Alicegate? Scandal involving “lavish” White House Alice in Wonderland Party

Star-studded photo from the White House 2009 Halloween Party

Mad Tea Parties and politics are in the news again, but this time thrown by the Democrats. President Obama’s 2009 Alice in Wonderland-themed “star-studded” Halloween party is central stage in a mini-scandal, coming to light because of details in a new book called “The Obamas” by Jodi Kantor of the New York Times. Rush Limbaugh and other right-wing criticizers of the President are claiming the party was secret and extravagant. The White House has responded that the party was for military families and not at all secret. From the Huffington Post article “Limbaugh: Media Helping Obamas Cover Up Secrets“:

“The Obamas,” by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, has already prompted a fierce response from the White House to its stories of infighting between Michelle Obama and her husband’s staff. But the media has latched onto another story in the book. Kantor alleges that the White House deliberately downplayed a lavish, Tim Burton-designed Halloween party held in 2009 so as not to appear out of touch with economically struggling voters.

Though they did not mention the details of the party in official briefings at the time, the White House has pushed back on this story as well, saying that the news of the party was mentioned in a Tennessee paper and on a Johnny Depp fan website.

And another Huffington Post article “Obama’s ‘Alice In Wonderland’ White House Party With Tim Burton” describes the party in more detail:

Kantor writes (via the NY Post) that Burton made up the room “in his signature creepy-comic style… He had turned the room into the Mad Hatter’s tea party, with a long table set with antique-looking linens, enormous stuffed animals in chairs, and tiered serving plates with treats like bone-shaped meringue cookies… Fruit punch was served in blood vials at the bar. Burton’s own Mad Hatter, the actor Johnny Depp, presided over the scene in full costume, standing up on a table to welcome everyone in character.”

George Lucas, the book says, sent over the original Chewbacca costume for the occasion. Kantor also writes that the President and First Lady’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, and their friends were entertained with a magic show in the East Room.

Local children and military families were also invited.

I don’t remember if anyone at the LCSNA was aware of the party, but we certainly weren’t invited. Pictures of the party are on the White House website.

Walrus seeks Carpenter, must have own loaf of bread

Mowbury Park Walrus, Copyright Helen Wright

Mowbury Park Walrus, Copyright Helen Wright

Oh shed a tear for the lonely Wearside walrus! For eleven long years he has sat alone, gazing across Mowbray Park and Winter Gardens in Sunderland, UK. Now friends of the park hope to raise the money to commission a companion for him.

“We thought it was right to do this,” said Sylvia [chairman of the Friends of Mowbray Park]. “The poem is The Walrus and the Carpenter, but all we have is the walrus. It could be any old walrus without its carpenter.

“It is unlikely though, if we get enough money to go ahead, that we will base the designs for the carpenter on the original drawings – as he might scare the children!

“We would prefer a kindly carpenter visitors can sit on. People always used to sit on the lions in the past, but they don’t seem to any more. Perhaps we can start a new tradition!”

Read more about the fundraising campaign and Lewis Carroll’s connection to Wearside on the Sunderland Echo website.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland read in Scientology Cruise Training Routines

An article by “Explainer” Brian Palmer at Slate.com seeks to answer the question “What do you do on a Scientology Cruise Ship?“ ”They hang out in the Starlight Room, play shuffleboard, and achieve Operating Thetan Level VIII,” is part of his explanation. And, according to him, our favorite novel is also included in training  routines:

"Alice: Ace of Diamonds" by Annie Rodrigue, deviantart.com. 5x7 watercolour, ink and acrylics on hot pressed watercolour paper.

Coursework on the Freewinds is a combination of independent book study, cooperative activities, and personal counseling sessions. In lecture halls, students complete lists of assignments that include reading book chapters and using modeling clay to demonstrate their understanding. They also participate in “training routines” to improve their communication skills. Classic examples include staring another student in the face for hours without blinking, or reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to each other. [continue reading.]

