New Neil Gaiman Book Includes Alice References

Attention book lovers!  Fantasy writer Neil Gaiman has a new book out, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and according to the NY Times, it includes a few Carrollian references along the way.  You can read the Times article here.

Why Children’s Books Matter at NY Public Library

The New York Public Library has a new exhibit entitled The ABC of it: Why Children’s Books Matter that explores both the importance and potency of children’s literature.  The exhibit draws from books over time and around the world, combining both well-known classics with lesser-known gems.  Lewis Carroll’s famous “Beggar Girl” photograph of Alice Liddell is one of the items on display, and is also part of the slideshow for this NY Times article about the exhibit.

If you attend the exhibit, add a Comment to this post and tell us what you thought!

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.'”

Atomic Antelope’s Alice iPad e-book not boring according to the NY Times

There’s an article by Alice Rawsthorn in the Nov. 28th New York Times to complain about how “boring” the design for most of the new apps for the iPad have been: “On an Innovative Device, Apps Lacking Imagination.”

However! Atomic Antelope’s beautiful and creative Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland popup e-book is singled out as one of her “honorable exceptions,” along with a few magazine apps like The New Yorker and Wired.

As for books, children’s titles are leading the way with apps that include animated illustrations, often activated by the reader. My favorites are the fabulously surreal ones in “Alice for the iPad,” Atomic Antelope’s interactive version of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” and Oceanhouse Media’s “Dr. Seuss” apps. Kids can “play” the Dr. Seuss stories like movies — saving you from reading the same one again and again. Each word is highlighted when it is spoken on the soundtrack.

There has been less experimentation for grown-ups. Though the British publishing house Fourth Estate has produced an intriguing app based on the mathematician Marcus du Sautoy’s book “The Num8er My5teries.” Rather than replicate the book, it complements it by enabling the reader to participate in animated mathematical puzzles featuring a cartoon version of Mr. Sautoy.

New York Times obituary for Hypothesizer of Red Queen Theory

The New York Times today is running an obituary under the sing-songy heading “Leigh Van Valen, Evolution Revolutionary, Dies at 76.”

The evolutionary biologist Leigh Van Valen’s eccentricities were legend far beyond the University of Chicago, where brilliant and idiosyncratic professors rule. He named 20 fossil mammals he had discovered after characters in J. R. R. Tolkien’s fiction, and his most famous hypothesis — among the most cited in the literature of evolution — was named for the Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass.”

[...]

Dr. Van Valen’s metaphor to describe this idea came from the Red Queen in Carroll’s “Looking Glass.” In the book, Alice complains that she is exhausted from running, only to find she is still under the tree where she started.

The Red Queen answers: “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”

Read the article (including the explanation of the theory, which I ellipsed out of the excerpt) here.

Dalí's Alice in Wonderland featured on Pawn Stars

There’s an interesting anecdote in a June 4th 2010 New York Times article about Pawn Stars, a History Channel television show about Las Vegas’s Gold and Silver Pawn Shop.

Shelby Tashlin of Las Vegas walked to the counter clutching a boxed edition of “Alice in Wonderland” containing an etching and 12 lithographs by Salvador Dalí. Ms. Tashlin’s opening thrust: the Dali prints were limited in number. Mr. Harrison’s parry: “He’s pretty well known for fudging numbers.” Mr. Harrison spoke about etching versus lithography and allowed that Dalí and Lewis Carroll were a “wonderful combination.” Then it was time for business. Ms. Tashlin wanted $10,000. Mr. Harrison asked if she had taken a little blue pill, and offered $5,000.

She politely declined and walked away still clutching “Alice in Wonderland.” “I was hoping it would go the other way, but I’m not surprised,” she would tell a reporter later.

Alice in Slasherland

Alice in Slasherland, photograph by Jim Baldassare in the New York Times

The Vampire Cowboys Theater Company out of Brooklyn is just finishing up a run of a play called Alice in Slasherland by Qui Nguyen at the Here Arts Center (145 Avenue of the Americas, NYC). The main characters journeying thru Horror movie parodies are named Lewis and Alice, but it’s not clear how much deeper than that the Carroll framework goes. The director Robert Ross Parker summed it up best in the New York Times review: “‘It’s like the story Alice in Wonderland,’ he says, before backtracking absurdly. ‘Which this situation actually doesn’t resemble at all. Like in any way. Not even in theme. Huh. Well, I guess that was a pretty useless observation.’”

