Gillian Welch sings “White Rabbit” on NPR

The great country revival duo, Gillian Welch (with Dave Rawlings), released their first album in almost a decade, The Harrow & the Harvest. (It’s really good.) They went on Fresh Air with Terry Gross to schlep it, and at the end of the show, Gross asked them to play a cover, “to surprise us with a song that we might not think that they like.” They chose Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” and it’s a pretty damned beautiful cover of that song. Starting at 41 minutes into the show, Welch explains why they chose that song, and then their version of it gets cut off for the credits. HOWEVER, naturally, they’re hawking it as a special single on iTunes, for $1.29. Remember what the dormouse said… “That I can’t remember,” said the Hatter.

Lynne Truss on Lewis Carroll on BBC Radio 4

Lynne Truss

Lynne Truss, author of the best-selling grammar-romp Eats, Shoots and Leaves, recently appeared on the BBC Radio 4 program “Great Lives” to discuss her fascination with Lewis Carroll. You can listen to the half-hour program at leisure on the BBC iPlayer.

Interviewed by British author Matthew Parris, Truss discusses her life-long fondness for Lewis Carroll – fondness that led her to include him as a character in her 2010 novel Tennyson’s Gift.  The interview also features Robin Wilson, author of Lewis Carroll in Numberland and together the trio address questions such as “Dodgson the Mathematician: Was he any good?”. They also do a good-spirited rendition of Alice being introduced to the banquet in Through the Looking-Glass. Matthew Parris plays the pudding.

Alice in Sunderland

When I first saw this article about Alice in Sunderland, I thought it might be a forgotten manuscript republished by Michael Everson of Evertype, who has recently released such lost gems as “Clara in Blunderland: A political parody based on Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland” and “Lost in Blunderland: The further adventures of Clara: A political parody based on Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland,” as part of Evertype’s boundless library of Wonderland translations and variations. However Alice in Sunderland was just a Fake News release from NewsBiscuit, a website with the tag line “The news before it happens…”

Literary historian discovers Lewis Carroll sequel, ‘Alice in Sunderland’

An academic at the University of Lancaster has uncovered a previously unheard of follow-up to Lewis Carroll’s acclaimed Alice series of children’s novels, this time set in the North East of England.

‘Alice in Sunderland is very much like the original novels,’ said Professor Terry Eagleton. ‘It might be grittier and racier, but it contains the same trademark cast of unbelievable characters performing inexplicably bizarre pastimes. I don’t think I’d be spoiling the ending for the readers to say that the things they will witness in these pages could only have happened in a dream.’

As with Carroll’s first novel, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’, the action begins with the young heroine lazing by a river one summer afternoon. ‘Only this time Alice is a teenager and she’s spread-eagled on a bench beside the River Wear, her soporific state explained by the two dozen empty bottles of WKD and vodka whose DRINK ME labels she had no choice but to obey.’ [...]

The article ends with Professor Eagleton “continuing his search for the rumoured sequel to Alice Through the Looking Glass describing a hen weekend in Gateshead.”

If your English geography is hazy, Sunderland is a small coastal city within Tyne and Wear in North East England, and the NewsBiscuit article should give you a taste of some of the local color.  However, it’s not without its real Carroll connections, and NewsBiscuit is not the first to make the joke. This is a paragraph from the Wikipedia article on Sunderland:

The Walrus in Mowbray Park, Sunderland -Wikipedia

Lewis Carroll was a frequent visitor to the area. He wrote most of Jabberwocky at Whitburn as well as “The Walrus and the Carpenter”. Some parts of the area are also widely believed to be the inspiration for his Alice in Wonderland stories, such as Hylton Castle and Backhouse Park. There is a statue to Carroll in Whitburn library. Lewis Carroll was also a visitor to the Rectory of Holy Trinity Church, Southwick; then a township independent of Sunderland. Carroll’s connection with Sunderland, and the area’s history, is documented in Bryan Talbot’s 2007 graphic novel Alice in Sunderland. More recently, Sunderland-born Terry Deary, writer of the series of Horrible Histories books, has achieved fame and success, and many others such as thriller writer Sheila Quigley, are following his lead.

