Alice is to give pleasure. We have grown so used to bunnies in blue jackets with brass buttons that it is hard to remember how comparatively recent such things are…

Dreams are a solipsist’s kingdom: nothing exists in them except the dreamer. It is appropriate, therefore, that the people and creatures that Alice meets in Wonderland lack roundedness and solidity…

Figures like the Red and White Queens and the White Knight come with distinct personalities independent of Alice’s imagining. It makes sense of a kind for there to be speculation in the looking-glass world about whether someone else is dreaming of Alice; to pose that question in Wonderland would be preposterous.

Throw teddy out of the pram, Jabberwock is here!

Look! Isn’t he adorable? It’s a poseable plush toy made by Toy Vault, currently selling for $6.99 on

Toy Vault Jabberwock Plush Doll

Toy Vault Jabberwock Plush Doll

Good Alice images on Avax News

Avax News is a website for interesting photos. Their mission is clearly stated:

Every day, Lord Almighty is responsible for hundred thousands of fascinating and mysterious events in our earthly existence, which people gaze upon with wonder through the lenses of the camera. The most gripping of those images you can find within these pages. Nothing less, nothing more. It’s just you and the images you see.

Earlier this year they posted a nice collection of high-quality Carroll-related photos under the sub-heading “Appealing.” There are images of Carroll, by Carroll, and of various stage productions. If you are looking for high quality images of a decent size, it may prove very helpful indeed. I would only caution against venturing away from the Carroll images via other sub-headings such as “Sad” or “Disgusting.” You know the internet. You have been warned.


Baby Leroy

Baby Leroy as "Joker" in the Paramount production of “Alice in Wonderland” (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images). 1933


Celebration of Mind II – Sign up!

Can you change “100″ to “CAT” by moving just two of these toothpicks?
Cat Puzzle

The above puzzle is probably familiar to many lovers of logic games, but new to the multitude who have not yet made the connection between mathematical problems, visual conundrums, and, of all things, fun.

One man who spent a lifetime reaching out to both the initiates and the multitude was Martin Gardner, philosopher, mathematician, magician, and for 25 years the author of the “Mathematical Games” column in the Scientific American. He was also a founding member of the LCSNA and the creator of the irreplaceable Annotated Alice books.

Martin Gardner

When Martin died last year the foundation Gathering for Gardner vowed to “celebrate Martin’s life and work, and continue his pursuit of a playful and fun approach to Mathematics, Science, Art, Magic, Puzzles and all of his other interests and writings.” One of these celebrations is fast upon us – the second annual Celebration of Mind events to be held worldwide on or around what would have been Martin’s 97th birthday – October 21, 2011.

Last year, people gathered to share magic tricks, puzzles, recreational mathematics problems and stories about Martin at 66 locations from Tokyo to Tehran to Buenos Aires to Boulder, Colorado. This year, 30 hosts have signed up already and the organizers expect many more – if you can’t make the gathering at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica, how about attending one of the 15 already listed in North America? Events held by LCSNA members will undoubtedly have an Alice flavor – if you are hosting one, be sure to get in touch and we will advertise it on the blog.

I wonder how many events this year will feature readings from A Bouquet for the Gardener, the beautiful collection of tributes and reminiscences published by the LCSNA in July? (Available at

For a map of planned events, and for guidelines for hosting your own event, go to the Gathering for Gardner website. There you can also find photos and descriptions of previous events along with downloadable visual treats and puzzles to whet your appetite. You can also follow event updates on Twitter account @G4G_CoM.

And finally, if you haven’t figured out the toothpick teaser above, I’m not going to tell you. What are Sunday afternoons for?


“A symbolic retreat from the disappointment of reality”

The Pool of TearsWhy do adults read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland? One Cambridge academic thinks is might be “a symbolic retreat from the disappointment of reality.” Really? Really?

In yesterday’s online edition of the UK Independent, Rob Sharp, the arts correspondent, reported on a forthcoming book by Dr Louise Joy under the title “Why do adults read children’s literature? Blame modern life.

Dr Louise Joy, a Cambridge University academic, believes classic children’s books, and the work they inspire, attract older readers because they give them things they cannot find in their everyday lives, including direct communication, tasty home-cooked food, and tolerance towards eccentricity. The researcher claims such books represent a “symbolic retreat from the disappointment of reality”.

“Books such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach offer a world where self-consciousness is overthrown and relationships are straightforward,” says Dr Joy. “But relationships in the real adult world are often fraught by miscommunication and the impossibility of understanding one another properly.”

As we all know, in Wonderland relationships are entirely straightforward, no-one is self-conscious, and everyone understands each other perfectly. Could Dr. Joy have a point? But how would she explain the appeal of reading about junk food like cakes and comfits?

Sharp does give some room for dissenting voices and he quotes the current UK Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson:

“Alice’s world can often be disconcerting and confusing in a dream-like way, something which struck me more as an adult than when I read it as a child [...] It’s hard to generalise.”


Yours, virtually, for free: the original Under Ground manuscript

Alice's Adventures Under GroundThe British Library has a new project: high-definition images of their most precious manuscripts available for download by one and all. These eBook Treasures are viewed in a virtual “3D” environment where you can zoom in, turn pages, search content and generally do everything but smell the paper or spill your coffee on it.

