See the new Broadway Mad Hatter: Former Miss America Kate Shindle

Entertainment Weekly’s PopWatch blog posted pictures last week from the upcoming Broadway musical Wonderland, which will open in the Marquis Theatre April 17, 2011. Kate Shindle was Miss Illinois in 1997 and Miss America in 1998, and has since appeared on Broadway in Caberet and Legally Blonde.

“One of my first questions to the creative team was, ‘Why is the Mad Hatter female?’” admits Shindle about her gender-bending new role.

“It’s a cool gimmick, but it has to make sense.” And it does: This update, featuring music by veteran Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn (Jekyll & HydeThe Scarlett Pimpernel), features a grown-up Alice who, dissatisfied with her marriage and career, takes an elevator into the bowels of Manhattan to find her missing daughter and, consequently, herself. “There are a lot of messages here,” says Shindle, who is introduced during the famous tea party sequence (pictured, top). “One is that there are forces at work within everybody and the question is what we want to let win. The Mad Hatter represents a part of Alice — I hesitate to say her dark side because she’s the fun, life-of-the-party side, but she’s also her insecurity, self-sabotage, and fear. The tea party is where Alice is introduced to the Hatter and realizes she has to reckon with that force.” What about the red pantsuit and bustle? “That’s the final showdown. It’s at a point in the show where the story might as well be over, but bad stuff, you know, just doesn’t go away quite so easily. That song is the beginning of it.”

-from Aubry D’Arminio at PopWatch

Previous posts about Wildhorn’s Wonderland since it’s been touring the counties here and here.

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Cryptozoologist Dr Karl Shuker on the Cheshire Cat

Dr Karl Shuker with a rare Phantom Cat

Cryptozoology, according to the Wikipedia, “refers to the search for animals which are considered to be legendary or otherwise nonexistent by the field of biology. ” Dr Karl Shuker, according to his own bio, is “one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world.” Wikipedia describes him as “full-time freelance zoological consultant, media consultant, and noted author specializing in cryptozoology.” He is author of dozens of books, such as 2010’s Karl Shuker’s Alien Zoo, and he is currently working on his second book on “mysterious and mythical cats,” (the first was the “seminal” Mystery Cats of the World from 1989, out of print), called I Thought I Saw The Strangest Cat… Phantom Cats (again according to Wikipedia) “are a common subject of cryptozoological interest, largely due to the relative likelihood of existence in comparison to fantastical cryptids lacking any evidence of existence, such as Mothman.”

Dr Shuker gave us a sneak peak of this forthcoming book on his blog ShukerNature last week, posting a lengthy excerpt about the Cheshire Cat! Read the whole thing here, and here are the first few paragraphs:

Ever since Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s book was first published in 1865, literary scholars, Carrollian biographers, and cat-lovers alike have debated the source of one of its most enigmatic characters – the famously evanescent Cheshire Cat, with its maniacal, detachable grin! What was Carroll’s inspiration for such a surreal creation?

To begin with: as there is no such breed as a Cheshire cat, where did its name originate? Unlike most of its history, however, this seems to be quite straightforward.

Born in 1832 at Daresbury in rural Cheshire, Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) spent much of his childhood there and later at Croft, a little further north. Consequently, he would have frequently encountered various of the local farm, pet, and stray cats – in other words, cats of Cheshire.

Moreover, as pointed out by Martin Gardner in The Annotated Alice (1960), there was a popular saying, current during Carroll’s time – “Grin like a Cheshire cat” – which must also, surely, have influenced his choice of a name for his fictitious feline.

Hardly surprisingly, that phrase has been mooted by several scholars as the origin of the Cheshire Cat’s synonymous smile too – but there are a number of other, equally compelling claimants for that particular honour. For example, it is well known that during the period when Carroll and his family lived in Cheshire, there were several inns whose signboards portrayed broadly-grinning lions; their incongruous visages would undoubtedly have attracted the attention of anyone so captivated by the allure of the ludicrous as Carroll.

Notwithstanding this, he needed to look no further than his home county’s celebrated cheeses for immediate inspiration. In her book Lewis Carroll: A Biography (1979), Anne Clark noted that a renowned medieval inhabitant of Chester, John Catheral, whose coat-of-arms from 1304 included a cat, always bared his teeth in a grin when angry – and died with a smile on his face, quite literally, while defending his beloved town. In honour of his valour, a longstanding tradition arose whereby Cheshire cheese-makers would mould their cheeses into the shape of a cat, and carve a wide grin upon its face. Once again, Carroll would certainly have seen such cheeses, and would have known the origin of their unusual form.

