Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Mark Burstein (editor) and Salvador Dali

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Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Mark Burstein (editor) and Salvador Dali

Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A very rare and expensive edition of Lewis Carroll's Marmite classic gets revisited in this cherishable hardback – still it might not be to everyone's tastes whatsoever.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 136 Date: September 2015
Publisher: Princeton University Press
ISBN: 9780691170022

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If you don't know the story now, then where have you been for a hundred and fifty years? A young girl sees a hurrying white rabbit, follows it, falls down a hole, fails to recognise the 'stranger danger' in partaking of random foods and drinks just because of a label on them, nearly drowns a whole menagerie of animals in a lake of her own tears, takes advice from someone on drugs, plays cards, or croquet, or both or neither, and wakes up to find it all a dream. Someone else tried out such gibberish on a young girl, wrote it down in a flurry, made a hugely successful name for himself, and woke up to find even at this remove that most people (unlike me) adore the thing. But it's not just for now, its 150th birthday, that the work gets reprinted. In the 1960s, someone came up with the idea to put the esoteric, surreal and daft mind of Salvador Dali in cahoots with the esoteric, surreal and daft world of Carroll's Alice, and the result was a very rare and valuable edition – a box set of illustrated booklets, perfectly suited to the very surrealistic 105th birthday. Since getting sight of one is like seeing a flat clock in Dali's pictures, this decent hardback replication is the nearest you'll get to owning one of the most special of Alice editions.

This, then, is the copy of Alice's Adventures you keep after having given all the other celebratory variants away. For one thing, it's not going to be perfectly ideal to the young reader we think of as the Alice reader, as it retains Victorian-era punctuation courtesy of replicating the full 'Eighty Sixth Thousand' edition (which it mimics to the extent it drops its unique Preface). For another it comes with two very astute and well-illustrated introductions, one regarding the connections between Dali and Carroll and what the source of the illustrations was, and the other regarding the mathematical, scientific mind that both of them shared and so fervently put into their works.

And of course you have to consider whether the actual artworks, as the prime reason to buy this edition, are child friendly, and I have to declare that I wouldn't particularly call them that whatsoever. Alice herself is in all of them, but actually takes the form of a girl holding a skipping rope aloft – the rope caught at the very height of its circular travels; this imagery had been in Dali works for decades before this commission saw fruit. There's her, her shadow – and her sort of porcupine hair, dashing from her head like quills in full attack mode. There's a droopy clock for the enthusiasts, depths of plain landscape receding to distant horizons ditto, but there is also a lot of mess.

This, then, is not the Dali of the classics – the use of lifelike craft and photorealism to produce the surreal. This is the Dali of the personal – taking Carroll tropes (a huge hand groping around, the owner having grown too large through ill-thought consumption; copious caterpillars) and turning them into something you might well need annotated before you can even see what's what (that or the caterpillar's hookah). I won't go as far as the word 'ugly', but I'd be damned if I'd want any of them on my wall.

That doesn't mean to say I didn’t feel a privilege to pour over this edition, as close as you will ever get to having the original, limited product in your hand – which I can see someone at the time of writing selling for well over £4,500. It's a lot better than clicking around on [insert popular brand of auction site here] to buy the prints and other versions that are available. It is, as the introductions state, as both creators would like to see it – two weird and/or wonderful minds with much in common, harmonising across the centuries to result in this very handsome modern edition. Handsome is as handsome does, so I really do like and admire this book – even if I really have no time for the original text and found the illustrations unsightly. This is, believe it or not and despite that, a most welcome addition to the shelves – purely for replicating the unattainable so well.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

The Viewer by Gary Crew and Shaun Tan is the best collaboration Dali and Carroll never came up with.

Editor's Note

The precursor to Alice in Wonderland, called Alice Under Ground has been in the hands of the British Library and it has now been made available for everyone to browse on their website. This edition is unique in that it was created by Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll's penname) as a gift for Alice Lidell in 1864 and only adapted for publication a year later.

Buy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Mark Burstein (editor) and Salvador Dali at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Mark Burstein (editor) and Salvador Dali at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Mark Burstein (editor) and Salvador Dali at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, Mark Burstein (editor) and Salvador Dali at Amazon.com.


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