When our cousins the Lewis Carroll Society of Brazil held their first “Alice Day” in May this year, one of the main events was the live performance of a new soundtrack to the silent Alice in Wonderland (1903). The music was composed by Paulo Beto and performed by the band Frame Circus on keyboards, cello, percussion and Theremin.
Thank you to Adriana Peliano for sending us news of the event. Adriana tends Alicenations, the blog of the Lewis Carroll Society of Brazil. The above video featured in her Alice Day blog post, along with another soundtrack by Frame Circus, and a video of Leon Theremin playing his own instrument.
Thanks to Mahendra Singh for reminding us that 136 years ago today Lewis Carroll began his composition of The Hunting of the Snark, “and thus, in a semiotic and hypermetaphysical manner, began decomposing the non-existence of The Hunting of the Snark.” Read more at his excellent blog.
In celebration of Snark Day, here is the full text the first edition, published by Macmillan and Co. in 1876.
In lieu of a rendition of “Happy Birthday To You,” we suggest listening to Billy Connolly as the Bellman in the 1987 April Fool’s Day performance of Mike Batt’s Snark musical. When the musical was originally released as a concept album in 1986, the part of the Bellman was sung by Cliff Richard, possibly the only time Billy Connolly and Cliff Richard have proved substitutable in popular culture.
Finally, Mr. Singh (an LCSNA member and Knight Letter editor) is publishing his own beautiful Snark illustrations, coming out November 2nd, 2010, from Melville House, and it’s already available for pre-order on Amazon.com here. Only $10.08! (Don’t be fooled by Amazon’s “look inside,” it links to another edition.) Previews of many of Singh’s illustrations can be seen on his blog, and I’ve reprinted one below.
From Mahendra Singh's illustrations for Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark
Our post on the controversies and pseudo-controversies surrounding Carroll’s character generated some small discussion (“teach the controversy”, as the Kansas School Board might advocate). The folks at Contrariwise continued with a longer reaction. I quote Ms. Karoline Leachat length:
from Alice in the Shadows by Maria Bodmann
[…] we send our sincere thanks to the LCSNA bloggers for so generously giving us the space. We have also linked to you.
Tangentially though, in conjunction with something a commenter here said the other day, the reference to ‘certain questions’ has got Contrariwise thinking.
Suppose you give a false alibi to a man in order to get him acquitted of a crime you know he probably commited – if it later turns out he didn’t do it after all, does that make what you did right?
I don’t think it does, does it? And that’s the weird problem at the heart of Carrollianism right now, that I think needs to be looked at.
The LCSNA blog that features us is headed “Special Report: Was Lewis Carroll a gay Mormon and were the Alice books written by J.D. Salinger?”, referencing some of the many stupid things that have been said about Carroll over the years. It’s a joke, but in its way it makes exactly the point Contrariwise is trying to make. Because those things aren’t ‘myths’ are they? They’re just loony ideas no one has ever taken seriously. The point about the myths we are concerned with (his child-obsession, his avoidance of adult society, his passion for Alice Liddell), is that they were promulgated by serious Carroll scholars and believed by everyone until very recently. The notion of the man as a pedophile arose out of these myths as an inevitable, and very reasonable conclusion. It couldn’t, and can’t be just laughed off as ridiculous, and taking that line is just Apology again. No one will take you seriously if you sell the image that has been sold for so long and simply ask people to take your word that – honestly – he wasn’t what you are obviously painting him to have been.
There’s some more interesting comments below that post, and feel free to continue the discussion in the comments here. The shadowy illustration above is from Alice in the Shadows, Maria Bodmann’s Balinese-inspired shadow puppet play.
"Through the Looking-Glass #2" by Susan Stanford, from Dreaming Alice
Susan Sanford, an artist from Oakland, California, has a lovely book out called Dreaming Alice. Her humble biography: “The author has read many books and looked at many pictures, and now she has made her own little book of pictures.” To celebrate, Ms. Sanford has been putting up Alice images on her blog, artsparktheatre.blogspot.com, throughout March. (She’s made it through AAiW and is now starting TTLG.)
There is a fancy preview of Dreaming Alice up here at Blurb.com.
When Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland opens on Friday, March 5, the film will join many others that have sought to bring Lewis Carroll’s tales to the screen. “In terms of adapting [these books], it’s tricky,” says Andrew Sellon, President, Lewis Carroll Society of North America. “As written, they are not right for the medium.” Sellon explains that Carroll’s characters don’t encounter enough conflict to create the action necessary for a production on stage or in a film.