A quick Google search finds dozensof other articles corroborating that AAIW is used. The Wikipedia article on Training Routines (Scientology) describes TR-4 called “Dear Alice” thusly: “The student reads several lines from Alice in Wonderland to the coach as if saying them himself. The coach either acknowledges the line or flunks the student according to whether the line is communicated clearly.” The footnotes reference Cooper Paulette’s 1971 book The Scandal of Scientology and Jon Atack’s A Piece of Blue Sky: Scientology, Dianetics & L. Ron Hubbard Exposed (1990). By the way, Jon Atack is a great name for a writer of exposés. Anyway, I wonder which edition of AAIW they use…

Secret supper club leads diners down the rabbit hole

Secret supper clubs are all the rage, so we’ve heard (we’ve never found one). Right now, somewhere in Vancouver, the Swallow Tail Supper Club is entertaining diners with fine food, cocktails, and live entertainment on a Wonderland theme. Local blogger Ariane Colenbrander seems to be in on the secret:

The evening starts at the outskirts of a moonlit forest, where guests are greeted by a frantic White Rabbit, who ushers them down the rabbit hole, to a nostalgic world of childhood fairytale characters. The Mad Hatter pours tea and soup is served in a “Drink Me” bottle labeled either “Big” or “Small”. The bottle guests drink from will determine their next course. More...

According to the same blog, celebrity chef and Food Network star Bob Blumer may also be involved, though it is not clear how. The supper club will be operating for only a few more days—they don’t seem to be sold out yet. Tickets cost $129 a head.
Tenniel's Leg of Mutton

Alice’s great-grandson writes for Huffington Post

Hugh St. Clair: interior designer, creative consultant, columnist for the Lady Magazine—and great-grandson of Alice Liddell. An article by Hugh appeared yesterday on the Huffington Post: What Was the Real Alice in Wonderland Like? Her Great-Grandson is Fascinated.

The short article contains no shocking revelations from the family vault, (except, perhaps, his admission, “As a child I never read Alice,“) but it is interesting to see what the family is up to these days. Do you think Lewis Carroll would have liked one of these armchairs for his rooms in Christ Church? It is upholstered in Hugh St. Clair’s own fabric, “Large Oval Flamingo.”

Hugh St. Clair fabric

George Smith chair with Hugh St. Clair fabric

Celebrating Looking-Glass Day in Puerto Rico

In celebration of Looking-Glass Day, we have a heart-warming report from guest blogger and LCSNA member Emily Aguilo-Perez in Puerto Rico.

Today, Friday November 4, 2011 I celebrated Looking-Glass Day with my elementary school students. Now, I am not sure if Looking-Glass Day is an “official Carrollian” holiday, but I like to find any reason to celebrate. This day was no exception.

To honor the day when Alice’s second adventure takes place and the day in which her age is “seven and a half exactly,” I decided to prepare a reading day for my students, who are in first, second, and third grade. For this, I put to use some of my Alice memorabilia and costumes to bring the story to life. Putting on my Mad Hatter’s hat and taking out my collection of Disney Alice in Wonderland plush dolls I began reading a short version of the story to my students.

For time’s sake I had to use a Disney version of the story, since it was shorter and had many pictures in them (and as we all know, Alice likes her books with pictures). So I opened my Little Golden Book titled Alice in Wonderland Meets the White Rabbit and began the adventure through Wonderland. In some of my classrooms I gave students a doll, so when their character was mentioned, they had to act out what was happening. With other groups I read the story and acted out the scenes using the dolls, similar to a puppet show.

Disney plush dolls I used for the story

What I truly enjoyed about reading the book was that students had fun, asked questions, and recognized the story and characters. Of course, this is mainly thanks to the two Disney film adaptations rather than the original books. However, this showed me precisely that through movies, children (and even adults) can develop an interest in reading great literature such as Carroll’s. My students were telling me what was going to happen next, they knew who the characters were, and they even acknowledged the differences between the animated Disney version and Burton’s adaptation. It also reminded me of how I first encountered the Alice stories – through the animated film – and it gave me hope that maybe someday my students will read and come to love the books as much as I do.

