Monday, March 15, 2010

All About Alice

I went to see the Tim Burton "Alice" in Underland with my 10-year-old this weekend and found it a pleasant surprise. After the reviews, I had been prepared for disappointment. Indeed, I did take the reviewers' points that it seemed visually a little derivative for the usually highly original Burton--when Alice dons armor to ride the Bandersnatch, there is an echo of the recent Narnia films, and the White Queen's palace seems bought when the bank foreclosed on Elrond. But I came away from it with the sense of having watched some studio players in a really great B movie made on some leftover sets on a backlot. Everyone seems to be having a great time, and no one more so than Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen. She gets all the great lines and the scene of her dressing down the frog footmen is worth the price of admission.

A lot of Alice in the air because of this movie. A nice roundup by columnist Neal Wyatt over at Library Journal, highlighting a shelf-full of takes on Wonderland, including the anthology, Alice Redux, from Paycock Press, in which I have my own story, "Bread and Butterflies," about a grown Alice Liddell in India. The ones I most want to read for myself are Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot and Automated Alice by Jeff Noon. When my son is done with his current book I might interest him in the Looking Glass Wars series by Frank Beddor, but not before we read the original, possibly the Annotated Alice or the one illustrated by Barry Moser from Pennyroyal Press. Lewis Carroll is the right white rabbit to lead you into Wonderland, whichever mirror-shard vesion of it you choose to explore.

My own encounter with Alice, in the Manila of my childhood (its own wonderland), was a Disney LP played on a record player--fairly faithful to the Lewis Carrol text, as I recall, but set to the Nutcracker Suite, so that I can never hear that music without thinking of Alice down the rabbit hole. I've come back to Alice over and over since then--during a summer in Oxford, and an internship at Barry Moser's letterpress in college.

The good folks at Much Ado Books in the UK sent me an email about this marvelous limited edition Alice with illustrations by John Vernon Lord, whose work first came to my attention in the classic picture book, The Giant Jam Sandwich. Lord brings to Lewis Carroll's universe his own loopy brand of technicolor dementia--Monty Python by way of Tom Phillips--with just enough of an edge to it to be a little unsettling.

I have never seen Lord's other illustration work (including, intriguingly, the Icelandic sagas), but the glimpse of his Alice illustrations online is making me wish I had the equivalent of £ 260.00 to spend on a copy. I am curious to know whether JVL tackled the famous "Wasp in a Wig" chapter that John Tenniel insisted be cut from the book's first edition, on the grounds that it was impossible to illustrate. Given his experience with wasps in The Giant Jam Sandwich, I am sure Lord would be more than up to the task.

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