Bryan Talbot’s Alice in Sunderland is on here. Wikipedia’s sited reference for the claim that Carroll wrote “The Walrus and the Carpenter” at Sunderland is the website, at which I found written:

On the coast to the north of Sunderland towards South Shields is the village of Whitburn and the nearby Whitburn Sands, where Lewis Carroll is said to have written the eighteen verse poem called the `Walrus and the Carpenter’.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low:
And all the little oysters stood
And waited in a row.

“The time has come;” the walrus said
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes and ships and sealing wax
Of cabbages and kings
And why the sea is boiling hot
And whether pigs have wings.”

The Sunderland and Shields area does seem a likely setting for the poem as in Carroll’s time Sunderland was a great shipbuilding port employing many carpenters. Boiling hot sea could be a reference to the steam-boat colliers in the area and a stuffed walrus in a Sunderland museum may have provided further inspiration. It is known that during his regular visits to Whitburn where he had a number of relatives, Lewis Carroll and company entertained themselves with evenings composing rhyme and song. Carroll’s nephew, Stuart Dodgson Collingwood, informs us that all but the first verse of the `Jabberwocky’ poem were written by Lewis Carroll at Whitburn. The first verse was written at Croft on Tees, near Darlington, where Carroll lived as a boy.

Lewis Carroll accused of being on… crack? That’s a new one.

Alice in Wonderland, Juivenile Productions Ltd, 1952, illustrated by Willy Schermele

We normally let this type of article slip by unremarked, but this one was too good. Jerry Della Femina, who writes a column called “Jerry’s Ink” for the Long Island Press, published a rant last week titled “Was Lewis Carroll on Crack?” It is supposed to be a humorous piece about a grandfather suffering through his grandchildren’s school theater (the horror!) But besides his profound point that the Reverend Dodgson was freebasing cocaine, Della Femina’s thesis seems to be that no one likes Alice in Wonderland and no one has ever liked Alice in Wonderland. There’s some sort of conspiracy or vicious cycle dating back more than a century keeping it in the canon. I can think of at least one or two members of the Lewis Carroll Society who would disagree.

…Do you know a single human being who ever liked Alice in Wonderland? When you talk about over-rated pieces of doo doo, Alice has to be on the top of everyone’s list. And yet, since 1865, when it was first written by Lewis Carroll (while he clearly was on crack), we have had the Alice in Wonderland conspiracy, which has been passed on from parent to child.

Every child comes out of the womb hating Alice in Wonderland, but from the moment they are born they are force-fed the Alice treatment. They get started with musical mobiles spinning Alice characters around their cribs. They are read to sleep by the Golden Book version of the book…they watch Alice cartoons…they are forced to sit through Walt Disney’s interminable flop version. As they mature, they realize they’re bored, but they don’t want to break their parents’ hearts and tell them that this so-called classic is a stiff.

Then they grow up and have children of their own and what do they do? They inflict this moronic, confusing book on their own children. And if that’s not bad enough, every once in a while some jerk at the movies (last year it was the 3D bomb version starring Johnny Depp) or one of the networks takes a shot at boring the entire nation with still another version of Alice in Wonderland. There’s even been a porno version of Alice, and for crying out loud, that was boring too (er…er…that’s what they tell me).

Errol Morris & Errol Morris write two different essays with identical words on New York Times blog

I wasn’t expecting postmodern philosophy when I opened the New York Times Opinionator blog this week, but there was filmmaker Errol Morris rambling on about truth, relativity, Jorge Luis Borges and Humpty Dumpty. It appears to be the fourth of a five-part series called “The Ashtray,” no doubt what he was staring into when he starting questioning existence and art. Part Four, “The Author of the Quixote,” is named after Borges’ story about Pierre Menard, a 20th century Frenchman who wrote a book called “Don Quixote,” which has the identical text to Cervantes’ book of the same name. Borges’ book review of it complains that Menard’s 17th Century Spanish seems affected, unlike Cervantes. Read the whole Morris essay here, which drags in a long quote from Through the Looking Glass. “…It addresses the issue: can words mean anything we want them to?” asks Morris. “Humpty-Dumpty is suggesting an ‘authoritarian’ theory of meaning. Words mean whatever I want them to mean. It is easy to see it as an earlier version of ‘The Ashtray Argument.’”