“Algebra in Wonderland” in Sunday’s New York Times

Illustration by Sophia Martineck on the New York Times Opinion Page, Sunday March 7th, 2010

I’m curious what members of the LCSNA think of this article on the Sunday New York Times Opinion Page, “Algebra in Wonderland” by Melanie Bayley. The author is a “doctoral candidate in English literature at Oxford University.” The article goes thru the various vignettes of AAiW explaining declaratively how each scene stands as a parody of the new mathematics emerging in the 19th century. After a scene-by-scene breakdown of the book (the pig baby is a comment on topology, naturally), she wraps up:

Alice will go on to meet the Queen of Hearts, a “blind and aimless Fury,” who probably represents an irrational number. (Her keenness to execute everyone comes from a ghastly pun on axes — the plural of axis on a graph.)

How do we know for sure that “Alice” was making fun of the new math? The author never explained the symbolism in his story. But Dodgson rarely wrote amusing nonsense for children: his best humor was directed at adults. In addition to the “Alice” stories, he produced two hilarious pamphlets for colleagues, both in the style of mathematical papers, ridiculing life at Oxford.

It’s a good article to alert the newspaper reading public that Carroll was also a mathematician, but I’m nervous about all of this “probably represents” business, as if she finally figured out the true meanings in Carroll’s book. And what’s with statements like “Dodgson rarely wrote amusing nonsense for children”?

Criticizing the Critics, & futterwacking around the Alice Movie Paradox

[Warning! Spoiler alert! It was all a dream!]

When Lewis Carroll published a few thousand copies of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, with no hype or buzz, it received some mixed reviews. That’s one of the few things Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland has in common with Carroll’s original stories. The critics were out this week, and occasionally perceptive. As of this morning, the “top critics” that Rotten Tomatoes tracks average at about 59% (between rotten tomato and ripe tomato), with the general masses giving it about 53%. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, one of my favorite critics to disagree with, had some interesting insight into the Alice Paradox in movies:

Dark and sometimes grim, this isn’t your great-grandmother’s Alice or that of Uncle Walt, who was disappointed with the 1951 Disney version of “Alice in Wonderland.” “Alice has no character,” said a writer who worked on that project. “She merely plays straight man to a cast of screwball comics.” Of course the character of Carroll’s original Alice is evident in each outrageous creation she dreams up in “Wonderland” and in the sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass,” which means that she’s a straight man to her own imagination. (She is Wonderland.) Here she mostly serves as a foil for the top biller Johnny Depp, who (yes, yes) plays the Mad Hatter, and Mr. Burton’s bright and leaden whimsies.

Her conclusion, however, is vague and baffling:

This isn’t an impossible story to translate to the screen, as the Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer showed with “Alice” (1988), where the divide between reality and fantasy blurs as it does in dreams. It’s just hard to know why Mr. Burton, who doesn’t seem much interested in Alice, bothered.

The great Roger Ebert, at the Chicago Sun-Times, admits he didn’t care for the books growing up, which possibly explains some of his strange tangents:

This has never been a children’s story. There’s even a little sadism embedded in Carroll’s fantasy. It reminds me of uncles who tickle their nieces until they scream. “Alice” plays better as an adult hallucination, which is how Burton rather brilliantly interprets it until a pointless third act flies off the rails. It was a wise idea by Burton and his screenwriter, Linda Woolverton, to devise a reason that Alice (Mia Wasikowska) is now a grown girl in her late teens, revisiting a Wonderland that remains much the same, as fantasy worlds must always do.

[...]
Burton shows us Wonderland as a perturbing place where the inhabitants exist for little apparent reason other than to be peculiar and obnoxious. Do they reproduce? Most species seem to have only one member, as if nature quit while she was ahead.
How could he not develop that shocking exposée? Who was the Duchess’s baby daddy? Is there a Mrs. Mock Turtle!? I wish Carroll was around to explain the laws of dream procreation.
One more quote, I’ll give Elizabeth Weizman of New York Daily News my highly coveted Saying Nothing Award:

“Frabjous” may be a word Carroll invented, but Burton knows just what it means, at least in his own mind. He’s clearly excited to invite us inside, and as long as you’re open to so much muchness, you’ll be very glad he did.

