Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (150th Anniversary Edition with Dame Vivienne Westwood) by Lewis Carroll
Somewhere the book reviewing gods have a list of those classic titles that you cannot deny or begrudge their place in literary history, that are soon to have a 150th birthday party with my name on an invite. That means little, as I – and in fact most people – will of course be reading them on their unbirthday, but the list does include the current recipient of that honour, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It being long out of copyright anyone can put together a 150th birthday edition for it, but this is one of the more distinctive efforts, for it comes with the help of Dame Vivienne Westwood. And even though I have spoken before of how I don't take to the book, I can hereby declare this party was made all the better for being twice as long, all courtesy of the presence of Lewis Carroll.
|Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (150th Anniversary Edition with Dame Vivienne Westwood) by Lewis Carroll
|Category: Confident Readers
|Reviewer: John Lloyd
|Summary: How do you make a classic book that's really quite dreadful both better and worse for its 150th birthday? By adding to it, is how. Well, a nonsense book requires a nonsense riddle…
|Date: April 2015
|Publisher: Vintage Classics
Let's take it as read that you know what Carroll brings to the party with Alice. There's her growing, shrinking, going to court, meeting obscure and obtuse critters, and there's her waking from the most famous dream created by mankind (before Dallas, of course). It's piffle, stuff and nonsense of the most unfortunate kind, but generations of fans prove it to be the most Marmite of books by holding it in esteem equal to my dismay. So you need to know what la Westwood brings here. Well, there's the cover image, with a few patches and a lift of Tenniel's Alice. There's an image on the flyleaf that looks like a Mr Gum cover design reject, there's a brief introduction, an image regarding climate change, and a two-page essay regarding capitalism fresh from the Russell Brand School of Politics. And that's it. You may call Carroll 'nonsense' if you like, but I've heard nonsense, compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary, to misquote the Red Queen.
Which brings me on to what it is that actually made me really appreciate this volume. Yes, as I said, it was more Carroll – and more Alice, courtesy of the sequel that everybody mis-titles, Through the Looking Glass. Which is brilliant. It's a fantasia as opposed to a flop, a nuance and not a nonsense, and while it riffs off a young child's frustration at not being able to play chess (among other things), it is one perfect remove from the real world – via the imagination of a child (as perceived by a gent in his late 30s) into a surreal landscape, with even more bizarre characters than before. Perhaps it's the fact I haven't seen too many takes on it, or encountered the full plot too often, maybe it's the fact there are clear clues and parallels to what is actually happening – it might just be that Carroll was on better form for it being second time round, but this is much preferable.
So this book, while honouring one birthday, is a full six years early to celebrate the 150th of what makes it so great. (While on that subject, Tenniel is fully presented here, and while other artists have done just as much to make the books their own since, it is nice to have the classic artworks in their rightful place.) You can take or leave the new branding, you will scorn the printing errors, and as I say unbirthdays will be a great occasion when you celebrate both these volume's existence courtesy of an edition such as this, but I'm really happy that the brace of books are here in one, and that fact is the most lauded – and undersold – detail about my copy.
I'm really grateful to the publishers for it.
Alice Through the Looking Glass by Emma Chichester Clark presents the sequel in great fashion for the very young.
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.
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You can read more book reviews or buy Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (150th Anniversary Edition with Dame Vivienne Westwood) by Lewis Carroll at Amazon.com.
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