The visual imagery as well as a cast of quirky, colorful characters, makes Alice’s story an attractive takeoff point for artists. The basic story is a familiar one: a young girl is lost far away from home and must find her way back. Along the way, Alice, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, meets some interesting personalities, uses her wits to survive, and, in the process, learns a lot about herself and what she holds dear. There’s a timelessness to that story that continues to draw people in, generation after generation.”This child enters these adult realms and sees adults behaving badly, handles herself quite well, and gains some measure of control over her life,” says Andrew Sellon, President, the Lewis Carroll Society of North America. “At some time we’ve all felt like Alice. What is this place we’re in and why are people doing this and who is making the rules? You can apply that almost anywhere.”
Mark Richards, Chairman of the Lewis Carroll Society, agrees. “Although it is easy to see [Alice in Wonderland] as a Victorian story, the conversations and characters are timeless and we can easily see them as being of our own time.” Richards adds that people are captivated by “the way in which Alice observes her surroundings and feels emotions throughout the book. The sense of wonder is very strong in the books and is felt by the reader.”
It continues with Sellon’s observations about reading the book to children and the perennial drug question. (Continue Reading…)
The LCSNA’s very own Mark Burstein has written a concise list of “all those awful Alice movies” (a theme that many in the media have been attempting, as reported here) for Lucas Films’ Blockbusting blog. An excerpt:
The groovy Sixties found a resurgence of interest in Carroll’s otherworld of mushrooms and hookah-smoking caterpillars. Hanna-Barbera’s Alice in Wonderland or What’s a Nice Kid Like You Doing in a Place Like This, voiced by Sammy Davis, Jr., Zsa Zsa Gabor, etc. was shown on television in 1966. Later that year, Alice Through the Looking Glass, a musical version with Jimmy Durante, The Smothers Brothers, etc., ran on television as well. Meanwhile, in Britain, the BBC produced a low-key, black-and-white Alice in Wonderland that is arguably the best, certainly the most faithful to the spirit, of all cinematic or televisual adaptations. It was directed by Jonathan Miller, and starred Sir John Gielgud, Peter Sellers, etc.
The spirit of the Sixties lasted at least until 1972, when a lavish British musical version ofWonderland starring Fiona Fullerton (later a Bond girl) as Alice, and with Spike Milligan, Peter Sellers, Dudley Moore, and so on came to the big screen.
A soft-core porno-slash-musical comedy Alice in Wonderland spewed forth in 1976, produced by Bill Osco, directed by Bud Townsend, and distributed by General National Enterprises. Ah, me. It’s very nearly watchable, but was the first of many subsequent erotic films “based” on the books, all of which lack even the marginal charm of this original one, and are not subject matter for this brief overview.
The whole round-up, once again, is here. Elsewhere on the blogosphere, we’ve been following the LA Times‘ Hero Complex (which still hasn’t corrected their mistake, in their list of awful Alice movies, that the 1903 silent version was “just 68 years after Lewis Carroll first published his fantasy Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Mr. Burstein prefers to note that 1903 is “just five years after Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson)’s death in 1898.”) Anyway, they are doing a daily countdown to the movie premiere, and today’s entrée is about John Tenniel:
“If you go back to Tenniel, so much of his work is what stays in your mind about Alice and about Wonderland,” Burton said. “Alice and the characters have been done so many times and in so many ways. but Tenniel’s art really lasts there in your memory.”
Tenniel was already a major name in political cartooning (and, unfortunately, blinded in one eye from a fencing wound) when he took on the illustrations for Carroll’s strange fantasy. The job was a frustrating one due to the intense detail work and specifications that came from Carroll (whose real name, by the way, was Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), but Tenniel had a passion for drawing animals, and Wonderland gave him a singular opportunity for creatures of the fantastic. Tenniel was also a meticulous soul and a demanding artist — the first run of 2,000 copies of “Alice” in 1865, for instance, did not meet his standards and were pulled back. The project was well worth the trouble, however, when the book became an instant literary sensation.
It’s nice of them to quote Burton discussing Tenniel, because, earlier when they had quoted him discussing his Red Queen’s huge head, it struck me as odd that he didn’t acknowledge Tenniel as the origin of that phenomenon. (“In lots of illustrations and incarnations of Carroll’s work through the years, it always seems like she had a big head,” he noted vaguely.)
It’s now only two weeks from opening night of the Tim Burton Disney 3D Spectacular. There’s posters all over bus stops in the East Bay Area, California. The LCSNA is preparing for the plunge (in lieu of the macropsiacal interest in Carroll) by revamping its website, which will integrate this blog (that’s right, we’re moving! so watch for a White Rabbit), all of this pretty soon.