This parsing of critics possibly to be continued… In the meantime, I have several questions:

-How come no one has discussed the influence of Miranda Richardson’s Queen Elizabeth I from BBC’s “Blackadder II” (1986) on Helena Bonham Carter’s Red Queen?

-Why was the Dodgson-esque figure named Charles at the beginning Alice’s dead father? What?
-Did the bizarre Chinese trade-route plot-line at the finale, which was guided on by the blue butterfly (née Caterpillar), have anything to do with opium (i.e., the possible contents of the Caterpillar’s pipe)? I know it was 2am and I had a headache from two hours of drinking wine in an IMAX with 3D glasses, but I think I may be onto a possible explanation for the otherwise unexplainable China thing.

Alice's Kitchen Sink Released on March 2nd, 2010


Paramount’s Alice in Wonderland (1933), directed by Norman Z. McLeod, has been mentioned a lot in the past few weeks, as the first big Hollywood all-star blow-out adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s books (with such stars as Cary Grant, Gary Cooper and W.C. Fields.) Slightly lost amongst the thousands of other Alices being released this month was the fact that this film, which was never released on VHS or DVD, is finally available (list price $19.99). Why is it being released as Universal Homes Entertainment? Our source from inside Paramount answers that question:

Back in 1957, Paramount sold most (but not all) of its pre-1948 film library to Universal for some quick cash (at the time, Paramount was ailing, financially). Thus, a number of Paramount films are now distributed by Universal, under their corporate and home video label [...] Paramount no longer owns the rights to these films.

There’s a review from the New York Times here.
Also released on DVD on March 2nd is the SyFy miniseries Alice (list price $19.99), which originally aired last December. Jonathan Miller’s 1966 adaptation was issued on DVD (featuring John Gielgud, Peter Cook, Peter Sellers; list price $14.98). I noticed that Amazon has a deal selling all three for $38.97, the price of which won’t even get a family of three into the IMAX to see Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 3D.

There’s more: Hallmark’s “overblown” 1999 television special of Alice in Wonderland (with Whoopi Goldberg, Martin Short and Christopher Lloyd) is being reissued on DVD (list price, $19.99) along with its companion Through the Looking Glass (with Geoffrey Palmer and Ian Holm; list price only $9.98!)

Now, several tie-ins to the Disney movie were also released March 2nd: several hot new video games for Nintendo Wii (list price $39.99), Nintendo DS (list price $29.99), and a Disney Interactive computer game for PC ($19.99). The movie soundtrack by Danny Elfman was released on March 2nd (list price $18.98). And merchandise, merchandise, merchandise, too much to mention here.
Did you know Alice stories can also be purchased in a book form? Many editions of this “book” were released in conjunction with the big movie premiere, but the only book rolled out on March 2nd (to keep true to the theme of this post), was one called “The Real Alice in Wonderland: A Role Model for the Ages” by C.M. Rubin and Gabriela Rubin (list price, $29.95), from AuthorHouse. A day after it was released, it appears to already be out of stock. From the product description:

In 2006, award-winning author C.M. Rubin and her daughter, Gabriella Rubin (who are related to the Liddell family), began an incredible journey to create the ultimate book about the original Alice in Wonderland’s life. Their grand pictorial, biographic vision for the book involved collecting photographs spanning two centuries, reaching out to many celebrated Alice in Wonderland artists (including Vik Muniz, Annie Liebovitz, Mark Steele, Lizzy Rockwell, Helen Oxenbury, Frances Broomfield, Jeanne Argent, David Cooper, Bruce Fuller, Tatiana Ianovskaia, Jewel, and Tom Otterness), and connecting with museums, libraries and schools around the world. The Real Alice in Wonderland book is told using never before seen pictures along with prominent voices from Alice’s lifetime and from the present day. C.M. Rubin and her daughter Gabriella explore the theme of inspiration. Behind every great person there is the person who inspires and believes in him or her. The person who motivates them to realize their dreams. This magnificent cross-atlantic epic will fascinate you — it will make you think again: what does it mean to inspire?
The Real Alice In Wonderland book is dedicated to all those who inspire the minds and souls of human beings.

However, don’t miss Simply Read Books edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, no longer out of print, with Iassen Ghiuselev’s unique and beautiful illustrations, reissued in hardcover on March 1st (list price, $24.95).