It was a frabjous experience sharing my favorite story with my students! I just wish I could’ve had more time to play games, sing, or even have a Mad Tea Party. I hope you had a Wonderful Looking-Glass Day as well!

Lewis Carroll makes 12-yard pass

If you receive Google News Alerts for “Lewis Carroll,” as we do, you may begin to wonder why our favorite author “dropped back to pass, but never had a chance as Jerod Maddox came flying in on the back side and sacked him to end the half.” Lewis Carroll is the name of the quarterback for the Geneva County Bulldogs, a varsity football team in Hartville, Alabama.
A couple weeks ago, Geneva County left Kinston gimbling in the wabe, with a 9-8 win:
Lewis Carroll kicked through a 27-yard field goal with 4:30 left to lift the Bulldogs to victory.
Keep playing, Lewis, we’d love to finally see a Lewis Carroll in college football or the NFL one day!

Gaddafi’s Mad Teacup Ride

Gaddafi's Teacup Ride

Jehad Nga for the New York Times

An article on Libya in last week’s Sunday Times Magazine was topped with this surreal image of an abandoned teacup ride inside Muammar Gaddafi’s compound. The Surreal Ruins of Quaddafi’s Never Never Land made no mention of the improbable amusement park but the image – in which we see a spare teacup yards from the ride as if flung by a mad hatter, or perhaps a large explosion – is a fitting illustration for Robert Worth’s long and disturbing account of confusion and violence in the last days of Gaddafi’s regime.

For more on the teacups, you have to turn to the UK tabloid The Sun. In I played on Mad Dog Gaddafi’s Teacup Ride (August 25) Sun reporter Virginia Wheeler is pictured lounging in a teacup, presumably researching her account of this fairground built for “spoilt grandchildren” and other decadent finds within the Gaddafi compound. The details are few but the photo is pretty priceless (follow the link to see it). Wheeler looks like she is waiting for a few rebels to jump in the other teacups before they all go for a spin. Thanks all the same, but I think I’d rather go to Disneyland.

(Thanks to Alan Tannenbaum for spotting both these articles.)

“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.”

Indeed.

Galumphing? It’s a perfectly cromulent word

Children’s author Lil Chase compiled a list of her favorite made-up words in the Guardian today. What’s interesting is how many of the words, invented fancifully by literary wordsmiths, have simply become normal English words. ‘Muggle,’ from J.K. Rowling, now is used not only to mean “a non-magical person,” but more widely as being a person outside of some specific interest.  Lil Chase lists A.A. Milne’s “heffalump,” Orson Welles’ “ungood,” and others, and of course Carroll:

"Coloured Jabberwock" by InsidiousTweevle (digital art, photomanipulation, ©2007-2011) based on American McGee's Alice, deviantart.com

7. Galumphing
After slaying the terrible Jabberwock, the boy in Lewis Carrol’s poem “left it dead, and with its head / he went galumphing back.” It’s thought to be a combination of the words “gallop” and “triumphant”. However, modern-day usage is different: picture a sort of ungainly, graceless way of walking with difficulty, the gait of a grumpy teenager, perhaps; perhaps how you might walk if you were dragging a giant jabberwock’s head.

[...]

10. Cromulent
My favourite made up word comes from The Simpsons and it describes all of the words above. It’s “a dubious or made up word, term, or phrase that is entirely plausible because it makes logical sense within existing language conventions”. But it’s best defined by simply quoting the script:
As two teachers stand at the back of the auditorium someone recites Springfield’s motto: A noble spirit embiggens the smallest man.
Teacher 1: Embiggens? I never heard that word before I moved to Springfield.
Teacher 2: I don’t know why. It’s a perfectly cromulent word.

Cromulent is an amazing word. I can’t believe I didn’t know it before. It’s like the word ‘sesquipedalian,’ which is a long word which means “a long word.”