Draw Me a Story at the San Francisco Public Library
The San Francisco Public Library has teamed up with the nearby Cartoon Art Museum for Draw Me a Story: A Century of Children’s Book Illustration, an exhibition of children’s book illustration featuring 12 books and 41 original works of art by artists from Ralph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway to twentieth century innovators of illustration including W.W. Denslow, William Steig and Chris Van Allsburg.
The exhibition opened in September and will run until December 2, but the best day to go will be Thursday, October 25, when LCSNA President Mark Burstein will be delivering the talk “Picturing Alice,” in which he will explore art inspired by Alice from the 1860s to the present. The talk will be at 6:30 p.m. in the main library and will be followed by a book sale.
Mr. Burstein points out that today is 10/10/10 – and 101010 in binary is 42!
(42, besides being the ultimate answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything, is also a number that Lewis Carroll hid throughout his books. Most famously, the King of Hearts’ Rule Forty-two is All persons more than a mile high to leave the court.)
Michael Everson released six Carroll books in 2009 from his publishing company Evertype, starting with the Irish AAIW, Eachtraí Eilíse, and continues now with more new unique oddities. All this exciting activity is causing Mark Burstein to wax Borgesian about La biblioteca de Babel:
Borges and others have spoken of a universal library; for our purposes, let us imagine an enormous set of the two canonical Alice books, all with matching covers and identically formatted with the Tenniel illustrations, each being in one the ninety or more languages into which they have been translated. Michael Everson is moving in that direction with matching editions of the books in, thus far, English, Irish, Cornish, German, and Esperanto, and soon he promises French, Italian, and Swedish, as well as the constructed language Lojban. Aside from the new translations (Irish, Cornish), the European languages (Michael is fluent in six) are taken from the first editions, but romanized (in the case of the German Fraktur) and modernized in terms of spelling and, occasionally, vocabulary, the goal of which is to have thoroughly readable texts for modern readers.
(That continuing-to-evolve ‘Burstein on Everson’ essay will appear in a futureKnight Letter.)
Mrs. J. C. Gorham (who will be known to history only by her husband’s name!) created a series of books using only one syllable words, including Gulliver’s Travels (1896) and Black Beauty (1905). “Having read the Gulliver’s Travels retelling,” writes Mr. Everson, “I can say that it is a fine example of monosyllabic writing [...]. Although Mrs Gorham ‘cheats’ rather a bit more than this in her 1905 retelling of Alice—her style is still both vigorous and enjoyable. It is for this reason that Mrs Gorham’s ‘Alice imitation’ (to use Carolyn Sigler’s term) deserves to be put back into print.” You can see what he means by ‘cheats’ (as I did in my attempt at a monosyllabic title to this blog post) in this excerpt:
“Do you like your size now?” asked the Cat-er-pil-lar.
“It is a good height, in-deed!” said the Cat-er-pil-lar, and reared it-self up straight as it spoke (it was just three inch-es high).
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Retold in words of one syllable (Evertype, $11.95, available on Amazon.com).
The other new offerings are two fresh reprints of the Boer War-era political parodies, Caroline Lewis’s Clara in Blunderland and its sequel Lost in Blunderland, originally published in 1902 and each being sold for $12.95. Why is this dated comedy being dragged from the vaults? “I should make it clear that I am not a student of early twentieth-century British politics—but I’m not publishing this book because of its value to the study of that time and place,” writes Everson. “I’m publishing it because it’s a splendid parody, amusing both for what it parodies as for its reflection of Carroll’s original.”
The Pacific Sun is the alternative paper in Marin County, California. Their Best of Marin 2010 awards and their March 26th issue are fully Alice themed this year. Mark Burstein (who can see Marin County from his house) adds this endorsement: “The background articles are actually well-researched, unusual in this day and age.” The entire issue is viewable as a virtual edition or as pdf here. Here’s a video from their Best of Marin party, unusual among 2010 tea parties for its lack of fire arms or calls to revolution:
From a 1952 edition of AAIW (Juvenile Productions) with watercolors by Willy Schermele
This blog doesn’t regularly deal with certain questions (italics mine, as was the rest of that sentence.) And the new LewisCarroll.org’s FAQs don’t go there. Contrariwise, Mark Burstein usually starts his question-and-answer sessions with: “The answers to the first two questions are ‘No, he wasn’t’ and ‘No, he didn’t.’”
The LCSNA doesn’t shy away from these bothersome issues even if they’re occasionally bothered by them. However, there are reputable places on the internet specializing in debunking Carroll myths. For instance CarrollMyth.com, which offers various levels of depth depending on how long your myths want to spend being debunked. That user-friendly and aesthetically-pleasing website is run by Karoline Leach, author of In the Shadow of the Dreamchild: The Myth and Reality of Lewis Carroll (Peter Owen Ltd., 1999, $29.95). There’s also a new blog: carrollmyth.wordpress.com. Here she is at work:
The respected journo Robert McCrum reviews Jenny Woolf’s book The Mystery of Lewis Carroll in the Guardian, and concludes…what exactly? That Carroll has been misunderstood and somewhat abused, as Ms Woolf suggests? That a re-assessment is overdue, as Ms Woolf suggests? That, at last, we’re getting a clearer picture of a complex man?
Nope. He concludes Dodgson was either (sigh, not again) in love with little Alice Liddell , or – this is the best bit – with her ‘ten-year old brother’!?
Here it is in his own words:
More than either of these, it is a poignant love story: the repressed yearning of a solitary man for a resolution to his inner frustrations. Was he in love with Alice’s 10-year-old brother or, with Alice Liddell herself? No one will ever know the truth of that mystery .
Well, ’solitary man’, ‘repressed yearnings’, this is all the standard vocab of anyone writing about Carroll for the past sixty years, but not even the most myth-bound commentator has ever suggested Carroll was gay (well, apart from Richard Wallace, but he also thought Carroll was Jack the Ripper, so, you know, enough said), and Jenny Woolf’s book does not (I know for a fact), contain any insane riffs about possible pederasty involving young male Liddells.
So, the truth of that particular ‘mystery’, Mr McC, is that you just made it up.
And as for the Far-Flung blog, we will devote more time to the farthest flung among us (there are books proving that Mark Twain and Queen Victoria wrote Alice, exegeses outlining his Orthodox Judaism, and we weren’t kidding about his being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints: Carroll has been posthumously baptized by the Mormons at least eight times.)
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.)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass - 1900 - Carroll, Lewis (author); McManus, Blanche (illus.) - New York - The Burstein Collection
Twenty-seven beautifully rendered hi-resolution facsimiles of old Lewis Carroll books (and hundreds from other authors) can be read online at rarebookroom.org. From Mark Burstein’s collection, there are translations “in Dutch, Esperanto (ill: LeFanu), Farsi, French (Rackham, Tenniel), German (Birnbaum, Tenniel), Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Polish, Romanian, Russian, Spanish, Swahili,” and English editions with illustrations by Maybank, McManus (pictured above), Pease, Pogany, Rackham, Charles Robinson, Rountree, and Winter.