Monday, May 31, 2010

In the midst of mystery


The other day I had words to say about Martin Gardner, who among other things is remembered by me as the annotator of Lewis Carroll's two Alice books.

The Annotated Alice was published by Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. in 1960, with the classic original illustrations by John Tenniel.

Thirty years later, Gardner came along with More Annotated Alice (Random House, 1990), not a revised edition, but a complementary one with all new notes.

In More Annotated Alice the illustrations are those of Peter Newell, from the Harper and Brothers editions of the Alice books published in 1901 and 1902. Not all lovers of Alice appreciated the audacity of another artist replacing Tenniel, but Newell was already well-known for his Topsys & Turvys books, which could be read right side up and upside down. Alas, Newell's Alice illustrations have been mostly forgotten, but his The Hole Book (1908) and The Slant Book (1910) were still in print when I was growing up and when my kids were tots, and still are apparently. The books are no longer at our house, so they must have migrated to one of the childrens' libraries. Two classics that no kid will forget.

Newell was perfect for Carroll. He had the same wit and whimsy, the same love of children. He described Alice as "a sweet childish spirit at home in the midst of mystery," which are qualities we could all aspire to. Newell's Alice is respectful of received wisdom, but always curious and open to surprise.

I rather prefer Newell's Alice illustrations to Tenniel's. And this marvellous illustration -- "In fact, it was an elephant - as Alice soon found out." -- must surely have been the inspiration for Disney's Dumbo.