[…]

Blog claims to have Lewis Carroll reading the Jabberwocky

While not impossible (Dodgson didn’t die till after the advent of sound recording), I was skeptical when this blog 22 Words claimed to have a recording of “Lewis Carroll reading ‘Jabberwocky.'” But I see they updated it with the comment “Oops! Sorry…This isn’t Lewis Carroll reading. Not sure how I made that mistake…” I can guess how they made the mistake: they had embedded the sound only from this strange YouTube animation. Its creator, Jim Clark, explains himself thusly: “Here is a virtual movie of Lewis Carroll reading his much loved poem Jabberwocky. The poem is read superbly by Justin Brett.”

There’s no known voice recordings of Carroll are there?

Tingling Singh’s Bell

Mahendra Singh’s beautiful new graphic novel version of Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark got a Christmasy plug in The New Yorker’s blog Book Bench, in a post called “Holiday Gift Guide: For the Precocious Child.” “…Illustrated with delightfully surreal (and somewhat macabre) drawings,” writes Eileen Reynolds. “The language isn’t easy, of course, so save this book for the brightest and most adventurous young word-worms on your holiday shopping list.”

Over at Melville House’s blog MobyLives, Singh wrote a short essay about his creative process when approaching the illustration of the Bellman’s blank map. The original post is here, and I’ll quote in full:

A panel from Singh's adaptation

A panel from Singh’s adaptation

The infamous Blank Map of the Bellman is proof positive that there was no Bellwoman forcing the Bellman to stop and ask for directions. It’s also a classic example of Carroll’s subversive sense of fun in the entire Snark.

The original illustrator of the poem, Henry Holiday, simply drew a blank map for this scene, a zen-like decision which really complicated my life when I set about drawing this panel.

Outsmarting Holiday would not be easy, but I had two advantages working for me in my quest to draw that celebrated blankness. First, this was going to be the world’s first, genuinely full-scale Surrealist Snark. Second, I am a shameless borrower of things which don’t belong to me.

Both the Snark and Surrealism involve a lot horsing around with the exact meanings of words and pictures, with interchanging them, combining them, sometimes even making their entire meaning softly and silently vanish away.

Henry Holiday’s Map of the Bellman

Henry Holiday’s Map of the Bellman

The Belgian Surrealist, Rene Magritte, was obsessed with this sort of game and his painting, “The Lover”, makes a perfect comment upon the Bellman’s Map. So, I just took it. Shameless on my part, yes, but there’s even more of that to come.

The map’s legend, “you are here” is literally true but what’s really shameless is my insistence that French is the language of the lost and confused when everyone knows that it’s really English. This is easily verified. Stand on a street corner in any big francophone city and ask a stranger: where am I? If necessary, pull at shirtsleeves and wave your arms, speak very slowly while carefully pronouncing every word at the utmost decibel level. I think you’ll quickly see what I mean.

Words, words, words! If only they had the decency to cover themselves up, like the Bellman & Company. They have no loyalty, they can’t be bothered to mean anything anymore, they’re shameless!

Rene Magritte’s “The Lovers”

Rene Magritte’s “The Lovers”

Singh’s Snark is for sale on Amazon here, and more on The Hunting of the Snark around our website here.

Handy new website about Lewis Carroll 1st Editions

Geoff Martin from the UK Lewis Carroll Society has a new website called Lewis Carroll 1st Editions. It contains many pictures and expanding encyclopedic information about its titular subject.

‘The Nursery Alice’ was first printed in 1889 but Carroll didn’t like the pictures, ‘too bright and gaugy’, some sheets were sent to America and some were used for the People’s Edition in 1891. The book below is the Second but first published edition dated 1890. 10.000 copie were printed but sales were slow so some became the 2nd people’s edition.

Seek it with thimbles, seek it with care, order it today from Amazon.com!

There is Thingumbob shouting! Mahendra Singh’s beautiful new illustrated version of The Hunting of the Snark is being released tomorrow, Tuesday, November 2nd (and we refuse to make any Election Day analogies) from Melville House Publishing. You can still pre-order it today for $10.08 on Amazon with free shipping (where it’s listed as a “graphic novel,” although where is the line between a graphic novel and a book with many, many pictures and conversations?) Singh, an LCSNA member and an editor of the Knight Letter, has been blogging about the creative process of this book for years with tons of sneak-peaks of the art at justtheplaceforasnark.

