Outland in Scotland with Sylvie and Bruno

Belt Up Theatre's Outland

How often do you hear the phrase “inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie and Bruno“? If your answer is “not enough,” check out the reviews for Outland, a new play currently being performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

UK national newspaper the Guardian described it as “a flight of fancy into parallel universes exploring the nature of creativity… spurred by the suggestion that the creator of Alice in Wonderland suffered from a form of epilepsy that made him see the world differently from the rest of us.”

Written by 24-year-old British playwright Dominic Allen and performed by Belt Up Theatre, the play has been receiving pretty positive reviews, citing both beauty and confusion and episodes of pure panto-style audience participation.

Here’s how Allen described the play on Belt Up Theatre’s blog:

What can audiences expect from Outland?
They can expect a lot of typical Carroll nonsense and characters; there’s a fair bit of Wonderland and his obsession with puzzling logic. However, you’ll also meet some new characters, if you’re not familiar with his more obscure work, and perhaps another much more profound, sentimental, philosophical side to him. The play has its surreal, absurd moments that you’d inevitably expect but it’s also touching, sweet and introvert.

Outland is running from August 3-29 at the C Soco venue in Edinburgh.


Carroll’s Illustration for The Mad Gardener’s Song posted on The Huffington Post

Carolyn Vega, manuscripts cataloger for the Morgan Library & Museum, posted a nice picture included in a letter from Lewis Carroll to illustrator Harry Furniss, on The Huffington Post last week, Lewis Carroll Turns an Albatross Into a Postage Stamp.

“The Mad Gardener’s Song”

He thought he saw an Albatross
That fluttered round the lamp:
He looked again, and found it was
A Penny-Postage-Stamp.
“You’d best be getting home,” he said:
“The nights are very damp!”

–from Sylvie and Bruno

Writes Vega:

A couple of years after the first publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the recently established Aunt Judy’s Magazine printed two new stories by Lewis Carroll: “Fairy Sylvie” and “Bruno’s Revenge.” Several years later, Carroll decided to use these as the basis for a novel, and in 1889 he was hard at work finalizing the first volume, Sylvie and Bruno, for publication.

Carroll enjoyed drawing throughout his life and he has been lauded as “the most outstanding photographer of children in the nineteenth century,” but he always turned to professional artists when it came to illustrating his children’s books.

The caricaturist Harry Furniss, who also illustrated the works of Dickens and Thackeray, worked for several years with Carroll on Sylvie and Bruno, and their collaboration is richly documented in a series of letters from Carroll to Furniss. Their correspondence discusses in detail the composition and illustration of the story, and Carroll has filled his letters with sketches to guide the artist.

Carroll hoped to see the first volume published by Christmas 1889, and in a letter (shown above) from September of that year, Carroll notes that “the case looks almost hopeless” because seven chapters still need to be illustrated. He then goes on to describe in detail a number of illustrations that he wants Furniss to try. To depict The Mad Gardener’s Song in chapter 12, Carroll asks him to show an Albatross turning into a postage stamp. He then acknowledges, “I’m aware it’s an almost impossible subject! But don’t you think there is a certain zest in trying impossibilities?”


Movie Anti-Hype: The Onion's A.V. dreading another Alice movie

In regards to what we wrote below, that many writers have taken on the theme of “all those awful Alice movies” in anticipation of the imminent Tim Burton 3D one (in seven days!), The Onion‘s A.V. Club lists Lewis Carroll’s Alice books in a series on movies that have been adapted to death. Allow me to quote liberally from “Put the book back on the shelf: Literary works that should never be adapted to film or TV again” (February 17th, 2010):

[…] The world doesn’t need a fifth Indiana Jones movie, or any more big-screen retreads of ’80s cartoons that weren’t that great to begin with. And it especially doesn’t need yet another weak reconceptualization of Romeo And Juliet, or yet another stuffy screen version of Pride And Prejudice to join the wave of them that started back in 1938. In fact, here’s a list of just a few of the literary works that have officially been done to death—and some recommendations for where to find newer, fresher stories just waiting on the page.

Book: Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through The Looking-Glass

Adaptations to date: More than three dozen, notably including the 1951 animated Disney musical version and big-event 1985 and 1999 TV miniseries. Other countries have released their own versions as well; there’s a 24-episode Japanese animated adaptation, an Argentinean mime version, and nationalist versions like 1966’s Alice Of Wonderland In Paris and 1979’sAlice In Spanish Wonderland. Plus, of course, the upcoming Tim Burton sequel to Carroll’s original stories.

Definitive version: The Disney version is probably best known. While it has its own charms, though, it liberally diverges from Carroll’s text, like most Disney adaptations.

Why steer clear? The Alice books are simultaneously two of the most-adapted novels in history, and among the most habitually worst-adapted. Film and TV versions necessarily tend to elide over the original books’ densely packed puns and references, and instead concentrate on spectacle or on drearily plodding through a series of events that should be sprightly and disorienting, yet somehow not manic. It’s a difficult balance, and one that directors rarely seem to get right. What’s left behind is a bunch of creative, fun ideas that have had the creativity and fun leached out through repetition. How many times can we watch Alice grow, shrink, and boggle at it all?

What to adapt instead? Other Carroll works, including his novel Sylvie And Bruno and his poem “The Hunting Of The Snark,” bring in as much clever nonsense, wordplay, and episodic adventure, but are less line-by-line familiar.

Sylvie & Bruno!! How about that? The list continues with A Christmas Carol, The Bible, and other books that will by no means stop inspiring filmmakers in our lifetimes.


Силви и Бруно: Sylvie & Bruno now in Bulgarian!

I believe this is the first time Lewis Carroll’s Sylvie & Bruno has appeared in Bulgarian, in a new translation by Rosa Grigorova. Here’s the blurb from knigagb.com:

Очарователната приказка – последното голямо произведение на Луис Карол, е триумф на човешкото въображение, каквото само човек с неговата рядка чувствителност може да създаде.
За „Силви и Бруно” литературните критици казват, че това е трудът на живота му, а книгите за Алиса са само генералната му репетиция.
Разказ за странните приключения на малки сестричка и братче в три различни места: Англия, Фейландия и Вънландия – прелестна пародия на реалния свят на Карол в Оксфорд с веселата си йерархия от ректори, заместник-ректори и ерудирани, макар и много разсеяни професори, и още десетки други, всички изобилно поръсени с типичната за Карол игра на думи, до един въвлечени в заплетени и изпълнени с напрежение приключения, пътуване във времето, несподелена любов… и гения на един от най-очарователните и изобретателни виртуози на английския език.

Or, according to Google Translate: “For Sylvie and Bruno literary critics say it is difficult of his life, and Alice books are just his general rehearsal.” This goes for €10 where all fine Bulgarian books are sold.