150 years of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

John Tenniel's picture of Alice with flamingo
John Tenniel’s picture of Alice with an annoyed flamingo.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland  is 150 years old this year. Published in 1865 by Macmillan, the author was Charles L. Dodgson (1832-1898).

Charles L. Dodgson, 1857
Charles L. Dodgson, 1857

Dodgson was allowed to use his pen name of Lewis Carroll and alternative names for the book like ‘Alice Among the Fairies, and ‘Alice’s Golden Hour’ were binned. In its 150 years Alice has been reimagined many times in plays, musicals, films and simplified picture books. Part of the story’s appeal must be down to not just the wonderful writing by Carroll, but the glorious pictures.

John Tenniel, Self-portrait
John Tenniel, Self-portrait

The artist was John Tenniel (1820-1914). He was already well known in his time for his illustrations for Punch, a political magazine. Carroll had admired his pictures of animals in a version of Aesop’s fables and with the high animal count in Alice Tenniel was an obvious choice of artist.

For Alice all Tenniel’s paper drawings had to be carved into woodblocks by engravers, which were then used as masters to create electrotype copies in metal. This was a new process, but it transformed how things could were printed. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrotyping Electrotype ensured printing of the books was quicker and more precise and this was a good thing as the book was very popular right from the start and the entire first print run sold out.

The White Rabbit
The White Rabbit

The book was and still is popular with both children and adults (Oscar Wilde and Queen Victoria were fans) because of its humour, fantasy and clever wordplay. It marked a change in children’s books by allowing fun and silliness rather than just teaching reading or moral instruction.

A new stage adaption this year is the musical wonder.land where the story is based in the internet, the ultimate rabbit hole leading to all manner of wonders and dangers. With book and lyrics by Moira Buffini and music by Damon Albarn this is currently playing at the National Theatre in London. http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/wonder.land

There have already been lots of events this year celebrating 150 years of Alice and I’m hoping tea parties formed part of that. If you missed them and feel left out make some tea and invite some interesting characters round (animal and human). Mad Hats are of course necessary. And see the 2010 film by Tim Burton with Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter for inspiration.

Depp in Tim Burton Alice
Johnny Depp as The Mad Hatter

Oh, and don’t forget to read the original book as well…

Published by Yasmin Keyani


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