From Melville House’s blog MobyLives:

In 1879, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson–a.k.a. Lewis Carroll–published the classic “nonsense” poem, The Hunting of the Snark. Though often outshined by Carroll’s prose works like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Snark is beloved by Carroll fans and has been adapted in numerous iterations since it was originally published.

In November, Melville House is publishing the latest iteration, a lovely new graphic novel edition of The Hunting of the Snark, illustrated by the artist Mahendra Singh. (Singh has been blogging about the process of adapting this famous work over at justtheplaceforasnark–I encourage anyone who considers themselves aficionados of Carroll or graphic novels to check it out. His commentary about the process is incredibly fun and often brilliant.)

When you’re publishing something that’s already so well known, there’s no shortage of adaptations and interpretations out there. Each tends to say something not just about the original work, but about the time and place it was adapted. Yesterday I found this wonderful audio clip of Boris Karloff doing a reading of Snark. It’s lovely to hear Karloff’s eloquent rendering, to let it take you back to his time as he ruminates on Carroll’s playful language, and get wrapped up in all the “nonsense”…

“Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing” (for the E-mail Generation)

Over at the blog Booktryst: A Nest for Book Letters, Stephen J. Gertz has posted most of the text of Carroll’s pamphlet “Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing,” with some commentary about its relevance 120 years later. The original pamphlet “was very popular, going into five editions 1890-1897.” Mr Gertz says:

The Net has been compromised; it’s lights out for email. Time to get out a piece of stationary, a pen, and write an old-fashioned letter. But how? What’s a 21st century citizen to do? Ask Mr. Dodgson!

[…]

Finally, do not, under any circumstances, use emoticons or texting shorthand to express yourself. Mr. Dodgson would disapprove – in around 800 – 900 words, minimun.

A musical puzzle inspired by a broken LP

We are big fans of Alicenations, one of several blogs of the Lewis Carroll Society of Brazil managed by Adriana Peliano. The site regularly features original and experimental music, video, and illustrations created by Adriana, together with her husband Paulo Beto, and inspired by the Alice books.

Here’s a recent creation which began life as a damaged Disney LP:

Many years ago I found a Disney Alice Record completely warped. I suddenly began to play with its stutter sounds, noises, voices and echoes, creating and recording a musical puzzle. The result is a funny game of words, a collage with dislocated meanings. My actual husband, Paulo Beto, boyfriend at that time, who is an amazing electronic music composer, recreated the material, remixing the jumping sounds.

The video below (a work in progress) makes use of some of the resulting music. Visit Alicenations for further description of the project, and the opportunity to download mp3s.

New Alice-Themed Web Comic Namesake Launches

Isabelle Melançon, creator of the new web comic Namesake, which has just launched, promises that Lewis Carroll, Alice, and many familiar fairy tale characters figure prominently in the story.  From the web site:

“Namesake is the story of Emma Crewe, a woman who discovers she can visit other worlds. She finds out that these are places she already knows – fantasy and fairy lands made famous through the spoken word, literature and cinema. Her power as a Namesake forces her to act as a protagonist in these familiar stories as she figures out how to get home.  But as she travels, she discovers that those controlling her story have their own selfish goals in mind – and her fate is the key to everyone’s happy ending.  Join Emma, her sister Elaine and their friends as they tumble down the rabbit hole.  If you like, adventure, humor, stories of friendship, fairy tales and fantasy, this is the webcomic for you.”

Click the image on this post to visit the site.  Since the comic will have new content three times a week, if you like what you see, you might want to subscribe to the site’s RSS feed to make sure you see the prologue and all subsequent pages.

O Absalom, my caterpillar!

A writer named Steve A Wiggins (“part-time Academic” & “failed priest” according to his bio) wonders on his blog Sects & Violence in the Ancient World about screenwriter Linda Woolverton’s choice in naming the caterpillar the biblical name Absalom:

Supposing this to be nothing more than the reassignment of a fated biblical name associated with failed attempts at kingship, I simply let the reference pass. Until the chrysalis scene. There he was, Absalom hanging from a plant, just like David’s son swayed from a tree according to 2 Samuel. This mysterious scene in the battle of Ephraim Forest had captured my attention before when I wrote an article on Absalom, eventually published in the Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages.

Read the whole interesting blog post, Ashtar in Wonderland.