This month, the featured eBook is the original handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground. Using the application you can see each page in full-screen high-definition, read a transcription or listen to a narration by Miriam Margolyes (Professor Sprout, O.B.E.). The download is free but only for the next two weeks. Go to eBook Treasures to get it for yourself.

eTreasure iPad screenshot

eBook Treasure: Alice's Adventures Under Ground

The application has been developed with Armadillo Systems (not to be confused with Atomic Antelope, the developers of the revolutionary digital pop-up book of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland for the iPad). Over the next two years, 75 of the library’s most interesting or important manuscripts will be made available for download. Other titles available now include Leonardo Da Vinci’s Codex Arundel, William Blake’s Notebooks, and Geradus Mercator’s Atlas of Europe. Coming soon, the Tyndale Bible. This is the digital bibliophile’s promised land.

What’s the catch? It’s a big one. At the moment the whole kaboodle is only available for Apple devices, the iPad and iPod Touch. It’s a remarkably undemocratic move for a project designed to increase access to the treasures of a national institution, but hopefully they will find a way to expand this to the majority world of non-Mac users some day soon.

Here’s a promotional video showing the capabilities of the software. For some reason the sound isn’t working. I guess technology isn’t perfect yet.

Alice’s American Cousin: Joyce Carol Oates

See if you can’t dig up a copy of the August 2011 Princeton Magazine. There’s a good  cover feature by Stuart Mitchner called “Alice’s American Cousin,” about author Joyce Carol Oates and her lifelong love of Alice.

"Wonderland," By Dallas Piotrowski. Giclée Print, 2004.

Once upon a time an eight-year-old girl living in upstate New York received a birthday present that changed her life. The girl’s name was Joyce and the gift from her paternal grandmother was the 1946 Junior Library edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, illustrated by John Tenniel. It was a match made in literary heaven, from the companionable sight-rhyme of Joyce and Alice to Alice’s idea that there “ought to be a book written about me….And when I grow up I’ll write one,“ a goal her American cousin Joyce shared and fulfilled many times over when she grew up.

In her essay, “First Loves from ‘Jabberwocky’ to ‘After Apple Picking,’” reprinted in The Faith of a Writer (2003), Joyce Carol Oates calls her Grandmother Woodside’s gift “the great treasure of my childhood and the most profound literary influence of my life.” It was “love at first sight,” not only with Alice (“with whom I identified unquestionably”) but with “the phenomenon of Book.” Six years later, Grandmother Woodside gave Joyce her first typewriter, a Remington portable.

On view in the grown-up author’s Princeton study is her artist friend [and LCSNA member!] Dallas Piotrowski’s colorful reworking of the Tenniel sketch showing Alice “opening out like the largest telescope there ever was,” having just eaten the Eat Me cake. The altered Alice has a pencil in one hand and a book in the other and a face not unlike that of the study’s inhabitant. Joyce’s title for the picture of herself as Alice is “Curiouser and Curiouser,” which is what Alice is saying as the cake has its way with her. [...]

Read all about it: Dame Gillian’s lecture on “Alice in Time”

Dame Gillian Beer

In the last edition of the Knight Letter we noted that Dame Gillian Beer, King Edward Professor of English Literature Emeritus at Cambridge, had delivered a lecture entitled “Alice in Time” last March at the Radcliff Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard. Now you can read a short review of the lecture in the online version of the Radcliff Magazine.

Beer discussed Carroll’s preoccupation with time as one reason for the Alice books’ enduring popularity; she also remarked on the upcoming anniversary: “The 150th anniversary of the first Alice book won’t occur for several more years, but ‘if people are getting primed already,’ Beer said, ‘Lord knows what will happen in 2015.’”

We’ll take that as a challenge, then.

New Scientist: “Some words really do evoke Humpty’s ‘handsome’ rotundity.”

Linguists have been ruminating on Humpy Dumpty’s theories for over a century. Now, his discussion about words’ meaning is being used by scientists in conjunction with new studies about an innate connection between sounds and representation. First, take this test and see “If certain sounds really do evoke particular meanings then, given a foreign word and two alternative translations, people should be able to get the correct meaning more often than not.”

Here’s the beginning David Robson’s article in the 16 July 2011 issue of New Scientist, “Kiki or bouba? In search of language’s missing link“:

Humpty Dumpty and Alice, illustrated by Peter Newell

“It’s a stupid name enough!” Humpty Dumpty interrupted impatiently. “What does it mean?”

“Must a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully.

“Of course it must,” Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh: “My name means the shape I am – and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”

PURE whimsy, you might think. Nearly 100 years of linguistics research has been based on the assumption that words are just collections of sounds – an agreed acoustic representation that has little to do with their actual meaning. There should be nothing in nonsense words such as “Humpty Dumpty” that would give away the character’s egg-like figure, any more than someone with no knowledge of English could be expected to infer that the word “rose” represents a sweet-smelling flower.

Yet a spate of recent studies challenge this idea. They suggest that we seem instinctively to link certain sounds with particular sensory perceptions. Some words really do evoke Humpty’s “handsome” rotundity. Others might bring to mind a spiky appearance, a bitter taste, or a sense of swift movement. And when you know where to look, these patterns crop up surprisingly often, allowing a monoglot English speaker to understand more Swahili or Japanese than you might imagine (see “Which sounds bigger?” at the bottom of this article). These cross-sensory connections may even open a window onto the first words ever uttered by our ancestors, giving us a glimpse of the earliest language and how it emerged.

Continue reading…