The Month of the Mad Hare

Littell's Living Age, Vol. 68, 1861

Happy first of March, month of the Mad Hare! “Happy Hare! Happy beyond the lot of many mortals to be mad only once a year!” Read more about the many madnesses of March in The Outlook, Vol. 19, published in January (Why not March? Madness!) 1907, by clicking on the image below.

The Outlook, Vol. 19, January, 5 1907

Wishing you all a little madness this March.

Alice on the West Bank

Alice in Wonderland at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin

A stage adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is currently running at The Freedom Theater in the city of Jenin on the Northern West Bank of the Palestinian Territories.

The show is being co-directed by Isreali Palestinian actor, director, and activist Juliano Mer-Khamis and by Zoe Lafferty, a 24-year old director from London. Reviews and interviews on the websites of Al Arabiya and The Guardian say that the technically dazzling show is being performed to sell-out audiences.

Interestingly, although the connection is not made, the plot described seems to follow Tim Burton’s adaptation: Alice discovers Wonderland while fleeing a forced engagement, and returns home newly empowered to make her own choices. Excerpts featured in the YouTube trailer (to the soundtrack of Blondie’s “One Way or Another”) suggest the production owes a debt to an even more unlikely source – The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

Happy Year of the (White) Rabbit

Happy New Year! February 3rd 2011 thru January 22nd 2012 is the Year of the Rabbit.

Venus Williams tennis dress inspired by Alice in Wonderland

Venus Williams - Getty Images

It’s been described by England cricketer Graeme Swann as “the worst outfit ever seen on a tennis court,” but Venus Williams claims the dress was “inspired by Alice in Wonderland.” Members of the LCSNA, what’s your verdict? Off with her head? Or does she deserve an elegant thimble?

The yellow lattice top, print skirt, and flesh colored leggings don’t exactly ring any Wonderland bells for me, but in a post-match interview Williams offered the following explanation:

Yeah, don’t laugh. But it’s kind of about a surprise, because when Alice goes down the hole, the rabbit hole, she finds all these things that are so surprising.

This outfit is about having a surprise in tennis a dress, and kind of, you know, showing some skin and then just having a print. Prints don’t happen that often in tennis. So it’s called the Wonderland dress. It was fun.

You can see more pictures of the dress at the Style Bistro.

CNN Linguist cringes at 2010′s portmanteaus

Linguist Robert Beard (the author of The 100 Most Beautiful Words in English, which I’ve heard is a bit prejudiced against the Anglo-Saxon) complains in CNN’s 2010 Year in Review that his sacred English Language took another “fresh beating” this year, discussing the prevalence of new portmanteau words.

New words and constructions like “Obamacare,” “WikiLeaks,” “lamestream,” “shovel-ready,” “sexting,” and many others like them were uttered or typed and in minutes spread across the globe.

Makes one wonder: Have we been beating English into a new shape, or just beating it up? There is, after all, a difference between the games we play with new words, which can be amusing — even though they often get out of hand — and the more subtle changes that often lead to confusion and offensiveness.

Beard then goes on to cite Carroll and relay the modern political history of portmanteau malapropisms:

Coined by Lewis Carroll, the term “portmanteau word” is one that carries two words inside itself. Portmanteaus may simply be funny games we play with words or errors that we should avoid.

When we speak, we go to our mental dictionaries for the right words. If we find two words with similar meanings or pronunciations, we have to make a split-second choice of which to use. President George W. Bush’s mind once found itself having to choose between “miscalculated” and “underestimated” as he spoke, but failed to reach a decision in time, so he uttered “misunderestimated”.

Sarah Palin’s famous portmanteau “refudiate” is similar. “Refudiate” is a speech error that many others before her have made by blending “refute” and “repudiate.” That it has been around for ages but has yet to make it into a dictionary tells us that it is a speech error we should stop discussing and let pass for what it is: a funny but erroneous portmanteau.

Portmanteaus may be “funny games” (I’ll take that as a compliment), and annoying ones can make it into mainstream parlance quickly thanks to new media, but there’s no need to be curmudgeonly about a year which saw many strange and entertaining new coinages. Palin’s defense of her accidental wordsmithing (which was later named 2010 Word of the Year by the New Oxford American Dictionary) was to tweet: “‘Refudiate,’ ‘misunderestimate,’ ‘wee-wee’d up.’ English is a living language. Shakespeare liked to coin new words too. Got to celebrate it!”