The Winter 2009 edition of the Knight Letter (no. 83) featured an article by Daniel Singer called “Off With Their Heads! Those Awful Alice Movies.” (The Knight Letter is the LCSNA‘s magazine, sent to subscribers for the membership fee of $35.) Of course, this theme is being taken up now all over, retrospectives of the century-plus of mediocre Alice in Wonderland movies. Susan King at the Los Angeles Times blog Hero Complex took a stab at the topic, beginning her article: “The first known ‘Alice in Wonderland’ film … was made in 1903, just 68 years after Lewis Carroll first published his fantasy ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.'” Perhaps she’s onto advanced rabbithole mathematics, and that works in base 17 or something. We recommend the Daniel Singer article if you can dig up a Knight Letter.
Elsewhere at Hero Complex, they quote Tim Burton discussing his Red Queen (played by his partner Helena Bonham Carter):
“In lots of illustrations and incarnations of Carroll’s work through the years, it always seems like she had a big head. It was an interesting challenge for us to find the right size and weight and proportions. One of the things we wanted to do was to use the actors and their performances — to use the real them — and then make them different. It’s still their performance but it’s just made weird. We wanted to achieve this blend. That was an important dynamic.”
“In a lot of children’s literature and other literature it’s kind of the same thing over and over — there’s good queens and bad queens, and here you have that but the elements are a bit blurred,” Burton said. “Everybody’s weird and has weird qualities to them. She’s kind of a mixture. When I look at her now, she reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of Leona Helmsley. There’s a tiny bit of elements of my mother in there too, for some strange reason. And Helena brings her own things to it too.”
You could win a free copy of Jenny Woolf’s excellent new biography, The Mystery of Lewis Carroll, by leaving a comment on this post at alice2010.blogspot.com. This Alice “fan club” blog centers around the Tim Burton movie but also chronicles many other Carroll-related products and things-of-interest.
Attention Portuguese-speaking Lewis Carroll readers! The Lewis Carroll Society of Brazil has several colorful blogs and websites with a bottomless rabbithole of books, links, art, tudo Alice. Look at all of these edições Brasileiras deAlice no país das Maravilhalisted on the dizzying alicenations.blogspot.com. (The groovy cover to the left is from a 1974 edition with ilustrações by Brazilian artist Oswaldo Storni.)
Their second blog, for “deeper research with more articles and images”, is at brasillewiscarroll.blogspot.com. This one is also expansive, and both sites have some English (always demarcated by stylish italic pink text). I’ve long been a fan of reading websites in translation using the various cyborg cyberspace interpreters at our disposal, and the Sociedade has provided an occasional easy link to do so. For instance, if you desired to read Myriam Ávila’s Alice e Macunaíma, you could feed it thru Google Translate like so. This occasionally creates interesting sentences like: “Such people, the girl significantly calls ‘obnoxious’ (meaning ‘antipodal’), are Anglophones, even though they walk ‘upside down’.” (Both websites, unfortunately, include all or most of their posts on their homepage, so they can take a long time to load on slower computers.) There is also an impressive cache of art and illustrations on these two blogs, like the large one that I’m putting at the foot of this post, which comes with the following pink italicized explanation:
Marina Peliano once was my little sister. But she ate any strange cookie and so suddenly she grew turning trapeze artist, sweet maker and art student, artist growing too. I asked her to do some drawings inspired on Alice and she followed the adventure. I found really beautiful her Alices who look like her. I remember now the letter of the writer Paulo Mendes Campos to his daughter when she was fifteen: “This book is crazy. The meaning is in you.”
Mark Godburn’s website about early dust jackets has been reinvented in blog format, at earlydustjackets.blogspot.com. He will chronicle about all manner of early dust jacket topics, “including precursors to publishers’ jackets and early 20th century jackets; also publishers’ boxes, slipcases and sheaths.” Godburn’s upcoming book is called Nineteenth Century Dust Jackets: An Illustrated History.
In his blog’s sprawling inaugural post, he prints Dodgson’s letter to his publisher Macmillan in re the “paper wrapper” for The Hunting of the Snark. Mr. Godburn says this is the earliest written reference he knows to 19th century dust jackets. “I should like the same thing done for Alice and the Looking-Glass for the future,” writes the Reverend, “–and even those on hand, which are already wrapped in plain paper, might be transferred into printed covers.” And speaking of peculiar creatures that won’t be caught in a commonplace way, here’s the skinny from Godburn on the state of Carroll dust jackets:
At least eight or ten copies of the 1876 Snark are known to survive in jacket, but no copies of Alice or Looking-Glass from the 1860s or ’70s are known to survive in either plain or printed jackets. (If a first English edition of Alice in Wonderland ever does turn up in an original publisher’s jacket, it will certainly be a $100,000 book, perhaps half a million.)